The Art of Submission

Submitting your manuscript to an agent or publisher involves a few simple yet often overlooked steps that must be done properly.

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Historically, there’s always been an art to submission. Unfortunately, these days a lot of the process is quite automated… but ultimately it still comes down to a covering letter, a decent synopsis and (usually) the first two chapters for any given project.

There’s a lot of solid reasoning behind this. The covering letter shows that you can follow the rules while giving you a chance to do this is a slightly innovative way. The synopsis demonstrates that you have the ability to plan a complete story arc and are not just dashing off a slice of your imagination and trying to stretch a small, contained idea over a handful of pages. The sample chapters are required to provide some evidence that you can actually write. They should be engaging in a way that immediately draws the reader into your world; whether that world is a coffee shop in Dagenham or a mountaintop fortress in the land of Fantasia.

New writers often stumble at good, simple beginnings; a tendency creeps in to squeeze all their clever ideas, situations and characters into the opening chapters for fear that it’s their only chance to show the depth and shine of their writing. This is a mistake and there’s no fooling a good editor, who is simply looking for something we all look for when we flick through the first few pages of a book in Waterstones: the start of a good story.

When it comes to the synopsis, I always advise keeping the upper limit to a single side of A4 paper. If your plot is too intricate and complicated to be conveyed in this format, then there’s a good chance it’s overly contrived and will not achieve a large audience. If you go to the local bookshop, you will see that most of the really successful and stand-out novels will be very easy to identify from just a handful of lines on the back cover blurb. Does this mean there isn’t a deeper storyline within the text? Of course not: it simply means that the author and the publisher know their market and have delivered the salient ‘flavour’ of the title in a short, attention-grabbing burst of colour.

Your covering letter could be the subject of a great debate all on its own. Some editors really do prefer the most basic line possible, while others like something a bit creative and sparky displayed within the ordinary. Personally, I’ve found both sorts to work. On balance, it’s probably a good idea to tow the default line: please consider the enclosed material and samples from my novel xxx, thank you for your time, etc. One thing it’s definitely worth mentioning: do NOT go into a lengthy CV unless the information you’re presenting is relevant and impressive. It doesn’t matter how much you’ve achieved in the world of the small-press or on the independent publishing circuit; a list of credentials from one-lung magazines or freely distributed online content is really not going to show the editor that you’re worth investing in. A solid rule is that if you have to tell a publisher who you are, that simple fact means you probably shouldn’t mention it.

Let your writing speak for itself!

David Grimstone (David Lee Stone) from Ramsgate is a bestselling author of series fiction for Disney USA, Penguin USA and Hodder UK.

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