Submitting Your Manuscript to Book Publishers

I’ve finished my manuscript –now what?

Yay! That means it’s all over and I just send it off to a publisher, right? Sorry, no. If you have finished a first draft, please keep in mind that it is precisely what it is, a first draft – not the final product.

QWC likes to recommend that you ‘bottom drawer’ the manuscript for a few weeks at least before you look at it again and certainly before you send it out to a publisher (or an agent). This will give you some distance and perspective, so that when you do read it again, it will be much easier for you to see things that may have escaped your notice because you were too deeply in the work when writing. Things such as repetition, inconsistency of plot, character, and the ‘Impossibles’, like when a character rides the same horse for four days without giving it food or water.

Is my manuscript ready?

First impressions are crucial so it is essential that you present your best possible efforts when approaching a publisher. Having an editor and a proofreader polish your manuscript until it is the best possible product is in your own best interests. A manuscript that is poorly edited and formatted, that is filled with spelling mistakes and grammatical errors is unlikely to impress a publisher. See QWC’s page on Editing & Proofreading for more information.

Publishers

What does a publisher do?

A traditional publisher will sign a contract with an author and will take on all the processes associated with publishing the author’s book. This will cover final editing, proofreading, typesetting, design, printing, marketing, promoting and distributing the book. The publisher pays the author an advance (amounts differ from book to book) and then royalties on sales once the publisher has earned back the advance from the sales.

How do I find a publisher?

Learn the market and establish networks. Visit bookshops and investigate which publishers are producing similar work to yours before making contact. Make sure you check a publisher’s requirements: there’s very little point sending a romance novel to a horror publisher or vice versa. Once again, first impressions matter, so be prepared and seek expert advice.

The Australian Writer’s Marketplace lists publishers as well as competitions and awards, magazines, newspapers, literary agents, manuscript appraisers, editors, literary events, writing courses, etc. Publishers’ details include what genres they publish, whether they accept unsolicited manuscripts and how they prefer to be contacted. AWM is available from QWC for $43.95 Members/$49.95 Non-members; or an online subscription can be purchased at www.awmonline.com.au. It can also be accessed at most libraries.

How do I approach a publisher?

The preferred form of contact is written – if you phone a publishing house, you will not be put through to the commissioning editor or the head of publishing. You will get a publishing or editorial assistant and chances are they will direct you to their website for the submission guidelines. Submission guidelines are not suggestions – follow them to the letter.

What does ‘industry formatting’ mean?

Use white A4 paper with double line spacing and at least a 12 point font – use Courier or Times New Roman. Print only on one side. Margins should be about 3cm all around. Do not bind or staple your manuscript. Bulldogs clips are acceptable. Always keep a copy of your manuscript. For a template, take a look at our page on Formatting your Manuscript (link).

What to send:

  1. The cover letter should be polite and concise. Introduce yourself in the first short paragraph, including any writing credits or courses you may have done. The next paragraph should cover your novel: genre, length, target audience and a summary of the plot in one, two or three sentences – further detail should be left for the synopsis. The next paragraph should cover what inspired you to write the book, and note any authors whose work covers similar ground to yours. As a courtesy, if you’re submitting to other publishers, mention that as well. We have more information on writing a cover letter here (link).
  2. The blurb is a single paragraph – what you find on the back of a book.
  3. The synopsis is a precise outline of the plot and characters. Use short sentences, simple language and keep it to one or two pages. We have more information on writing a synopsis here (link).
  4. The sample pages – most publishers ask to see your first fifty pages or the first three chapters of the book.

When to follow-up:

You should wait at least three months before you follow up. Be polite and patient: publishers receive hundreds of submissions and you do not want to be remembered as ‘That rude individual’. If you want your manuscript returned, then make sure that you include a stamped self-addressed envelope of sufficient size and with sufficient postage to make it back to you.

How do I check a publisher’s bona fides? Or “are these guys for real?”

The Preditors and Editors website is very useful, although be aware that many Australian companies aren’t listed there and the same goes for Writer Beware. For poets, there is PoetryNOT.com.