These days it’s unusual for writers to send off hard copy manuscripts and it’s unusual for agents or publishers to require this. A Word document sent as an attachment to a covering email is the norm. Still, do check the publisher’s or agent’s requirements on their website or wherever you’ve accessed their details, and do what they say. Occasionally, a writer simply doesn’t have access to technology and while this might present a difficulty or a chance of not being taken seriously, if you explain the circumstances, you ought to get as fair a reading as anyone else. Sometimes a publisher might even discover a gem this way, but this is rare.
This sounds ridiculous even to say it, but I have to say it anyway: before you send your manuscript off, in whatever format you’re sending it, read it through one more time from start to finish – you, personally, not a helpful friend who used to be a teacher. And make sure that it is as clean as you can possibly make it. These things ought to be self-evident, but having been at the receiving end of manuscript submissions, they’re worth noting again. It’s all about respecting the process and letting the publisher see that you do.
- Don’t leave track changes on the script
- Check your chapter numbering to make sure it’s sequential
- If you’re sending hard copy, don’t scribble over a line that’s suddenly struck you as wrong and write the better sentence above it or in the margin. Print out a clean page with your corrections and rewriting already incorporated. Don’t be lazy or sloppy. It will only tell the publisher that you are lazy and sloppy.
- Number the pages. Some editors and agents still read hard copy and if your manuscript falls off a desk or is dropped on the ground in a car park on a gusty day …
- Don’t send off one version and then sit down and rewrite it in a panic and follow it up with frantic Please read this version instead emails and three more Word attachments. There comes a point when you have to let your book out of your hands to sink or swim on its own in the powerful current carrying the 150 or so other manuscripts destined for the same slush pile as yours in any given month. Then try to put it out of your mind. Clean out your kitchen cupboards or something once you have sent it off. Don’t brood and don’t fret. And don’t rewrite – or at least not yet.
- Try to avoid a sans serif font. It’s not that comfortable to read, especially for fiction.
- Double spacing might mean more pages, but it’s easier to read (and to make notes on) than single spacing at this manuscript stage. Use 1.5 spacing at least.
- Don’t think you need to be a typesetter or book designer and attempt to make the pages look exactly like you imagine they’ll look when the book comes out of the oven. The chances are they won’t. And just because your laptop came with 35 new fonts doesn’t mean you should try them all out at once. No matter how carefully you have input the manuscript in Word and might have done clever things with dropped caps and spacing, once the book gets to the production department, the look and feel is probably going to be different to suit the format the publisher decides is best for the book. Word is not the programme they will be using. This is part of the publishing process, not yours – yours is the writing and rewriting process.
Whether you send off the full manuscript or the usually required three chapters, don’t forget to send a synopsis as well, and also a brief biographical piece. The synopsis that publishers and agents always ask for is more to see how well you can explain your book reasonably succinctly than anything else. Personally, if the writing in the first three chapters doesn’t hold my attention, it’s unlikely that your synopsis is going to make me want to read them again.
Don’t send off three ‘representative’ random chapters. If the publisher’s or agent’s requirements say submit a synopsis and three chapters, take it that they mean the first three chapters. Don’t send Chapters 3, 4 and 7 “because that’s when the story really gets interesting” and you were into the swing of the writing by then. If your first three chapters don’t grab the publisher, they’re probably not going to grab anyone else either so they’d never have got to Chapter 7 anyway.
How do you know when the book is ready to go? The minute you triumphantly key in the final full stop? No, not then. The chances are that whether you have been writing your novel intensely for only six months or have laboured long and hard on the last section for the last four years, you are going to be very close to the book. This can be a good thing or a not so good thing. Somebody else should give it a read before you send it off (besides you, that is). Pick your reader/s carefully. You need a neutral reader, not someone who will feel awkward about telling you that they didn’t enjoy the book. Try to find someone whose opinion you value and trust, or someone who doesn’t know you and will do this for you professionally.