Top five tips for submitting your manuscript

From guest blogger editorial consultant Cressida Downing

I’ve just received a very short, badly written book. I was about to write a scathing critique saying ‘don’t take on this project’ when I did my preliminary Google check, just to see if the author was in the public eye, or if there was anything else I needed to know. The vital bit of info proved to be […] that my client had already commissioned the work.

There’s always an element of subjectivity when judging manuscripts. I hastily penned a report with plenty of constructive ‘suggestions for improvement’. Most published fiction books are between 70,000 and 100,000 words long and as this project was short, the author could expand it into a well-rounded book and not lose any of the work she had done already.

If you’re writing a manuscript you’d do well to aim for about 80,000 words as it’ll be instantly more commercial that way. Of course there are several other things to bear in mind for a professional submission.

My top five are:

  1. If you address your submission by name, check that the agency actually has an agent of that name. Some are named after a long-dead agent. It is – of course – even worse to send a letter addressed to an agent, but at another agency’s address!
  2. Submit your work in accordance with the guidelines an agency has set out in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook – so don’t send children’s fiction to an agent that doesn’t handle it – or five chapters to an agency that has asked for three
  3. Use a standard font and word processing programme. Please don’t send in a submission in a handwriting-style font – it makes it much more difficult to read. Likewise, use a programme that most people can access, such as Word or Adobe.
  4. Mention your relevant writing experience, such as prizes won, publications you have had, or courses you have gone on.
  5. Keep your submission short and to the point. It’s great to see an author who has really thought about the marketing of their work, or potential illustrations, but that is the work a publisher will do after taking it on – so it’s not necessary at this stage.

Yours, Cressida

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8 Comments

Filed under Getting Published, Literary Agents

8 responses to “Top five tips for submitting your manuscript

  1. lawrenceez

    This is reassuring, as I completed a rewrite of my first novel the other night and the word count has gone from 92,000 words to 86,000. I’ve had to take out much of the antagonist’s back story and replace the material with a much more likely plot.

    Excellent website all round!

  2. Even known writers can struggle if their manuscript is on the long side. Author John Sayles can’t find a publisher for his 1,000 page epic – and it took him a decade to write.
    See http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/booksblog/2009/may/27/fiction – is life too short?

  3. lawrenceez

    Interesting article on John Sayles.

  4. Hmm – you say ‘ if addressing by name’ – I’ve invested huge efforts into directing my queries to the correct people. How would I submit otherwise? Dear so and so agency?
    To submissions?
    I always assumed that if a query came in to an agency this way it wouldn’t even be read! Am I wrong?

  5. jenniferneri – authors write in to ‘Dear Sir/Madam’, ‘Dear Sir’ (when it’s one-woman band agency), ‘Dear Agent X’ (when it’s Agent Y’s agency), or the equivalent of sending a letter to ‘Dear Mr Marks and Mr Spencer’ – when the business name reflects long dead owners.

  6. lawrenceez

    I once heard (or read) that it’s perfectly okay to call the office and clarify the agent’s name with the receptionist.

  7. Yes lawren, I do that all the time. And I confirm addresses – many times they are different from the one listed.

  8. lawrenceez

    A simple phone call or email query is perfectly okay.