Crash Course on How to Submit a Manuscript

I am often asked for help on how to go about submitting a book to publishers. In an attempt to simplify the process of passing along useful information, the following is a crash course on how and to whom you should submit your manuscript.  Consider it a nitty-gritty action plan.

First things first, submitting your work is no small undertaking. Truth be told, writing the book is the easier part. This next step is the daunting one. I don’t say that to discourage you, but to help plant your feet in reality. Plain and simple — statistically, a would-be actor winning an acting role has better odds than a would-be writer getting published.

For those of you who are still reading, let’s get down to how you can turn many of those odds around.

1. Properly format your manuscript. (See starred books below.) Submitting a professional-looking manuscript goes a long way toward getting an agent or a publisher to take you seriously.

2. Have somebody else proof-read your work. Even if you have to pay someone. Seriously. Nothing irritates editors more than grammatical errors and typos.

3. Research both agents and publishers who represent your genre. (See starred books below.) Too many writers don’t bother to do their homework here and wind up submitting to the wrong persons, which is a waste of everyone’s time — and marks you as an amateur. You can quickly find a list of the correct agents and publishers by looking in the back of Writer’s Market and Guide to Literary Agents, under the index of your genre.

4. Write a killer query letter. ( See starred books below.) All agents and editors require that you send a query letter first. A well-crafted query letter is your first, best, and only shot for getting someone to take an interest in you. If you don’t write well enough to get your foot in the door here, no agent or publisher is going to bother looking at your proposal — never mind your manuscript — no matter how fabulous they may be. If you’re serious about getting published, the single most important step you can take is to get the query letter right.

5. Prepare an impressive proposal. (See starred books below.) Take your time and be thorough, especially with the marketing analysis (who’s going to buy your book and why, and how you’re going to promote it) and the book comps (what makes your book different from similar books already published). Be professional with your bio. Cutesy is the kiss of death. If you’re writing non-fiction, and you’re honestly able to position yourself as an expert, so much the better.

6. Once you’ve got your query letter and proposal as perfect as you can get them, and you’ve compiled a list of appropriate agents and publishers, now you want to research the submission guidelines. You can either find this in Writer’s Market or on their websites. Do NOT submit anything more (or less) than what they ask for.

7. Create a contact sheet that lists names and addresses of all the agents and small publishing houses (large houses do not accept unagented submissions) to which you plan on submitting. Call each place and check with the secretary (do not ask to speak with the agent or editor) to make sure you have the correct spelling of the agent’s or editor’s name, that they are still the right person for handling your genre, and that you have the correct address.

8. Submit to your entire list of both agents and small publishing houses simultaneously. Preferably you want to land an agent first. But if you get a publisher interested in your book, use that acceptance to go get yourself an agent. Unless you only plan on writing one book, in which case it doesn’t matter. If you hope to publish again, get yourself an agent.

A Writer’s Library — Must Have Resources

Here are a list of books that will help you figure out how to get your book into the right hands. Starred books are must-haves. The rest are worthwhile reads but not critical. Click on the book covers to be taken to Amazon.

***Writer’s Market 2009

***Guide to Literary Agents 2009

***How to Get a Literary Agent

***Jeff Herman’s Guide to Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents

Good books on how to format manuscripts, and write query letters and proposals:

***Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript

***Book Proposals That Sell

***How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters

***Write the Perfect Book Proposal

***Thinking Like Your Editor


5 thoughts on “Crash Course on How to Submit a Manuscript”

  1. Giuseppe Lizotte

    I looked over something comparable to your “Crash Course on How to Submit a Manuscript | Author Mom with Dogs” post at another site I frequent… anyway, I feel apple is normally overrated but has some good stuff also.

  2. I admit, I have not been on this webpage in a long time… however it was another joy to see It is such an important topic and ignored by so many, even professionals. I thank you to help making people more aware of possible issues. Great stuff as usual…

  3. Thanks for taking the time to include the book links. It’s hard to know how to sort through all the writing books. Great post. As usual. :)

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