Becoming a Published Author
It’s generally good advice to do a little bit of research when you’re ready to submit a manuscript to a publisher. Go to your local library and find books similar in theme or genre to yours, and make a list of the publishers whose books you like. Publishers have areas of focus or genres they prefer to work with. Some publishers won’t accept unsolicited manuscripts (that means they aren’t interested in reading a manuscript if they haven’t asked you to submit it first). Some publishers have a mandate to produce the work of local writers. So do a little bit of homework and find out who publishes the kind of book you’d like to see your name on.
When you have that list in hand, check out their websites or get in touch with them. Find out if they accept unsolicited manuscripts, and if they do, what format they wish to see your manuscript in. Most publishers will have this information posted on their website. Some publishers only accept manuscript submissions during certain parts of the year, or they entertain submissions of a certain theme for a special project they’re working on. Be mindful that most small and regional publishers produce a dozen or more titles every year, and they may simply not have the capacity to accept your manuscript currently.
Also, you may wish to ask the publisher what their production timeline is – it’s unusual to see a book go from manuscript to the shelf in less than a year. Some publishers may have that kind of turnaround time, but most do not. Your book will need to go through production (including the editorial process, the design process, and the proofreading process, during all of which the publisher is mindful of marketing decisions as well as promotion and distribution). It takes time to do things right.
How To Submit A Book-Length Manuscript
Prepared by Jenna Newman July, 1995 Association of Manitoba Book Publishers
You have finished your book manuscript — novel, non-fiction, poetry, children’s book — and you want to submit it to a publisher. What do you do and how do you put your best foot forward?
While every publishing company is different and has its own preferences as to how it would like to receive a manuscript, the following sections give some good practical tips to writers.
- The manuscript should be neatly and clearly typed. No matter how neat your writing is, no editor has the time to read a handwritten manuscript. Make sure your printer is producing clean copy, without smudges, odd characters, or uneven tones. Editors receive hundreds of manuscripts each year, and few have the patience to read a script in which the letters are half whited-out or where the e’s and o’s are blobs.
- Use 8 1/2 x 11″, 16 lb. typewriter bond. A manuscript is to be read, and larger, odd-sized or erasable bond is not convenient to handle.
- Type double spaced on one side of the paper only. Leave adequate margins–at least 1 1/2″ on the left side and 1″ top and bottom. The object of a manuscript is to be published and the double spacing and adequate margins leave room for copy editing and instructions to the printer.
- The title page for a book length manuscript should contain the following information, neatly set out and typed: title of the work, your name and address, the approximate word length. Do not type any of the manuscript on the title page.
- Start each new chapter on a new page, give the chapter number and title (if any), and leave an inch of space before beginning the text.
- Number each page consecutively in the upper right hand corner throughout the manuscript. Do not begin each new chapter at page 1. It is helpful, but not essential, to put either your last name or a one word abbreviation of the title at the top of each page, coupled to the page number ( i.e. “Smith – 22″). If, after the main manuscript is typed, revisions mean additional pages have to be added to the body of the manuscript, number them 22A, 22B, 43A, 53A, 110A, 110B, 110C, etc.
- Do not staple or pin pages together, and do not put a book manuscript in any sort of binder.
- You may make minor corrections to a manuscript by printing neatly and legibly in ink. But any page that has more than two or three corrections should be re-typed.
Here are a few basic guidelines for manuscript submission:
- Write to publishers before submitting a manuscript to find out what kinds of books they publish, whether your submission would be suitable in terms of their publishing specialties and whether they accept unsolicited manuscripts. Find out what format(s) they will accept for manuscript submission. Some publishers may only accept printed manuscripts; others may accept digital copies on disk.
- When you submit a manuscript, provide some general information such as whether you’ve been published before and something about your background.
- Enclose a self addressed, stamped envelope, but be aware that publishers are under no obligation to return manuscripts. Always make sure you have another copy.
- Don’t expect a full critique of your work after submitting a manuscript. If yours is not accepted, most publishers are only able to provide a few remarks explaining why it wasn’t suitable for their publishing program.
- Make the effort to telephone ahead if you’re planning to visit a publisher. Bad timing could make a productive discussion difficult.
- Consider joining a local writing association. These organizations are dedicated to helping members learn more about writing and publishing and can provide useful workshops, resource materials, and advice.
Each year fewer and fewer of the larger publishers are accepting unsolicited manuscripts. Books such as Writer’s Market and the Canadian Writer’s Market usually have this information. If the publisher doesn’t read unsolicited manuscripts, write a letter of inquiry first. In fact, you can write to two or three at the same time and then send the manuscript to the publisher who sends you the most favorable response. In some instances, the first publishers you query may decide to decline your manuscript, but keep trying until someone asks to see it.
- A letter of inquiry should contain the following:
- a covering letter of not more than two pages setting out any relevant information about yourself, your qualifications, writing backround and publishing credits (if any).
- an estimate of the number of words in your manuscript;
- a two to four page outline of your book and one or two sample chapters (photocopied) of the book ( about 30 – 50 pages).
From this, most publishers can get some idea of your writing ability and whether your manuscript fits their present requirements. This package gives the publisher a first impression of you. It is in your best interest to make this a good first impression. You must convey to the publisher what makes your book special or unique and why he should read it over the dozens of manuscripts he receives.
Show that you have studied their list and are submitting your book because it seems to fit their publishing needs. If your book is timely, or if you know of special markets for it, let the publisher know.
The outline is equally important. Most professional writers will tell you that their outlines require the same depth, polish and sheer hard work as any phase of the book. An outline of two to four pages should give the publisher a clear idea of what the book is about, how the action evolves, the principal characters and the outcome. If you are unsure of how to assemble the outline, take a look at the inside blurb of a dust jacket. Your outline will probably be longer but should have the same tight writing and clear style that shows the excitement in the story.
- Rights available do not usually need to be specified with a book manuscript. The assumption is that you are offering the publishing world rights, and these will covered in detail in a publisher’s contract, if he decides to make an offer to publish your book. You should note in your covering letter if any parts of the manuscript have been previously published in any form.
- Original illustrations, photographs, or artwork should not be sent with a manuscript unless they are specifically requested. Your covering letter should note the availability of such material. If such material is an essential part of the manuscript, send photocopies only.
- Allow three to four weeks for replies to letters of inquiry and six to eight weeks for replies to complete manuscripts. A responsible publisher should acknowledge receipt of your manuscript within three weeks. If you do not receive any acknowledgment in that time, write and ask for one.
- A manuscript should be securely packaged. One simple packaging method is to use the box your printer paper came in. If the box is not full, use crumpled paper to fill it. (Avoid using newspaper if possible, as the ink may smear. If you do, put an extra sheet of blank paper on top of your manuscript.) Wrap the manuscript securely. If it is not in a paper box or in one of the thick padded envelopes used for mailing books, use at least two layers of heavy brown wrapping paper. Then seal all joins with heavy tape — masking tape is one of the best for this purpose, and is much better than string or twine.
- Check the publisher’s address carefully and write it on both the front and back of the package, along with your name and return address. It is worthwhile to address your submission to the appropriate editor (e.g., trade editor, children’s book editor, etc.).
- You should enclose enough return postage in stamps for the return of the manuscript by registered mail. A return envelope is not necessary, as most publishers have facilities to wrap a manuscript properly.
- Send book manuscripts by registered mail only and be very careful to retain your receipt.
- Always keep a carbon copy of any manuscript. Scripts are rarely lost, but an accident can happen. If it does, accept it as an occupational hazard.