Today’s post is not the one I had planned on writing. However, I haven’t finished researching the original topic. Second, this post is one that sort of goes along with Kate’s wonderful series on the Writer’s Toolbox. Think of it as the related hardware needed to finish the project.
After you’ve used all the tools Kate’s talked about — and will talk about in upcoming posts — you have to send your project out. That means you have to find the right publishers or agents for that particular title. You’ve done your research and you’ve narrowed down the field. With excitement and a little dread, you sit down at your computer and pen your cover letter, attach your pages and hit the send button. Whew, that’s done and it didn’t even hurt a bit.
Now come the second guesses. Is it good enough? (Believe me, that’s a question we all ask.) Is the editor or agent smart enough to see how good it is? Did you give them what they wanted? What if they hate the cover letter and never read the wonderful novel attached?
Funny thing is, there’s a trend I’ve noticed in submissions long before I started with Naked Reader Press. That’s the trend NOT to follow the guidelines. And that, my friend, is one of the quickest ways to get off on the wrong foot with that agent or editor you are trying to impress. (It’s also something I’ve heard from agents and other editors that seems to be getting more and more prevalent.)
The guidelines at NRP are fairly straightforward. In your email, give us your name, contact information, publication history, etc. — basically the nuts and bolts of contacting you. The subject line is to contain the type of submission (short or novel), title and genre. Nothing major and certainly nothing to stress over. Certainly, not something easily messed up. Would it surprise you to know that I can count on two hands and have fingers left over the number of submissions that have followed these guidelines?
And, folks, take note here. A growing number of publishers and agents are using software that will automatically reject any submission that doesn’t follow the subject line requirements. We don’t, but that next agent or editor you submit to might just be a faithful user of that software.
What surprises me even more are the folks who don’t follow the formatting guidelines for their manuscripts. I’d always halfway disbelieved the stories about agents and publishers receiving hard copy submissions that, when they’d open them, little red hearts or glitter would fall out of the envelop. Or can we forget the tales of the manuscripts printed out on purple pages — giving a whole new meaning to the term “purple prose”?
Well, I believe them now. Frankly, I’d almost welcome that compared to some of the formatting mash-ups we’ve gotten. We’ve received everything from novels with word counts in the hundreds of thousands and the font is set to 8 to one novel that single spaced, no paragraph indents that looked like it was a single paragraph long.
So, my suggestion is to add a checklist to your writer’s toolbox. For each submission, you need to prepare a checklist for that particular agent or publisher. Do you have a cover letter/query letter? Does it include all the information asked for? Is your subject line properly formatted? Do you need to send a synopsis or outline? (Another thing very often left off in submissions or included with the cover letter instead of being attached as a separate document) Is your manuscript properly formatted? (And, please, make sure it is properly formatted for that particular venue…some agents and publishers require something different from the “standard” manuscript format.)
A couple of other hints that will make you a hero to the person having to convert your manuscript into digital format. Check your preferences on whatever word processing program you use and turn off smart quotes. Turn off widow and orphan control. Set first line indents to 0.05 instead of tabbing. (If you don’t know, tabs can disappear when a document goes between a number of different formats. I work in both Windows and Ubuntu formats and moving between Word and Open Office can play havoc with formatting, no matter how hard I try to prevent it.)
Your submission packet, whether it is a query letter and first few pages/synopsis or a cover e-mail and full manuscript, is your first introduction to the editor or agent. It is their first impression of you. So put your best foot forward by following directions. The failure to completely adhere to submission requirements probably won’t get your submission rejected out of hand — unless that agent or editor uses the software that looks for those particular parameters — but it does start you off with one black mark.
Questions, comments or general snarks about guidelines are welcome 😉
Happy Father’s Day to all our dads out there!