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Top 10 Tips for Submitting Your Book Manuscript

Updated on January 13, 2011
A good coverletter can make or break your submission.
A good coverletter can make or break your submission.

Submitting Your Manuscript the Right Way is Key

1. Research, research, research. Research the publishing houses that seem like a good fit, and then figure out who is the best editor for your work. Only send your manuscript to appropriate editors. This may sound like a no-brainer, but believe it or not, some people just get an editor’s name and run with it. If your book is fiction, make sure the editor is not a non-fiction fanatic. In the times of Google, you can find a lot of information about what editors have worked on which books. Also, look inside the books you love that compare to yours – often the editor’s names will mentioned.

2. Presentation counts. Properly format your manuscript. Formatting varies to some extent, but it’s usually double-spaced, title starting halfway down the title page (centered), below that the story text, contact info in the header. And don’t forget page numbers. (see my other hub on formatting your picture book manuscript)

3. Read the instructions. Follow submission guidelines. Don’t assume you are somehow above the rules of the publishing house or that they may not apply to your masterpiece. If they say send a SASE, send one. If they say don’t, don’t. A wonderful guide to all the publishing houses and their policies is by Writer’s Digest. For kidlit it is Children’s Writer’s and Illustrator’s Market, and for adult books, Writer’s Market.

4. Make them want to read your story. Write a compelling cover letter for your manuscript. One page will suffice. Give them a reason to want to read your manuscript. Spend time crafting a cover letter. Yes, it’s true, some editors don’t read it. But since you don’t know who those editors are, put your best foot forward. After all, if your writing in the cover letter is not high quality, why would an editor think your story is?

5. Proofread. Twice. Don’t rely on spell check/grammar check. Go over your cover letter painstakingly for errors. Make sure you didn’t leave the last name of the other editor you just sent your letter to, in the Dear so-and-so spot. Obviously, this looks careless and even if your letter is tailored to this particular editor, it may look like you are sending the same letter en masse. Spell his/her name correctly. Spell the publishing house’s name correctly. Get the editor’s title right. These seem like little things, but if one is wrong, it can be a showstopper.

6. No calls means no calls. Don’t, under any circumstances, call an editor to follow up on the status of your manuscript! (whether they’ve received it, read it, rejected it) It is, however, totally fine to call an editor/editorial department to ask for proper spelling of someone’s name, an accurate title, etc. (you can ask his/her assistant). Editors get hundreds to thousands of manuscripts a year and if they had to be on the phone with every writer, they’d never get their jobs done. Not to mention, if you don’t like being put on the spot, why would they? Let them remember you for your manuscript, not your annoying phone call.

7. Follow up - gingerly. Wait at least three months (4-6 is even better) to follow up on your submission with a written note - either via snail mail or email if you have it. Waiting for a response will only seem like an eternity if you are not working on anything new and just waiting for the phone to ring. While you are waiting, write new stories. Submit them. And when you do follow up, be sure you let them know you understand yours is not the only story they are considering, and you know how busy they are.

8. Make friends. Get to know the editor’s assistant and be nice to her/him. If she is good at her job and aspires to have her own books to acquire and edit, she will likely be promoted in time. And she will be looking for that special book to show her manager, to get that promotion. It could be yours.

9. Write. Submit. Repeat. The more stories you have out there, the better your chances are of one being picked up. Of course, it has to be publishable, but you will show you are not a one-hit-wonder, that you are prolific, and that if they sign on with you, you may have other stories to offer.

10. Gentle reminders are welcome. Don’t assume an editor remembers you by name. If you’ve met an editor at a conference, it is perfectly acceptable (and recommended) to remind him of your meeting. If you can, and if it’s appropriate, mention an exchange you two had while at the conference to jog his memory. Humor helps. A made up example: “Dear Ms. Jones, I met you at the XYZ writer’s conference in May. I was the one who dropped my cell phone in the sink in the ladies room and you helped me dry it off. I would love for you to consider my new manuscript for ABC Publishing – I promise you the humor is dry….”

BONUS TIP: Editors are human! They have good days and bad days. Compliments never hurt. If you are submitting a story, find a book they worked on that you loved. Even if it has nothing to do with your submission, let them know how much you loved it. One editor I’d made contact with over the years must have rejected 10 of my manuscripts in a row. But each time, she wrote a personal thank you at the end of her letter and put a sticker on it. One day, I sent her an email thanking her for making the rejection process less painful. I told her that her letters were the only rejection letters I didn’t mind opening. She was so appreciative of my note that I got a thank you note back! I don’t know if she’ll ever buy a story of mine, but she will be on the top of my list as far as friendly editors. And perhaps she is hoping that one of my projects is right for her, because I went the extra mile.


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