literary agent, manuscript, Query Letter, Self-publishing, Synopsis

Top Tips for Submitting your Manuscript

Top Tips for Submitting your Manuscript : The 3 pillars of a good submission

You have spent months and maybe (though hopefully not) years writing and polishing that ‘perfect’ manuscript. You send it out and it gets rejected.  Considering the many (and most of them aren’t true) horror stories about publishers that are available on the internet, you pass off the rejection as “that was bound to happen”. You blame the out-of-sync publishing industry, old-fashioned bad practices or the presence of some sadist editor who loves tossing scripts into waste baskets, and you could be right. However, it is worthwhile to consider and look for lapses on the author’s side as well.

This involves 3 key elements that are part of your query/proposal. These 3 components will take some effort and thinking but they are critical to your success in getting a publishing deal, and it is not uncommon to hear of authors who get professional help for the 3 pillars of a good submission.

  1. The Query Letter

What is a query letter?

It’s your novel’s resume.

Points to remember:

  • Give enough reasons on your book’s resume (the query/proposal) for it to be liked. Talk about the things that are good, don’t highlight problem areas. If your book is too long/short or if it doesn’t fit into a particular genre, this is not the space for you to air your self-doubts.
  • You may think you are being clever, but don’t mix genres to show wider possibilities of readership. Calling your book a vampire-zombie-romance isn’t the glowing endorsement you think it is.
  • Query letters are about the book, make them about the book. Most publishers/editors have a far better understanding of the market than you do and will know about the viability of your book from reading about your book. Let them figure out the market, tell them about your book.
  • Don’t make claims or hand out marketing advice like “it appeals to all ages from 8 to 80” or “the war drama market has been waiting for this.” It is probably wrong and it puts off more people than it attracts.
  • It’s a business letter seeking representation or a publishing opportunity, keep the language formal. It has to be professionally written. Keep it concise and stick to the objective. For God’s sake, no smileys!
  • It goes without saying that like your resume it cannot have typos.
  • It cannot be too long, no more than one page.
  • The author biography should be 50 -70 words. Do not include unnecessary details like your hobbies, family history or personal struggles unless they relate directly to the book.
  • Distil the essence of your novel into two short sentences and remember to include it in the query as the starting point of the snapshot of your novel.
  • The synopsis of the novel should be a riveting 150 – 200 word story. It should be a small story, not a dry Cliffs Notes of your book. (More on that in point 2)
  • If you plan on writing follow up books mention it at the end of the query.
  • Make sure you mention the title of your work and the genre. If you are not 100% sure of the title mention that it is a working title but don’t call your work “untitled”.
  • Make sure you mention the word count of the manuscript.
  1. The Book Synopsis

This follows from point 1 above, it is the bulk of your query letter. If you are going the traditional publishing route, you will need a BRILLIANT book synopsis.

You won’t like this but you should ideally have around 4 – 6 versions of the synopsis ready.

  1. Start with this one: a chapter wise summary moving from event to event. Give each chapter one paragraph of 20 – 50 words at most. This will help you understand your story.
  2. Trim down A above to 300 – 400 words. This is your best chance to pitch.
  3. Trim it down further to less than 200 words or the “one page synopsis” that is the industry standard.

Make each of the three count.

Apart from these you could look at a synopsis that moves from the perspective of character rather than events.

Some simple points to remember

  • Write your synopsis in the present tense.
  • The synopsis should be as tight as possible but must cover the entire book, beginning middle and end.
  • The synopsis cannot be dry, it is a mini – novel. Keep it dramatic.

Here’s a look at the synopsis of Harlan Coben’s ‘Six Years”

Six years have passed since Jake Fisher watched Natalie, the love of his life, marry another man. Six years of hiding a broken heart by throwing himself into his career as a college professor. Six years of keeping his promise to leave Natalie alone, and six years of tortured dreams of her life with her new husband, Todd. But six years haven’t come close to extinguishing his feelings, and when Jake comes across Todd’s obituary, he can’t keep himself away from the funeral. There he gets the glimpse of Todd’s wife he’s hoping for . . . but she is not Natalie. Whoever the mourning widow is, she’s been married to Todd for more than a decade, and with that fact everything Jake thought he knew about the best time of his life—a time he has never gotten over—is turned completely inside out. As Jake searches for the truth, his picture-perfect memories of Natalie begin to unravel. Mutual friends of the couple either can’t be found or don’t remember Jake. No one has seen Natalie in years. Jake’s search for the woman who broke his heart—and who lied to him—soon puts his very life at risk as it dawns on him that the man he has become may be based on carefully constructed fiction.

It’s only 200 words and makes quite a compelling case for reading the book.

Once your query letter is done with 1 & 2 above, you need to focus on formatting your manuscript.

  1. Manuscript formatting

One of the leading reasons, and the worst one too, for rejections is Not sticking to the MS format guidelines.

What!!

Yes, it is silly maybe even unfair (not really) but it is one of the biggest stumbling blocks there is.

Why do I say it’s not really silly or unfair?

If you can format your resume and make sure its proper why can’t you do the same for your manuscript? Why should anyone consider a work that doesn’t meet basic format guidelines?

Editors get at least a dozen manuscripts and a couple of hundred queries a week, wouldn’t it be easier for them to just reject the sloppy ones. After all, if the writer doesn’t care about giving his manuscript the best chance, why should the editor?

Let’s see how we can avoid this easily avoidable stumbling block.

  1. Type your document.

No matter the high praise your teacher from third grade showered on your handwriting, don’t write your manuscript.

  1. Maintain double spacing between lines

It’s very easy to do in MS Word. Just select all text and click on the line spacing button

  1. Paragraph indentation is crucial

Each paragraph must start with a small indent. Don’t use the space bar, use the indent button in MS Word.

  1. If font size is not mentioned, it is always 12.

Anything smaller is difficult to read, while anything bigger takes up too much space.

  1. Use a single and Serif font throughout

It’s best to use Times New Roman, Cambria, Garamond, or Courier New. Do not use fancy fonts like Lucida or Helvetica or even sans-serif fonts like Arial and Calibri unless it’s specifically asked for or accepted.

  1. Use a white background.

This might seem “duh!”, but you’d be surprised as to how many romance writers think it is OK to have text on a pink background.

  1. The first page is the cover page.

Include your name and contact information at the top left of the first page and the word count at the top right. Centre the title in a large font in the middle of the page with author name below it. DO NOT start the story on that page.

  1. New chapters start on new pages

Though I agree no one’s going to throw your manuscript if this is the only formatting flaw, it is neater to have new chapters on new pages. If your submission is digital and not printed then you needn’t feel guilty about extra paper used.

  1. Use page numbers

Why wouldn’t you number the pages of your manuscript? You could also include a header with Title / Author alternating on pages.

  1. Left-justify your paragraphs.

Right margins should be “ragged” (which means you don’t justify the text on the right) and also there should be a 1 inch margin all the way around the text. This is neat for digital copies and essential for editing notes on a printed copy.

  1. For printed manuscripts

If your submission is a physical printout then make sure you use good quality plain white paper and print on only one side of each sheet. Also, unless asked for, do not bind, spiral bind or staple the manuscript.

These 3 pillars will give your manuscript a fighting chance and will go a long way in making you view yourself as a professional.

Happy Writing!

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self publishing

The 8 Rules of Writing Short Fiction

 

In my last post on the short (story) road to the novel, I exhorted you to give the short story a try. I am a glutton for short stories and I guess my encouragement was a little coloured by my appetite. It hardly seems fair to nudge you on to a path without a map, so let me introduce you to Kurt Vonnegut and his eight rules for writing a short story.

Kurt Vonnegut (1922 -2007) is known to most as the author of the cult classic Slaughterhouse Five, his contribution to short stories is often eclipsed by the success of his work in the long form. Having written more than 120 short stories, he distilled his experience into 8 simple rules.

 

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.

 

This is critical in fiction of any form, more so for the short story. 500 to 600 page novels have become the order of the day and sadly I can easily think of how those books could have been at least 50 pages shorter.  Don’t waste the reader’s time.

 

 

  1. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.

 

It’s so true in the reality shows on TV today. All you need is one person who hooks you, and have you noticed how quickly you lose interest or forget to TiVo the same show once that contestant is no longer part of the proceedings. It’s true of fiction too. Authors love the creative halo but the truth is there are only so many plots, what hooks the reader is the character to root for.

 

  1. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.

 

The most common problem and tell-tale sign of amateur writing is ‘characters galore’ who serve no purpose. In a short story it is suicide.

 

  1. Every sentence must do one of two things—reveal character or advance the action.

 

This is the golden rule of screenwriting and is extremely important for fiction of any form, especially the short story.

 

  1. Start as close to the end as possible.

 

The closer you start to the main event the better the tension. Also short stories often cannot accommodate major story or character arcs.

 

  1. Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.

 

Sometimes as a writer you just want your sweet heroine to escape unscathed or that the innocent kid is able to outrun the wolf, but that’s death for fiction. Remember, every threat that is neutralised also neutralises the tension in your story and you must quickly find a new threat.

 

  1. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.

 

Not everyone loves a happily ever after, not everyone enjoys the thrills of a manhunt or finds stimulation in analysing a crime. Don’t mix genres or add stock characters and events to get more people to like your writing.

 

 

  1. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To hell with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

 

That’s pretty detailed advice and I am not very sure that it’s a good idea, but hey, it’s a road map, take a detour if you don’t like where it leads.

 

While examples of exceptions to these rules abound, they do provide a certain sense of direction. What’s really cool is that these rules can apply to fiction in the long form and even to screenplays.

If nothing else, these rules should be one less reason to put off writing.

 

Happy Writing!

 

 

 

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