Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Submissions Savvy, Part 1

by Raelene Gorlinsky

How to give your manuscript the best chance when submitting is one of the questions we get asked most frequently. Because, after all, if you don't submit "right", even the most brilliant story may sabotage its own chance for acceptance and publication.

But the whole process of submitting a manuscript starts long before you actually send it off. There is a lot of research and planning you should do first.

Step 0 – Before submitting
1. Become a pro at your profession.
~ Learn your trade: join writer organizations, attend conferences, go to book signings.
I’m amazed when new authors ask me for advice on what to do at a booksigning, and admit they’ve never been to one. Go watch an experienced author!
~ Learn the industry: magazines like Publishers Weekly and RWR; publisher websites.
~ Know your “customers”: readers. Reviews, discussion lists, blogs, RT BOOKreviews magazine.
~ Read. Read a lot. You can absorb writing techniques by seeing how other authors do it. This will also help you be aware of what types of books are being published—and who’s publishing them.

2. Be sure your “product” is ready for sale. It's done, it's clean, it's been proofread and formatted. You've written a blurb and synopsis.
~ Story needs a great “grabbing” start to get and keep the editor’s attention. You only have a couple of pages to convince the editor to keep reading your submission.

3. Use critique partners and proofers. (Family members, close friends, or rabid fans do not count!)
It is not an editor’s job to be your proofreader, or to teach you grammar. Most editors will not even consider submissions that clearly need massive editing. Interesting story lines are continually rejected because too much editing work would be needed. It isn’t worth it when other stories just as good can be finished with less time and effort.
~ Writers groups can be a great way to get feedback and find critique partners; they also often sponsor writer conferences where you will have the opportunity to talk to editors, agents, and published writers.
~ Contests: A way to get feedback on your work. Especially consider those that use editors or agents as judges.

Now you are ready to submit your story. Remember, if your manuscript is accepted, this is the beginning of what you hope will be a long and profitable connection with the publisher and editor—so do everything you can to start the relationship off right.
Humbleness does not hurt. Inflated egos send editors running.

Step 1: Where to submit
Know the publishers and agents, what they are looking for. Be familiar with the books they publish or represent. Check out their websites. Ask questions. Send only to appropriate places!
RWR semiannual Market Update; publisher websites for most current information.

Step 2: Submission guidelines
Read them, follow them. Use common sense.
Do what the submission guidelines say! Don’t expect special treatment, don’t argue about the rules.

Step 3: Cover letter/email, synopsis, sample chapters
Customize each submission letter. Make it easy to read, a quick summary of you and your story. Always be polite, don’t be too aggressive, don’t sound overconfident.
Do not say something like “Thank you for the chance to express myself.” This scares off an editor, who wants to read a marketable story, not your emotional purge.
I’ve gotten emails that mentioned “the enclosed self-addressed stamped envelope”; the author clearly just did a cut and paste from the standard letter she mails to publishers.

On Friday, I'll post the steps for after you've submitted--the waiting and hoping.

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