Help Yourself

by Amanda S. Green

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!

15 thoughts on “Help Yourself

  1. Also, if you have used any sort of editing or comparing manuscripts function that you’ve accepted or rejecte everything and gotten the whole thing _gone_. Its interesting to open up a manuscript and have half of it in red with or without line throughs.

    Secondly, Anyone knoe know how to turned off the curley quotes in Word 7? $%^& if I can figure it out.

    Thirdly, when you give up on manually cleaning up your manuscript and in desperation try copying the whole manuscript to your clipboard and pasting it on a new file, you may have finally lost all the other stuff. But your itallics have gone as well. Now you must go back and put them back in.

  2. Pam, thanks for the reminder about the review function. I’d forgotten that…and it does show up more often than you’d expect.

    As for turning off the smart quotes in Word 7, click the Office button at the top left (next to the save icon). In the dialog box that opens, in the bottom right hand corner, you should see a button for “word options”. It is next to the “exit word” button. Click the options button. Then click on Proofing. In the new dialog box that opens, click the autoformat tab. You’ll see a check box for Replace: straight quotes with smart quotes. Make sure that is not checked. Then just click save/apply.

    With regard to copying your manuscript into your clipboard, you will lose all your special formatting if you do. I really don’t recommend that unless absolutely necessary. It is too easy to overlook a special formatting need when you go back.

  3. Ooo! They’ve got all _kinds_ of evil little annoyances hidden under “Proofing” and “Autocorrect”. Thanks Amanda.

    Word is one of those nifty little programs that I swear, if they improve it just one more time it’ll be completely unusable.

    1. Pam, some of those are good and others, well, just annoyances. But the smart quotes really do cause problems in the conversion process. Remember the previous incarnations of the Bar? If you pasted something with smart quotes into it, you got all sorts of interesting characters as a result…just not the quotes or apostrophes you wanted.

      Another hint, turn on the show-hide function. It’s on the ribbon at the top of the page next to the sort button. It will show spaces, tabs, returns and if they are soft or hard, etc. It is really “interesting” to see some of the junk that can happen when you move from Word to Word Perfect to Open Office and back. Believe it or not, there are even what can only be called hard spaces that will show up and that can cause problems on down the road.

      As for improvements to Word, again, I have to agree. Unfortunately, it is the industry standard right now. So it’s more the devil you know than anything else.

  4. But Times New Roman is so boring. Surely it can be substituted with Script or Giddyup? A whole novel in a font like that would look cool and would stand out from the other dross. 🙂

    1. Scott, if you really want to make it stand out, why not do it in wingdings? Think about the fun the agent or editor would have trying to figure it out – hehehehehehe

  5. The short version is “Make life as easy as humanly possible for the poor sod who has to read this. They’ll be reading a whole lot of pieces at once until their eyes bleed.” So if a font is specified, use it. Chances are it got chosen because someone finds it easy to read.

    White space is good. Yes, you can go overboard, but great big chunks of text all crammed together in a tiny font with single spacing has been known to drive poor unsuspecting slush readers to manuscripticide – which is really dire when they have to kill the computer as well.

    Whatever else you do, RTFM. Don’t piss off the person who’s getting to your manuscript after a long day dealing with purple glitter-encrusted paper (yes, the paper is purple, and yes so is the glitter), print that needs a magnifying glass – and in extreme cases, a microscope – toner so low that the best you get is a kind of faded gray that’s barely different than the paper, manuscripts blown out because someone forgot to turn off change tracking, and any number of other sins. You want to make it EASY for someone to read your master work.

    1. Kate! Have you been reading slush? {VBEG}

      And you are exactly right. You want to make it as easy — and enjoyable — as possible for the person who will be making the decisions about your submission.

  6. Purple glitter is sooooo yesterday.

    I use odourless, white powder . Really gets their attention.

    1. Uh, Chris, you’re getting the wrong folks’ attention with that white powder. If you want to get the attention of most agents or editors, chocolate is the way to go. ;-p

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