I am no means an expert on what it takes to get a publishing deal. It’s a complicated process with lots of moving parts, variables and often takes a healthy slice of good luck. What I think I can make claim to at least some knowledge on is what is needed in terms of the submission that is sent to publishers and literary agents.
Carrying out even the most cursory search on the internet on this subject will return a plethora of information. There are many, many thoughts on what a submission should or should not contain. What most publishers, agents and industry experts seem to generally agree on, however, is that a good submission should contain at least the following 3 elements:
- A cover letter (or sometimes known as your ‘Introduction letter’)
- A synopsis (or overview if the book is in that very early ‘ideas’ stage)
- Some sample chapters (or chapter outlines – again if the book is only at the ‘idea’ stage)
It’s hard to argue with the above as it makes a lot of sense. Something to tell them who you are, something that gives them an overview of what you have written and finally, an example.
Now, it’s when you get into the detail underneath the cover of each of these elements that opinion starts to diverge – and often in a big way. And this is where opinion, personal preference, style, background etc. all start to play a role.
There is not much that a writer can do about this. You could, of course, try tailoring your submission documents to each publisher or agent but this requires an understanding of specifically what they want. Though this may improve your chances of getting further in the process, it’s no guarantee and is incredibly time consuming. It’s a tricky challenge.
So, whilst I can’t help you to know exactly what each publisher or agents is looking for in terms of the style of the submission, what I can speak with some authority on though, is that the majority of submissions that we have seen via the MyManuscripts platform are poor, seriously poor. And this is not just me saying it but comes directly from feedback provided by our publishers and literary agents.
In particular, the introduction letters are poor. Given that this is normally the first thing that a publisher or agent will read, you can see that a poor introduction letter limits your chances of them deciding to read any further. And if they don’t read any further, it doesn’t matter how good your actual writing is!
What writers need to take into consideration is that most publishers and literary agents aren’t suffering from a lack of material to review. The amount of times we have been told this including ‘oh, don’t sending anything to our submission inbox – its full!’ makes this clear. What many of them have also said is that unless they get a clear idea of the who, what where in that first couple of paragraphs then they will simply move on to the next one. Sounds a bit unfair but is an indication that they simply don’t have the time to read every single submission in detail unless they think it is potentially worth their while.
So, assuming that they read your cover letter/introduction first, you need to make sure that you don’t lose them in those initial critical moments!
Here are our top tips:
- Be clear and concise. Read your introduction letter out loud and make sure it flows well and makes sense. Again, remember that they don’t know anything about you and this is your opportunity to set the scene
- Put yourself in the place of the publisher or agent. Remember you are speaking to them. Think about how they might want to hear what you have to say. They have never seen your work and don’t know the background. You have to step them through it. You know your characters inside out, but they of course have never heard of them!
- Spell and grammar check your work. Before you finalise your submission documents ensure that you have copied the writing into an application like Microsoft word and let it do a spell and gramma check. This doesn’t guarantee success but certainly removes one of the more common publisher/agent complaints
At MyManuscripts, knowing the importance of your submission documents, we do a couple of extra things to try and ensure we at least get you past the first part of submission review.
Firstly, we try to guide you through creating your submission documents to take some of the challenge away. At the least, we won’t let you upload your submission to publishers and agents until you have provided all three elements – introduction, synopsis and sample chapters.
We also take your submission documents one step further and combine them with what we call your personal profile. When you complete your personal profile, we capture information that publishers and agents have said is important in building a more detailed picture of you. For example, they are interested about your social media presence. Do you already have a following? Have you already got a strong voice? These are the sorts of things that can point to your marketability and might make you more attractive.
Want to know more? Go here and sign up for a free account: MyManuscripts
Norm Thomas – CEO and founder