1. Most houses ask for manuscripts to be double-spaced. Other houses want two or three chapters printed out in normal spacing, and will only require the double-spaced version if they want a closer look. Read their entry in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and establish their requirements.
2. Ensure that there is sufficient margin around the typed matter to make the page a pleasure to read. Type that extends over the whole page is tiring to read (because it can’t be ‘absorbed’ quickly). Think how the narrow margin in a newspaper column allows you to read down the middle and get the gist.
3. Number the pages, and ensure that the numbers are sequential. This can be tricky if you are printing out different chapters and each one is held as a separate file with its own internal numbering. If this is the case, you need to start the numbering for chapter two with the number after the last page of chapter one. Your word processor is able to cope – you have to use the button that says ‘start the numbering from ___’. Think what would happen if your manuscript got dropped on the floor: reassembling a series of chapters whose pages were all numbered 1 to 20 would be very difficult!
4. Mark each page with your name and the title of what you are sending in. Do this in small print, as a ‘running head’ or ‘footer’ to the page.
5. Don’t staple the pages. The standard way of reading a manuscript submission is to turn the pages one at a time, from one pile to another. A couple of rubber bands are sufficient to hold the whole thing together.
6. Put what you send in a folder. Instead of stapling, use a file or holder that will keep your pages together. This is part of your submission, so should be attractive and clean.
7. Don’t place tracking devices in your manuscript. It’s not uncommon for authors to place a ‘checking mechanism’ in what they submit, to ensure that the material has been fully read (for example, a hair or post-it note towards the back of the pages). Their assumption is that only if the submission has been read in full, can a decision be made. But think of the situation from the recipient’s point of view. Why should the reader have to go through all your material to decide whether or not they want to publish it? Standing in a bookshop and trying to decide which should be the third of my ‘three for two offer’ I can tell within a couple of paragraphs whether or not I want to progress with a book, and it is these quick standards that the publisher will apply (because their reaction as a consumer matters hugely). They don’t need to read every word to know whether or not they want to publish your work.
8. Make sure you have removed from the package anything you did not mean to send. Like the last rejection letter you received. It’s so easily done.
9. If they specify that return postage must be included, include it. Attach it to a big enough envelope to hold what you have sent. And make it the right amount of postage – not part of it, hoping they will pay the rest (if they don’t, the carrier will hold onto the parcel until you pay the difference, plus an additional fee). Even if you think publishers make so much money from the authors they already represent that they can afford to pay the postage on what they send back to you, why should they? Remember: your manuscript is not the only one they will receive that day – on average they will receive at least 29 others.
10. Put the whole package – letter, market description, synopsis and whatever they have asked for (see the next chapter) – in a clean envelope, preferably a padded one. Don’t use the extra-large staples to hold the parcel in place – most people hate undoing them. A bookseller of my acquaintance refuses to order from one house that sent out book orders like this; she had had her fingers ripped too often. Similarly, don’t cover your parcel with brown sticky tape so that the recipient can find no way in. Make what you send a pleasure to deal with!
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