20 Tips for Writers
Despite the fact there are many books for authors on how to submit manuscripts to publishers and agents, a condensed primer of good advice is needed. Here are some valuable tips to help you get your book published.
You must have a "completed" manuscript ready for publication. If all you have is a great idea for a book and no product to sell you are wasting time and effort. Few publishers will accept such submissions from unknown writers. Best advice? Write the book then submit the manuscript to publishers and agents. Send the manuscript in separate unbound sheets, unless otherwise instructed. However, if you are an experienced writer, you may submit a book "proposal."
Read books similar to what you plan to write so you have an idea of how the writer communicated the subject matter. You could likely do better. That's what you'll have to do in order to compete with other books much like yours in the marketplace! Read about the publishing industry. Learn how it functions. Read publishing law books. Publishing contracts are complex and intimidating to the new writer. Be prepared so you can act quickly if a publisher decides to publish your book. Publishers will not wait long for you to evaluate the contract due to ever changing market conditions. You could lose a publishing opportunity by not being prepared.
Do not mention the word 'proposal' in a query letter unless it is a book proposal. Novice writers often write, 'I propose to send my manuscript to your firm' and the publisher thinks the query is a proposal and not a finished manuscript leading to a rejection for the unknown author.
- Purchase The Writer's Market published by Writer's Digest. This book lists publishers and agents. The book will allow you to target your market. Writers often make the mistake of sending query letters to publishers and agents that do not specialize in the genre. A waste of time and money for the author and asking for a rejection.
Send a query letter to any publisher or agent you want - even if they are not open for submissions. It is not illegal to send them mail. Often, if the query is compelling to read agents and publishers will request your manuscript, even if closed to writers who have no representation. Every publisher and agent is looking for a bestseller, so send your query letter. Yes, many will automatically reject your query, but you only need one to say yes. It is not very expensive if you only submit a query letter with SASE.
Send your query first class mail. E-mail queries are not very effective. Always enclose the SASE. Do not use cute and fancy stationery or colorful postage stamps. Editors see this and will place your query in the 'other file' to be read someday or never. Use a plain white envelope and a business American flag stamp (if you have access to American postage stamps). Publishers and agents have a filtering process and these a few to identify amateur submissions. Professional submissions actually appear unprofessional to those not familiar with industry standards.
Some publishers and agents require a synopsis or sample chapter. You can bypass this hassle and just send a query letter. On the other hand, if you want to do it right you can follow their submission procedures to the dime. Try the query first because there are a many publishers and agents and it will be much easier and less expensive trying to comply with all the submission procedures each will place upon you. This is one rule you can bend. Just make sure you have a strong query letter to perk their interest.
Your query letter should be only one page. Don't send a multiple page query letter. It will not be read. Agents and editors are very busy people and will not read long queries. Do not rely on the software spell-checker. They can't tell the difference between; there, their, they're. Print your query and manuscript on paper and read it. Mysteriously, your eyes will miss many errors using the computer monitor!
If you must send a synopsis, keep it to two pages. Highlight the main story twists in a series of brief four line paragraphs. Make it fast and easy to read. Longer is not better. Learn to condense your writing and get to the point quickly.
Never send a manuscript unless specifically requested by an agent or publisher. Break this rule and you are asking for an automatic rejection. It's a legal issue to prevent a lawsuit. Authors who do this are doomed to fail. Learn all you can about how to market your manuscript and follow the publishing industry standard rules regarding submissions. Be professional and you will absolutely see enhanced results for your efforts!
Do not mail manuscripts to publishers and agents using FedEx Air, Airborne or UPS. It does not speed up anything and will only serve to tip off an amateur submission is being delivered. Send the manuscript with the US Postal Service First Class, Special Standard or Priority. Don't ask for a signed receipt as it portrays an element of distrust. If you want to insure the publisher or agent received your manuscript enclose a Self-Addressed Stamped Post Card.
Make sure you use a computer so you can deliver your manuscript on computer disk if the publisher selects to publish your book. Surprisingly, publishers do obtain hand-typed manuscripts and this can ruin a publishing opportunity for you. You can't go wrong using Microsoft Word (Mac or PC) software to write your book. All publishers can handle that program with ease.
- When you mail a manuscript it must be on white photocopy grade paper, not computer disk (in most cases). Double-space text is the standard with one inch margins. Fonts can be 12 point New Times Roman, Arial, Courier or similar. Nothing fancy. Do not send an original. Send a photocopy or computer printed copy. Do not use any sort of binding unless otherwise instructed. All pages must be loose and in proper page order with no covers. Just send the manuscript. It's that simple. Use a laser printer at 300 dots per inch or higher resolution. In the page header print your name or book title. Follow these rules and you'll have a professionally formatted manuscript.
- Include a cover letter with your manuscript. In the cover letter just identify the manuscript's title, your name, address, phone, e-mail address. Don't try to sell the book in this letter because that is what a query letter does; tease the reader to request your manuscript. The less you say in your cover letter the better off you will be. Let your query letter do the teasing and the manuscript to do the selling. There are books at the bookstore that explain the difference between query letters, synopsis, outlines and cover letters. You should read them!
- When shipping your manuscript to a publisher or agent use a cardboard box or bubble envelope. For the manuscript S.A.S.E. use a smaller box, Tyvek or corrugated cardboard envelope. Never send those cushion envelopes stuffed with fine paper fibers. When opened they make a terrible mess flinging dust fibers everywhere. Not a nice way to make a good first impression! It upsets all who open them, so don't use these fiber-cushion envelopes. For a catalog of shipping supplies contact BrownCor 800-327-2278. Using a large bubble envelope to mail the manuscript and using a smaller bubble envelope for the S.A.S.E. is practical. The most economical of all is not to include the manuscript S.A.S.E. Print another manuscript when needed. You'll save money in postage and always be submitting a fresh, clean manuscript.
- Check the spelling and grammar in all your submission materials. Be professional. Publishers and literary agents take seriously writers who have a "finished " product ready for production. You should always have your manuscript professionally edited before you send it to any agent or publisher. This will absolutely reduce rejections and get your book published! Surprisingly, authors will not employ an editor and then wonder why they can't get published. You invested time writing your book. Now invest money in editing so you can have your book published. This is the leading cause of rejection and failure.
- You do not need to be a fabulous writer to be published. You don't need a college degree. What you do need is writing and communication skills to have a great book. You can obtain these skills from reading how-to books. You can hire a professional writer to rewrite your manuscript. Ghostwriters are listed on Web sites and in Writer's Digest Magazine. Many famous authors use the services of ghostwriters. If you hire a professional ghostwriter or editor to rewrite your script and query letter the odds increase dramatically of having your book published. It is an investment in your success and the cost is tax deductible.
- It takes money to make money. It is near impossible to be published and expect your book to be a bestseller if you do not invest in professional services to bring your manuscript up to industry standards. To save money on editing services is a recipe for absolute failure. Good editors and ghostwriters know more than the technical side of writing; they know how to write a bestseller. They know what sells and what does not sell and they know how to get the job done right the first time. Hire an independent editor or ghostwriter not affiliated with an agent or publisher.
- Performing professional submissions with a professionally written query letter is your best chance of getting your manuscript requested. Having your manuscript professionally edited will get your book published. These are the two secret keys that open locked doors. Having the best book manuscript in the world is useless if you have an inferior query letter. Do not let your query letter destroy your opportunity to be published. Hire an editor to tighten your query letter. Writers who employ editors succeed. Those who don't, fail. We have a sample query letter on our Web site: http://www.powernet.net/~scrnplay.
- You do not need a literary agent to be published, but they do open markets to reach exclusive publishers. Small press independent publishers should not be discounted. They can give your book longevity on the market and are capable to launch and manage bestsellers by employing subcontracts with larger publishers. Again, the key to success is submitting professional material so the agent or publisher's editor can see high quality in the writing immediately. Quality sells!
By enhancing the quality and marketability of your query letter and manuscript agents and publishers will be receptive to you. Rejection may still occur, but you will be amazed how many publishing offers you will receive once you invest in editing services. It's a fact of life in the publishing business. If you shop around on the Internet you can easily negotiate the editing price of $3 to $5 per page down to $1 per page. Now that's not a bad investment at all.
Copyright © James Russell Publishing. Used with permission.