Fountain pens and other useless diatribes

Submission Formatting: What NOT to do

Writing | May 11, 2009

The idea of one day seeing your name in print is probably the only thing that keeps most of us writers going. The thought that maybe somehow - somewhere - there's a publisher who sees our work as the next The Firm or Carrie.

My God that's a nice dream. And it'll keep being a dream unless you're proactive about it. I'm not talking about making a few phone calls and sitting back to wait for the kudos to walk in. That method - sadly - will never, ever work.

If you're serious about getting published, then you should be out there every day. Knocking on doors, writing emails, ringing at all hours of the day and making a general nuisance of yourself until they finally publish your work just to get rid of you!

But wait! Don't saddle the horses yet. There are a few things you'll have to remember. Boring, tedious, anal retentive things that make your chances of getting their attention just that little bit better.

Editors can spot amateurs a mile away - they can practically smell them! But with some creative sneaking, you can disguise your work as genuine, no-frills, professional stuff.

The rules (from what I've gathered from my talks with people actually in the business) are as follows:

  1. Never send them something unsolicited. Contact them first, be polite, and explain what you want to offer them. Remember - you are offering them. They have the power and you want some, so be polite. Unsolicited manuscripts generally don't get picked up because they're annoying. I know Allen and Unwin has had to hire somebody especially to go through all the crap that goes through their post boxes uninvited.
  2. If they want to see your stuff, always ask if they have specific formatting guidelines. Most publishers do, and you want to cater to their needs. Generally, editors are interested in the synopsis and the first few chapters - so make sure those dazzle.
  3. POST the darn thing. Never email. This is a comfort thing - most editors feel they get a better sense of the book and they don't miss anything if they've got the hard copy. It's nicer than staring at a computer screen for hours.
  4. Always have a title page for your manuscript. Most editors want that (I know, I've checked.) and it shows you've given thought to your stuff. Put your title in bold and capitol letters, and stick it in the centre of the page, so it draws attention. Put "a novel" underneath it, and "by" underneath that, followed by your name underneath that. Put your name, address, phone numbers and email address in the top left-hand corner and the precise word count in the top right. Make sure all of this is double-spaced.
  5. DON'T try and fudge a word count, by the way - most eds can tell the size of a document just by flicking through it.
  6. Never put "copyright" on the manuscript. I mean NEVER. Never, never, never. It's a sloppy, amateur mistake which grabs the editor by both ears screams unprofessional. It just pisses people off.
  7. Now to the actual manuscript: Most editors I've spoken to have a general idea of what they like to see in an MS. Double-spacing (makes it easier to read and they can write comments like "This is crap") is a must. Make sure every chapter starts on a new page. In the header, have your last name and the title: eg, Smith/THIS MARVELOUS BOOK I WROTE. Have your pages numbered.

See what I mean? Boring, tedious and anal retentive. But I guarantee your work will look better for it, and probably be a refreshing change from all the retarded submissions the editors are used to dealing with.

If you pretend like you know what you're doing, maybe other people will believe you!

Me and my publishing friends will have a discussion over the next few days about the synopsis dos and don'ts. Not just formatting rules etc, but the actual writing - what to put in. Editors require the synopsis and first couple of chapters before they make up their minds about the novel, so there's a lot of pressure to do a good job. Everybody I know struggles with writing those buggers.

Between you and me, it's like trying to park a Buick in a weet-bix box.

You have to grapple a 60,000 word MS into a couple of pages, which is NOT fun. But never fear - I'm on the job and I'll figure out what they like so you all know what to put in!


PS: "TTFN" means "Ta-ta-for-now". You'd be surprised how many people don't know that.

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About Jessica Seymour

I must have done a million of these things and I still have no idea where to begin...

About me: I am female. Caucasian. Brown hair and grey eyes.
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