This article is not going to be nearly as sexy as some of you might think it would be. Sorry, this isn’t about kinks. This is a simple guide to use when you think you’re ready to submit a manuscript to a publisher or agent.
The first thing to understand is that everywhere you submit will want it done a different way. It’s not because they’re special, or necessarily need something with the proper layout in order to read it. While those might be true for some, the major thing you need to understand about it is this is your first test from the person you are trying to work with.
It’s a test to see if you can follow basic instructions and know how to use a word processor well enough to make basic changes. And to see if you bothered to put in the work to find out what your hopeful partner is looking for.
As the submission officer for Three Furies Press, I can assure you, this weeds out at least one third of all submissions we get.
Let me repeat that.
One third—33%—of all submissions are tossed without me even reading them because the authors have already proven they aren’t willing to do even the most basic task in order to get published.
And at TFP we don’t even have strenuous submission guidelines. The document can be formatted in nearly any style. What we insist on is an email that explains what the story is about and the first ten pages of their manuscript. It’s just that easy. And still we toss one-third of the submissions because would-be authors couldn’t do that bare minimum.
That means I don’t want to work with them because I know they won’t make it as an author. Anyone can write, but publishers and agents want authors that are willing to do the job properly.
The second is very basic as well. Don’t send in a manuscript that is full of typos or errors.
Nearly every writing program that exists has a spellcheck. Make sure you use it. While you’re at it, go ahead and use the grammar check as well.
After you’ve done that, have someone else read it over for you as well. Most publishers don’t require you to hire a professional editor to go over your manuscript before they’ll accept it, but you do need to get several sets of eyes on your story to make sure it is good enough.
This is often referred to in the community as beta readers, and they make your job so much easier. Beta readers can be family and friends, but only the ones you know will tell you hard truths when you need to hear them. Having them read over your book isn’t enough, though. You need to take their suggestions and questions and work them into your book.
If a reader can’t understand what is happening in a book, it won’t do well when it comes to sales. And anyone who is reading your manuscript will catch that.
Third, you need to protect yourself. Before you send anyone your manuscript, make sure they’re a reputable publisher. Pirates abound in the media market. You don’t want to send your book to someone that is going to take it from you and publish it for themselves. Another thing to look out for is any company that wants to charge you any amount of money to be published. That is a vanity publisher and the way they make money is by charging authors, not by selling books. They are the bottom of the barrel. Unless you just want to publish something like a cookbook, or something you only plan to hand out as gifts, and not something you want to use to build your author brand, don’t use them.
Check into the books they’ve already published. Verify that they work with your genre. Every publisher will have genres they will and won’t publish. Don’t waste yours, or their, time by sending them a genre they don’t work in. You can also check with pro-authors sites like ibpa.com and Alli.com. Both companies keep lists of publishers that have shafted authors.
Now that you’ve done all of this, you’re ready to submit, right? Wrong. There’s one last thing you should do. Sit down and read your book to yourself out loud. It’s cheap and simple. It takes a bit of time, but it is still the best way to make sure that the words you’ve written down are the ones that will tell the story you want to tell, not just the one you think you’ve written.
You’ve polished your manuscript to the best you can make it, researched who you’re going to send it to, made sure your genre works for where it’s going, what else is there? Make sure you remember to attach the word document to your email so you don’t end up feeling like a goof at the last moment.