The Ten Commandments of Writing #8: Thou Shalt Heed The Submission Guidelines

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It’s been a while since I posted anything in this series of posts. Part of the reason, if I’m honest, is a crisis of confidence. When you have no faith in your own writing, you feel you have no right to lecture anyone else.

However, that sort of thinking is unhelpful, and I’m going to come back to that a bit later in the series. For now, though, it’s time to pick up where we left off in the Ten Commandments of Writing. So you’ve written your manuscript, you’ve polished it until it shines, and now you’re ready to send it out into the world. So what’s next? You have to submit it.

Things have moved on quite a bit from when I first started submitting to agents and editors, back in the 1990s. In those days the submission instructions were fairly standard – the first three chapters and a synopsis, with a stamped self-addressed envelope, which involved spending my lunch hour standing in line at the post office to get my envelope weighed, buying return postage to include on the return envelope before sealing up the package, only to have it land on my doorstep a couple of days later in an envelope with my own handwriting on it.

Nowadays most submissions are made by email, but the instructions can vary widely. Firstly, you have more options, because there are far more small presses out there who are willing to look at unsolicited manuscripts, so you are not restricted to submitting only to agents. But some publishing houses might not want attachments in emails for fear of viruses. Some might have old machines that can’t deal with certain types of software so they can only accept submissions in a certain format. Some don’t like fancy fonts. In the old days of postal submissions, everything was pretty much written in courier or Times Roman. I still write all my manuscripts in Times Roman. It has a bad press in the business world these days, but I have a fondness for serif fonts that are clear and straightforward and easy to read. None of this sans serif font business where a capital ‘I’ and a lower case ‘l’ are indistinguishable (and the font on this blog rather illustrates my point!)

Anyway, here is Commandment #8, and it is important: read the submission requirements carefully, and follow them to the letter, and this is about a lot more than ensuring that the publishing house you are submitting to deals with the genre you write in. Are the instructions asking for the first three chapters and a synopsis, or the whole manuscript? Do they ask for a blurb and the first chapter that must be embedded in the email, and do not under any circumstances send attachments? Do they want the whole manuscript, in 10-point courier font, single spaced, using paragraph auto indents instead of tabs and no page numbers? Then that’s exactly what you send.

Read the guidelines carefully, prepare your submission equally carefully, and double check everything before you hit ‘send’. And then, if you’re anything like me, you check your email box obsessively every half an hour until you get a response.

But at least your work will be Out There, and that’s what counts. Good luck!



4 comments so far

  1. Anne on

    I’ve just discovered your blog! I was curious about Shara Summers and drifted over here.

    I love the idea of Writing Commandments, and some I follow absolutely. I always rewrite! But I only kinda obey submission guidelines. Almost every agent and publication frowns on simultaneous submissions and will say so in their guidelines – but – it can be a slow death waiting for responses. I used to follow their “no simultaneous submissions” rule religiously but, after one publisher waited TWO YEARS to respond on my novel, I snapped. I realized the hold on my material was only holding me back.

    The first time I signed with an agent, I was querying six of them a day with the same pitch. Almost all refused simultaneous submissions, so I ignored the issue in my query. When an agent picked me up and I notified the others, the only response I received was, “If ***** doesn’t work out, please let me know. Good luck!”

    • sayssara on

      HI Anne

      Thanks for getting in touch! I agree with you that the ‘no simultaneous submissions’ rule can be tricky, especially with publishers that take a long time to come back. I think it’s reasonable to chase after a couple of months, and simultaneous submissions are only a problem if you get an acceptance from someone. In that situation, it is of course polite to let the other publisher know that you’ve got another offer and you would be grateful if they could let you know if they are interested before you accept it.

      I had a novel with a publisher for 2 years once. I had given up on them and started to submit elsewhere. In fact in the end I did get another offer and so I approached them and asked to withdraw my submission. They sent it back with apologies that they had been holding it for so long.

      Good luck with your writing!

      • Anne on

        Sara, on my novel the publisher had held for two years? When I sent it out again — to everyone in the world at the same time because, again, I was done with individual submissions — it was picked up fairly quickly. I notified all of the other parties…except for the publisher who had held it so long. Several months later, it was published and, weeks later, I received my tattered, much-worn manuscript back from the slow-moving publisher that first infuriated me.

        They included a note with my pages. They didn’t apologize for the long wait. They simply wished me best of luck with my newly-published novel.

  2. Green Dragon Artist on

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