My head’s still spinning from all the things I learned at the brilliant Writers Unleashed Festival last weekend: http://shirewritersfestival.weebly.com/. Entering a mad scribbling frenzy was the only way to tackle the editors’ panel, and I’ve managed to distil their most crucial tips into the three top things editors require.
On the panel were Emma Rafferty of Pan Macmillan, Beverley Cousins of Random House and Roberta Ivers of Simon & Schuster – each actively seeking new writers.
1. Target the publisher selectively
Don’t send your manuscript indiscriminately to every publisher you can find. Take the time to study them closely. Look at their website, visit bookstores. Get to know their list. Be as up to date as possible and target publishers that produce your type of book. If a publisher primarily produces romance novels, for instance, don’t send them a science fiction manuscript!
If a publisher seems a good match for your work, check that they do indeed take unsolicited submissions. If they do – then how and when? Which leads to the next point …
2. Follow submission guidelines to the letter
Visit the publisher’s website to check how they want to receive submissions. Do they prefer electronic or hard copy? Electronic submissions are becoming more common, but don’t assume – check first!
Many publishers don’t want to see the entire manuscript up front. They might ask for a certain number of chapters, pages or words. They will probably also want to see a synopsis, or a concise summary of your novel. If they like what they see, they may ask to see the whole thing. Publishers sometimes specify a font size and type. If they don’t, stick to the standards like 12 point Times New Roman, Courier or Arial. Usually they want double-spacing for the manuscript. Whatever they specify – make sure you do it! It shows you take a business-like approach and respect their requirements.
Many publishers don’t accept unsolicited submissions all year round. It’s becoming more common to have regular scheduled intakes. For instance, Pan Macmillan has ‘Manuscript Monday’ on the first Monday of every month, and will accept electronic submissions that comply with their guidelines between 10 am and 4 pm: http://www.panmacmillan.com.au/manuscript_monday.asp
3. Keep a commercial focus
Remember that publishing is a business, which seeks to make a profit. Be professional in your cover letter. Don’t make yourself look like a hobbyist; publishers are usually looking for career authors with more than one book in them. And beware of saying your book probably won’t sell many copies but ‘ought to be published’! Make it clear that you know the market. Identify similar books and compare them to your manuscript.
Show that you are willing and able to promote the book. Do you have any media contacts? An interesting back story? Are you comfortable talking to an audience? Demonstrate that you have a social media platform, or at least that you are in the process of creating one. Successful writers have to be able to sell themselves and their books – firstly to the publisher, then to the readers!