Readying Your MSS for Submission
For writers who want to approach the traditional publishing route, there’s a few steps to take before that daunting task; the kind of things that will get the manuscript into the best shape it can be before it is submitted to an agent or publisher.
Unlike self-publishing, traditional publishing requires a high standard of writing and editing. A good story is only as good as the way it is presented, so this also needs to be a high standard.
So you’ve written your novel. Now to ready it for submission.
The first step is to ensure that the MSS has gone through several rounds of editing so that it is as near to perfect as it can be. That means not only presenting a cohesive, well written story, but one that is free from grammar and spelling mistakes and is punctuated correctly. Remember, any submission to agents or publishers is a showcase of your ability to write, so if you present a manuscript with errors in it, they will think less favourably about you as an author.
By taking the time to do three, four or five edits, the manuscript has a better chance of being noticed. It also shows the level of work and professionalism the writer has put into it.
When the editing is complete, it would be wise to leave it for a week or two and then do a full read through of the finished novel. It should read well and there should be no errors.
Format the MSS. In other words, make sure the layout of the manuscript is correct. There are certain standards for a manuscript layout that writers should follow, for instance, the script should be typed in double line spacing or 1.5 (check out the agents/publisher’s submission guidelines, as each one can vary), with generous margins (at least 1 inch), but it’s recommended to use 3cm all round.
Number pages consecutively. It’s surprising how many writers forget to number their pages.
The first line of each new paragraph should be indented by approximately five spaces.
Use 12-point Times New Roman or Arial font, black only. This may vary with agents and publishers, so always check their requirements. Do not use any other fancy fonts or colours. This can be distracting when they are reading the manuscript (and it shows you haven’t read their submission guidelines).
If you have italicised narrative which shows thoughts or emphasises certain words – then the usual convention is to underline those words. Some agents and publishers prefer this, while others don’t mind actual italicised text.
If there is a scene break that occurs towards the bottom of your page, denote this break with three asterisks (* * *) centered alone on a line between the last paragraph of the preceding section and the first paragraph of the subsequent section. That way the agent/publishing editor will understand that the scene has ended at the bottom of the page and a new one is beginning on the next page.
All dialogue should be correctly presented and fully punctuated.
Include a Footer or Header, giving the title (abbreviated is fine) and at least your surname on each page, except for the Title Page, which contains all the necessary information. This way, if the manuscript becomes disturbed or misplaced, the work and author can be identified.
Text should be justified to the left margin (not centred or fully justified). This is known as ragged test alignment. Almost all agents/publishers prefer this. It also prevents gaps in the text, which fully justified text often does, and makes it very untidy.
Research possible agents or publishers. Don’t just send it to any old publisher – some only publish certain genres or deal with certain lengths. In other words, don’t send a horror novel to a publisher of romance novels, or a young adult type novel to a sci-fi and fantasy publisher.
In the UK, the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook contains listings of all publishers and agents, and their submission requirements. In the US, the Writer’s Market does the same thing. Other countries may have their own versions, or Literary Associations that list possible agents and publishers, which can be found via a search on the internet.
On a cover sheet, state the title of the piece, its length (to the nearest 1000 words), your name, address, telephone number or email address, rights offered, and the date. If you are writing under a pseudonym, put this also.
Each agent or publisher that you decide to send your manuscript to (usually via email), will have specific submission guidelines. It is vital you pay very close attention to this. If you deviate from their request, you may be rejected. So if they ask for double line spacing with Arial font, three sample chapters, a one page synopsis and a cover letter, do exactly what they ask.
The cover letter should be brief and to the point, but always professional. It should tell them what the novel is called, length, what it’s about, what other writing work you’ve done (if applicable) and a few lines about yourself. It should be no more than one page long.
Your synopsis should be one to two pages long – depending on submission requirements, so pay attention.
Take the plunge and send your submission. You might receive an acceptance, but it’s likely you’ll receive a rejection. Do not be afraid of this – it’s absolutely normal and should be expected. Take on board any feedback, critique or advice and keep writing. Hard work eventually breeds success.