I hesitated over whether to include the following information; what follows may sound blindingly obvious to the reader. But after consultations with various publishers and agents, and hearing repeated instances of writers not thinking through when and what they send, guidance is perhaps needed – if only to reassure you that the detail does matter. If you don’t care about what you send, why should they?
‘When you take on only six new writers a year and get about 6,000 submissions, I know the odds don’t sound good. But it is amazing how many writers slave away crafting a novel and then lessen their chances by throwing together a shoddy submission package. You would never go to a job interview in old jeans and a t-shirt and the same applies here. Don’t undersell yourself. If you follow a few rules you will find it much easier to be taken seriously by the agents you select. It’s like learning a new language or riding a bicycle – once you master it, you will never look back.’ Simon Trewin
Tips for submitting your work
The following tips should help you improve your chances of submitting your manuscript successfully.
1. Send a printed copy. Even if you have built up an informal relationship with your publishing contact/agent, you need to be in control of what you send – and of how it will be received. Sending a file by email leaves it up to the recipient to print it out. If they do, they incur expense, which may irritate; if they don’t bother to print it they may never read it – reading on screen is never as satisfactory. What if their printer runs out of paper or ink halfway through disgorging your file? Will they remember to go back and print out the rest? Will they print it out on paper that has been used on one side already, which means that the clarity and pleasingness of the whole will be reduced? One caveat: do check the agent's submission guidelines, some may only accept submissions by email.
2. Print what you send. This sounds obvious, but hand-written submissions do occur. You may have read that famous writers like writing in beautiful notebooks, or on lined paper, but that does not mean that those starting out can do the same!
3. Ensure that the typeface you use is legible, and the font big enough to read. Use a conventional face, not the ‘mock handwriting’ styles that are available. Some typefaces date quickly – think how tired Comic Sans or Old English now look – so choose something that is classic, and perhaps reflects the type of manuscript you are producing.
4. Your manuscript should be error-free. You would be surprised at how many submissions contain grammatical and spelling errors. Use a thesaurus and a book on grammar. Remember, you are writing for people who care about words and how they are put together. Publishers are not pedants, and they can spot a good writing idea even if the occasional error occurs – and of course a completely error-free manuscript does not guarantee publication, as it may be dull – but poor presentation never helps. If you are breaking generally accepted grammatical rules, for literary effect, you must be consistent.
5. Your manuscript should be clean. A dog-eared copy contains a powerful subliminal message: this has been around the block a couple of times; other people don’t want it – but might you? To send a clean copy you may not need to print out the whole thing again, the top few pages might do. Along similar lines, ensure what you send does not smell. Your favourite cologne, or the brand of cigarettes you consumed whilst working on the manuscript, may not be to everyone’s taste.
6. Print your submission single-sided, on clean paper. I was handed a manuscript to look at during a writing conference recently, and it was printed out on pre-used paper. The minutes of a parent-teacher association meeting were printed on the back. The ink ‘show through’ was distracting, and the lack of care taken definitely reduced my concentration on what was in front of me. You want your words to engage the reader, not extraneous thoughts such as ‘how on earth could they not have noticed that’.
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