Over the course of my internships I’ve read a fair amount of submissions. It is an interesting, often amusing and sometimes illuminating experience. As a bookworm it is pretty much my ideal task, being asked to read through stories. The hardest part is having to tell a budding author that their work is not going to be published. Of course it is not possible for a company to publish every manuscript they receive. Slush piles tend to be more like towers. It is astounding how many manuscripts a company can receive in one week alone. There are, however, ways in which hopeful authors can spruce up their work and give it a more fighting chance. Here are my top tips for authors thinking of submitting their work.
1. Proofread Your Cover Letter
Your cover letter/email is the first thing whoever is reading your submission will see. It is therefore vital that it makes a good impression. Check the spelling and grammar in your letter thoroughly. I can’t stress this point enough. If there are glaring errors in your cover letter then the person reading it will be less inclined to look at your work. Errors in your manuscript can be edited later and no publisher expects a perfect manuscript to land in their inbox. A perfectly spelt cover letter, however, shows that you have taken the time and effort and not just fired off a quick missive.
2. Do Your Research
Most publishing companies have a section on their website that provides information about submissions. This usually consists of how to send your work to the company, how many sample chapters to include and the types of work that company publishes. If you are not sure, the website will more than likely have a list of all the titles the company has published recently. From this you will gain a pretty good idea of the genres that company handles. A lot of smaller companies specialise in only a few genres. There is a wealth of publishers and literary agents out there. To send your work to every single one of them is just a waste of your time. Target those that deal with your genre. If you are still unsure after looking at the website then consult the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, which provides a list of all the agents and publishing houses in the UK. https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/store/9781408192450/writers-and-artists-yearbook-2015/
3. Do Not Make Presumptions
It never ceases to amaze me how many cover letters begin ‘Dear Sirs’. This is the 21st Century and while it is true that men do still dominate the executive roles there are increasingly more women at the top of the publishing structure. As with genre you should research as much about the company as possible. Sometimes websites can be helpful and provide a list of contacts. In most cases, however, you will not have name to add to the beginning of your letter. When in doubt it is perfectly acceptable to begin with ‘Dear Publishing Company Name’. Starting like that is less likely to offend whoever might be reading your submission.
Synopses can be tricky. You have to tread the fine line between filling the reader in on the basics of the plot while making it interesting enough to make them want to read your work. Too often synopses are either a long list, e.g. ‘This happens, then that happens, and then someone does this and that results in this happening.’ This can be very off-putting, especially when it takes up several paragraphs. Try to add a little more than just the bare bones of the story, but don’t go overboard. Long synopses that cover pages are just as likely to be glanced at. Too much information can be equally off-putting as too little. Ideally a synopsis should be no longer than a page in length.
5. Grab Your Reader’s Attention
Think about all the books you have read and enjoyed. Have you ever noticed that they usually got you hooked from the first chapter? There are, of course, exceptions but generally speaking good books are those which reel the reader in from the very first chapter. Re-read it before sending it off and, if possible, get other people to read it. You are not going to be the best judge of your own work. You’re too close to it. Nevertheless do ask yourself if the initial chapter is intriguing enough? Does it set up the action for the rest of the story? Does it establish the protagonist and does it make you want to keep reading? A good first chapter will do all these things and encourage whoever is reading your submission to keep going.
6. Edit Your Work
This is not of extreme importance because the manuscript will be edited umpteen times if it is taken on. That said, you should check that your spelling and grammar is mostly correct. It would surprise you how many manuscripts turn up riddled with obvious errors. One look at something that is full of common sense mistakes will not encourage the publisher to keep reading. They don’t expect it to be perfect, but they are looking for at least some ability to structure your grammar and punctuation properly.
7. Be Prepared To Work At It
One thing I never realised until I started interning is that the original manuscript you send in will not be the same as the book that is eventually printed. If a publisher or agent does take on your work you have to be prepared and willing to revise it several times. Often the editor will want to cut out your favourite pieces. You need to be strong and accept that they are not being mean; they are trying to help make your work the best possible version. If you are not willing to work on your manuscript until you are sick to the back teeth of it then perhaps you need to ask yourself if being an author is the right career move.
Of course following these tips is not a guarantee that your work will be published. They are intended as a guideline to make your work stand out more but there is, sadly, no magic formula to getting published. The only thing you can do is persevere. Becoming an author is about resilience and determination. There will be days when you feel like you will never hold your book in your hand, but when this mood overcomes you just stop and think about all the famous authors that have gone before you. Most of them were rejected numerous times before they found success. Perhaps the most important thing of all when submitting a manuscript is to have hope. It may be a tough and wearisome process but if you are willing to work hard and keep at it then your dream may one day become a reality.