During my nearly two decades in the book world I have received countless submissions from authors. Some of these were beautifully presented, enticing packages that made me want to read the whole manuscript. Some were not quite as polished but I was able to see past the rough edges to the interesting proposal beneath. Most, the vast majority, were not very good at all, and many of these were just plain awful.
Here are my top three tips to ensure that you never fall into the that ‘awful’ category.
- Make sure you are ready
Before you attempt to send anything to anyone you need to be sure that you, and your manuscript, are ready for the task ahead. Unless you are incredibly lucky you are going to face rejection numerous times, and, to be frank, not everybody can handle that. You need to be prepared for knock backs and you need to be able to take rejection with good grace.
And while we do not expect your manuscript to be perfect when we receive it, it will help you if it is in good shape. Do not send first or second drafts. Make sure you have had feedback from other readers. These days lots of editors, like me, are available for hire and Reedsy [reedsy.com] is a great online marketplace where authors can find publishing professionals to help them with their work. It can be incredibly useful to have someone from inside the industry look at your book before you send it out.
But this costs money, and is not essential. If you can find some dependable and honest acquaintances to critique your work, that can also help to ensure your manuscript is ‘tested’ prior to the submissions process.
- Do your research
One of the top complaints from agents and publishers about submissions is lack of research; authors not doing simple groundwork before submitting. Spend time getting to know the industry you are attempting to enter. If you are successful then you are effectively taking on a new job, a new career, even if only part-time, so do the same sort of research you would when going for a job interview.
Read the trade press, even if only online. The Bookseller in the UK and Publishers Weekly in the US are great resources and you can learn who the up-and-coming agents, editors and publishers are and what books have sold for big advances. Understanding the industry will prove helpful in your quest to become a published author.
When looking for ideas as to where to send your manuscript, the acknowledgement pages at the beginning or end of published books can be a good start. Most authors will thank their editors and agents. An hour spent browsing through your own bookshelves and jotting down names will be an hour well spent.
Lots of agents, and editors are online these days and Twitter is a great way to, quite legitimately, hang out with them and find out what they have to say.
And, of course, nothing beats checking out the agent or publisher websites where they will tell you all about themselves and how to submit to them.
- Follow the guidelines
This is probably my most important piece of advice. Every agent or publisher that welcomes submissions will have a set of guidelines they ask authors to follow. Follow them. You’d think it was simple but so many authors ignore this crucial detail.
If they want your synopsis to be no more than 500 words, don’t send them a 600-word synopsis. If they ask for a sample chapter, don’t send them a full manuscript.
The above three points may sound obvious but, honestly, the majority of authors who submit to agents and publishers have not addressed these simple areas. Make sure you do and you’ll be one of the better submissions hitting our inboxes.
Scott Pack‘s two decades in the book work have included spells as head of buying for Waterstones and a lengthy spell as a publisher a HarperCollins. He is currently associate editor at Unbound, the world’s first crowdfunding publisher. He can be contacted for freelance work or bothered on Twitter @meandmybigmouth. His ebook, How to Perfect Your Submisson includes chapters on query letters, synopses and everything else you may need to pull together a cracking submission package.