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Submission Procedures When Submitting Your Manuscript

Updated on December 20, 2015
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Mr. Matthew Q. Dawson is a native Texan. He spent his childhood and young adulthood residing in Austin, Texas.

In this hub, I plan to lay out some submission requirements and other helpful hints and tricks that might get the submitting author recognized faster. Though there are many tricks that I could cover I am only going to be covering the basic steps that I feel will enhance your submission to stand out from the hundreds of submissions that the author is competing against.

Submitting material in good, the clean condition is not just a courtesy. As the first impression, it sets the stage for a long relationship with an editor or agent. For this reason, alone you want to put your best foot forward and submit top class content to publishing companies, agents, or advertising firms.

But good formatting also has practical implications:

It allows your work to be reviewed fully and handled properly. A clean submission allows your work your initial review (editor, agent, or screener) to compare your work with what others in the submission pile (In a way that makes you look good assuring your submission stands out from the hundreds that might be sitting in the pile)

Everyone prefers to work with writers who conduct themselves professionally. Your submission style communicates at a glance that you know what you are doing. By using proper procedure, you avoid looking amateur or desperate in the intent to please those who you are submitting too.

Gimmicks or oddities of any kind (colored paper, glitter, creative typefaces etc.…) are usually self-defeating. Instead, stick with the basics and let your ideas and writing style speak for themselves

Understanding publisher/agent guidelines

First find and follow the available guidelines. When submitting material to a publisher, agent or contest, look for any written guidelines that specify the desired submission format. Such guidelines might be posted online go to their website and search thoroughly assuring that your submission meets all the submission guidelines. Remember your submission only stands a chance if you stand out from all other submissions.

For contest meeting the submission guidelines are crucial; not following them may get your submission tossed immediately.

For publishers and agents, it’s a matter of understanding and honoring their preferences and needs. Since they get hundreds of submissions weekly, don’t you want to start off on their good side? So before submitting to the publisher/agent go to their website and search their submission requirements. Be sure to know exactly what genre your submission falls under. Each genre can be a different submission requirement.

Delivering The Physical Package

Because of the day and time we are in many first submissions are done by electronic submissions. However eventually during the vetting process, many publishing houses do require a paper submission

So I have decided to add some hints when submitting your manuscript in paper form as a reference for authors to utilize when going through this submission process.

Paper Stock To make a good impression, it is fine to use plain white 2—lb paper; just choose one with a good brightness rating. This rating is marked on the label of papers sold in an office-supply store. A ranking of 92 is ideal, much nicer than the cheapest “Photocopy” paper, which is often a little gray. BY ALL MEANS AVOID COLOR PAPER.

Remember first impressions are always going to be the last impressions. Spending a little money will only end the author in increasing his/her chances of having their submissions being noticed before all the other submissions sitting in the pile to be reviewed.

Print Quality Make sure your print-out is sharp, black, and clean; no streaks, spottiness, or light typed. If it does not look good to you, it will look worse when it gets photocopied and circulated, as will happen if your submission is of interest.

Binding Do not bind your pages in any manner. It should not look like a presentation at a board meeting, delivered in a slick binder will only. Instead, your submission will first get stacked in a pile with many others, often kept in its original envelope. Then, editors or judges may want to select all or part of your manuscript to photocopy and circulate to others. Any substantial binding just gets in the way. It is fine to just paperclip it all together. For a long submission, you also may want to divide it into major sections using paperclips. These can be slipped on and off easily for photocopying.

Colored pocket folders one tolerable add-on for short submission (Like a Proposal or query) is a brightly colored pocket folder. For packages with many pieces, this allows a few extras to be displayed; an author’s bio, for instance. It will likely be thrown away at some point, but there can be a brief period when it might call a little more attention to what’s inside.

Mailing envelopes the outside packaging has little importance; often it gets discarded by the mail room before the editor sees the work. Package it securely in an envelope large enough to hold your submission as unfolded 8.5” X 11” sheets. A simple bubble wrap mailer is fine for a medium-sized submission.

Plain manila envelopes are fine for a brief query/proposal. For long manuscripts, small boxes are available from the U.S. post Office.

Mailing method Super-fast delivery seldom has any value unless there is an actual deadline that you’re up against. Editors get a lot of stuff and usually set aside incoming material in a pile for a few days before they get to read them.

Handwritten notes on the package one helpful tip: if the material was requested, perhaps at a conference meeting or by email correspondence, say so boldly on the package -Requested Material- and also put this right up front on top of the cover page of your submission.

Addressee Whatever else you do makes sure to address your package to the right person, by name (And spell the name right!!). If not, your package may or may not get forwarded to the right desk. It definitely makes you look out of touch to send it to someone who has been gone for years. Plus, having the right name clarifies that this is not a mass mailed proposal. The odds that someone will respond are much greater. How do you find the right name? Start by checking recent guidelines or market listings. But the most reliable way is to first call the publisher/agent office with the briefest question: “Can you please confirm the correct name and address for me?”

Return Postage and/or stamped envelope first, follow any published guidelines. In general, today it’s common not to include return postage since it is often cheaper for you to photocopy a new package than to wait to get your submitted material returned, likely in worn condition. It works best just to include your contact information, especially your e-mail address, so an editor or agent can contact you immediately if they wish.

Trully Understanding a Business-like cover letters

The cover letter is your chance to lobby on behalf of your manuscript. The letter is far from just a formality and should be written with the same care as your manuscript’s text (if not more). Ultimately, your cover letter is designed to influence the decision of the editor to send your manuscript out for peer review. The letter will argue that your manuscript is a good fit for the journal you are submitting it to and highlight your most important findings. So the one thing you do not want to do is to submit a cover letter that:

1) Does not meet the requirements


2) That looks sloppy and unprofessional. So below are some steps that you might want to take when submitting and writing your cover letter.

Requested material As noted above if an editor requested your manuscript in person, by phone, or in writing, then write “Requested Material” on the outside of your envelope. This means your stuff goes into a higher priority pile.

First Names Avoid calling someone by their first names, until you really know the person personally or he or she has offered the first name in prior correspondence.

Business Style This is a business letter. Use single-spacing, with your name and business address (or letterhead), then the date, then their name and business address on to. Be polite. End by thanking them for their interest.

Short description of your work in the first paragraph Describe your work in one phrase briefly in the first paragraph. What are you submitting? A query letter for an article? The first three chapters and a synopsis for a science-fiction novel? A proposal for a how-to book on gardening? Five poems for a contest? Many in the publishing business will only read the first paragraph quickly; if it doesn’t convince them that your work is their area of interest, they will not read much more.

Length, In any event, most readers will scan the letter quickly, so it must be direct and clear. For any cover letter, one page is always best. Two is possible if everything is essential and written very tightly.

Proofreading Proofread your letter. Believe me, a typo in such a short piece will reflect poorly on you. And if you are new at this, seek feedback from others. This might be the most importing writing you do. So show it to a friend, perhaps your spouse, or a fellow colleague and ask for helpful suggestions.

Style Avoid run-on sentences, unnecessary asides, use of ellipses or the use of idiomatic slang (Hey I thought you might want to eyeball this). This will count as a strike against you. Your submission should be a business-like presentation: Not stiff or too formal, but polite, offering your work for their consideration.

Word Count If you are proposing or submitting work, give the total word count up front. For a work to be done, offering a suggested range indicates some flexibility.

Genre This is not the time to say your book is hard to describe. Find and pick the closest publishing genre or category. It’s always better that your work seems to fit somewhere than not. If you can’t sum it up, how will others? If it’s a romance that’s also a fantasy novel, consider the core interests of the publisher you are submitting it to, and lean in that direction.

Find a Hook Relate your work to other successful work. It often helps to say it’s “in the style of” a particular title or author. Find a one sentence phrase or hook to encapsulate the most delightful, wonderful nature of your work. How would someone describe it to a friend? Yes, your work is much more than a single phrase, but distilling it down to a short hook or catch-line is an important exercise.

Besides intriguing an editorial reader, it indicates that you know and care about the importance of a good hook to the success to your endeavor. Browsing customers in a store will respond to it, the marketing department will love it, the editors will be glad the marketing department loves it, and so on.

Attitude Never brag about your work or use superlatives. You’re saying it is great will not convince anyone and will turn many reviewers off. You should come off as confident but not arrogant and assuming. Just present yourself in a positive light and lay out your work. The recipient, a professional reader, will see it as their job to decide if it’s right for their market.

Enticing If anything, it is best to say less, in an enticing way. Never tell the whole story in your cover letter. Tease a little. Throw out a few gems a short glimpse of a character in a delightful conundrum, or a personal problem that your self-help book can solve and ask if they’d like to see more in a full proposal.

Contact Info In your letterhead provides your complete contact info. Then, in the last paragraph, you might confirm the best way to contact you. By e-mail is often preferred these days: it is quickest and cheapest way for an interested party to contact you. You’d be surprised how often, after your work has sat on a desk in a pile for weeks or months, something is needed ASAP and your work fits the bill. MAKE SURE that they can reach you.

Business Card A business card is usually unnecessary. If your letterhead has the same info, save the cards to hand out in person


Is this a query letter or submission?

Query letter If this is a query, your cover letter is the query letter. There isn’t anything else except maybe a bio sheet. In general, for fiction, you don’t query, you just submit the actual material (or a significant sample of it). But for non-fiction, you often must start by sending a query letter.

Submission If this is a submission of fiction (or of nonfiction after someone has gotten your query and responded with “yes, send us more”), publishers will usually specify what they want to see. They might request a synopsis and the first three chapters of the novel. For book-length nonfiction work, they likely will want a chapter outline and a sample chapter.

What is the difference between a synopsis and a chapter outline? A chapter outline is like an expanded table of contents in a book you present each numbered chapter and tell in a few sentence what is in the chapter. A synopsis, on the other hand, is written more like a story; it’s a present-tense walk through the book from beginning to end. It highlights key characters, their main issues, and then goes through the book focusing on moments of tension, reversals, and so on.

A full proposal for a non-fiction book can be 30-40 pages in length, and follows a certain formula. Two good examples are found in Jeff Herman’s “Guide to book Publishers, editors, and literary agents” or Michael Larson’s book, “Literary Agents: What they do, How They Do It, and How to Find and Work with the Right One for You”.

For general help with pitches, queries, and proposals, Katharine Sands’ book, “Making The Perfect Pitch, offers advice from 40 different perspectives, covering all types of genres and pitching situations.

Basic formatting for manuscript text

Keep it simple The less formatting the better. “Plain Jane” is the way to go. Remember, it should look like a manuscript, not a finished typeset book.

Margins For letters, a one-inch margin all the way around is a minimum; margins of 1.25” are nice. For submission of manuscript text, margins of up to 1.5” allow more room for the editors to make editing marks.

Font/typeface Courier is still common and fine to use. If the publisher or contest states a preference, follow it. But in most cases any basic serif font will do. Times Roman is fine and most readable for business letters. Avoid sans serif fonts (Ariel, Helvetica etc.) as they are harder to read for long passages. Avoid fonts they are fancy or too stylish. No script font type as it does not help anything and most certainly looks totally unprofessional.

Type Size 12-point type is ideal for almost all manuscript text. Don’t make it smaller; many editors read so much that eye strain is an issue. Although smaller type can be read it is just harder. For chapter titles, 14-point is good. For text subheadings put them in bold.

Double Spacing Double-space anything you are submitting a manuscript to be published and which might need to be edited-i.e., the text of your story or article.

Single Spacing Business documents usually are single-spaced, unless they are fairly long. These include cover letters, the brief synopsis, chapter outlines, and page elements such as stacked multi-line headers.

Exceptions A long piece such as a 30-page book proposal or a six-page synopsis might be double spaced. Some feel it makes it look less daunting and is easier to read.

Justifications Left-justification is the rule. This means the right margin ragged (The so-called ragged right or rag right). That’s what you want. It avoids most hyphenation. Basically, you do not want your story or article to look like it has already been published; you want to make it look like fresh manuscript-with lots of great potential. Publishers will typeset it in the way they like; so almost any extra formatting detracts from the editorial imagination.

Headers All the pages in multi-page submissions after a cover or title page must include a header that includes the following:

  • Author’s Last Name
  • Book or story title (Brief version, using just a few keywords)
  • Page Number (Sometimes also chapter number for long work)

In a manuscript, the heading can run as a single long line or as several lines stacked on top of each other.

Words Per Page Some feel it is important to have 25 lines per page; figuring that if you use 12-point Courier, with a 10-word per line average, you get a nice 250 words per page layout.

Single Sided Only Always submit everything single sided. Never submit a two-sided document (printed front and back), which is harder to photocopy or peruse quickly.

How To Write a Bio that Sells

Adding The Extra's | Author's Bio

A useful add-on to include with an initial query is an author’s bio, a well-designed flyer or text document that promotes you as an author. A core element is your biographical profile, highlighting your credentials as a writer and an expert in your fields. This might include a brief list of the most important places you have published (Short and impressive is better than long and all-inclusive). Also, give contact info (How to reach you or your agent; the address of your professional website if you have one (which might feature clips of your best work or links to your online postings of previously published work, a brief description of possibilities for speaking engagements (If you offer these); and perhaps an author photograph.

Featuring any testimonials or outstanding reviews of past work; third party praise for your work is always regarded as far more reliable than your own description of yourself.

If you are a new writer without much of an established portfolio, this author bio can be downplayed; let your writing speak for itself.

A good author bio sheet or flyer does two things. First it gives valuable background and credentials. Second, it will impress potential publishers; they will realize that you are a writer who knows how to promote yourself.

In conclusion

In this hub I have covered a grave amount of submission do’s and do not’s. By following this articles step by step guidelines, your submission will stand a greater chance of standing out from all the other 100’s of submissions waiting for acceptance.

Please find below a summary of the Do’s and Do not’s that I have covered throughout this article:

Do make sure submission:

  • Is well-organized
  • Is clean and professional looking
  • Is single sided
  • Is addressed to the right person
  • Includes your contact info, including email address.
  • Has a cover letter (or is a query letter) of not more than 1-2 pages that describes what is being submitted.

Most common mistakes:

  • Cover letters that are too long
  • Typos in the cover letter or other elements that should be error free.
  • Unattractive materials from poor-quality printers or with margins or type that are too small
  • Cover letters that are full of hype or too many exclamation points, or too friendly without foundation
  • Cover letters that tell too much, instead of creating interest in reading the actual writing
  • Submissions that make it clear the author did not read the available submission guidelines and didn’t really consider whether the market was suitable for the submitted material
  • Submission for non-fiction of complete manuscripts without querying first.

By following these guidelines then the author will find that he/she will gain much more exposure with their submissions and often times the dreaded “No” will be an exciting “Yes, we accept your manuscript”

I wish you luck in your writing endeavors and can only hope this article help to ease your submission anxiety


Good Luck

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Submit a Comment
  • BlossomSB profile image

    Bronwen Scott-Branagan 

    3 years ago from Victoria, Australia

    Thank you for all this useful information. It is very interesting and helpful.

  • KoffeeKlatch Gals profile image

    Susan Hazelton 

    3 years ago from Sunny Florida

    You have so much important information in here. I have saved your article to go over it again and again. Awesome, useful, and up.


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