7 Dos and Don’ts for Submitting Your Writing

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I used to be in acquisitions, and I loved and hated it. On the one hand, there was nothing as tiring as slogging through submissions that were nowhere near the mark. On the other hand, when we found that one-in-a-million manuscript, it was worth all the hard work! Here are some pointers to keep in mind for your manuscript submissions.

DO…

Pile of submissions

The Slush Pile

Research the publisher and make your submissions match their guidelines in EVERY way possible.

This means do your homework. Know what they want. Some writers even go so far as to look up publishers until they find a few that have guidelines that are similar to something they have already written, then tweak their submissions to fit those guidelines. For example, if you have written a great adventure book and your main character is a boy, and you find a publisher who is looking for adventure books for girls, consider changing the gender of your main character.

Could it work? Sounds terribly uninspired and even cynical to sacrifice your literary vision, but doing this can actually give your submission a focus that makes it better, not worse. It’s called knowing your audience. And if it doesn’t work out, you can always send your submission to a different publisher—one that MATCHES your work!

DON’T…

Send a publisher a submission if you already know they don’t want it.

If one house publishes historical fiction only, do not send them your how-to book. If they only accept paper submissions, don’t send them one via email. If they only accept submissions through agents, have your agent do it for you, or look for a publisher who doesn’t require an agent. If they like it only on lime green paper in purple calligraphy—well, they are just silly, but don’t send it on yellow paper in orange ink. Only send them what they ask for, in the right genre, in the exact format. Otherwise, you will make them mad and they will toss you to the side in less than three seconds.

DO…

Write a very good, interesting cover letter that stands out.

Sell yourself well on paper. Even if they don’t want to use your particular submission, if your credentials are good and they like your style, it’s possible they may want to use you for a different assignment. This is especially true of houses that publish nonfiction. Maybe you sent in a great book about weaving, but they already have one in-house getting ready to go to the printer. But hey, on your letter, you mention that you’re also an excellent potter. They don’t have a great pottery book yet so…

DON’T…

Write a cover letter that makes you sound like a kook.

There’s a difference between writing an interesting cover letter and writing a cover letter that tries too hard. Remember, your submission needs to stand on its own two feet. If it doesn’t, no amount of writing in limericks, or doodling on the envelope, or plastic animals glued to the outside, are going to make you special enough to get published.

DO…

Give it your best shot in your first few sentences, both in your cover letter and in your submission.

If you can’t grab your reader’s attention really fast, you are done for. This doesn’t mean starting your letter like you’re getting shot out of a cannon, but it does mean you need to get moving to make it worth an editor’s time. Your submission is keeping them from getting the rest of the work on their desk done, so it better be worth it. Think of it this way: if reading your submission feels to the editor like she’s taking a nice break to read something for fun, then you are on the right track.

DON’T…

Make errors. Remember, the person reading your letter and submission is most likely an editor. Spelling and grammar errors are going to scream, “I DON’T CARE MUCH ABOUT THIS!” Even if you turn in good work, a mistake is a big turn-off.

DO…

Finally, the biggest, toughest DO of all: DO be honest with yourself when you answer this question, “Is this worth the paper/computer space it’s printed on?”

Sometimes, your best isn’t good enough—not yet. If you aren’t sure, you need to ask some beta readers for some honest, informed opinions. Have you ever watched American Idol (guilty once or twice, thanks) and wondered: “How could that person not know what a terrible singer he/she is? How do you listen to that and not hear a screeching cat?” Well, before you send submission to a publisher, make sure you’re not a screeching cat. Get other people to read your submission and tell you if they enjoyed it, and why. Don’t ask your mom or your new girlfriend because you’re likely to get a less-than-critical answer. Ask someone who knows good writing, who can look you in the eye and tell you that you have a big glob of spinach in your teeth—in front of other people. That’s the honest answer you need. It’s up to you if you take all, some, or none of their advice, but you need to at least hear them out.

So submit some work to a publisher, or submit it on Pubmission! If it’s been a while, dust off something you think is ready and look up some publishers you think will take it. Get it ready to go. But before you do, don’t forget to find a beta reader. (You can find one at Pubmission who will point out that glob of spinach for you—virtually—if you don’t know anyone else who will do it.)

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