Details, Details, Details: The Manuscript Submission Process, Part IV

If you haven't been following this series, the first three posts on the manuscript submission process can be found here:

Today, I want to delve deeper into the specific details you'll want to check prior to letting your manuscript baby fly free from the nest.

IMPORTANT:  You have to read the submission guidelines for every agent, publisher, magazine, and contest. Although certain guidelines are universal, you will find exceptions to the rules.

Your best bet is to read, read, read the guidelines and read them again to be sure you're following the rules.

Some of the common guidelines you should look for include:

  • File Type:  The most commonly requested file types are .doc, .docx, and .rtf, but be sure you send the correct file type if they request an attachment.
  • Attachments:  Most agents want you to copy and paste your pages into the body of the email. Do not send an attachment if it tells you to do this. This practice stems from the need to protect their computers from viruses. If they say don't send an attachment, then DON'T.
  • Line Spacing:  Most guidelines request double spacing.  This makes it easier for first readers to read your manuscript and add comments.  Poetry submissions may be the exception to this rule, but they usually have specific requirements about the number of lines.
  • Margins:  Typically, you will use 1" margins for the top, bottom, left, and right settings.  Paragraph indents may be specified, too, typically at 0.5".
  • Font:  The industry standard is Times New Roman in a 12 point font; however, I have seen variations in this requirement. Courier is another commonly requested font.
  • Headers & Footers:  At the least, you will want to list page numbers in the header or footer. Some guidelines tell you where to put the page number.  It's a good idea to include the story's title or a shortened version of it, too, in case the recipient prints a hard copy. It helps them keep the pages together and in order. If you're submitting to a contest, do not put your name in the header or footer.
  • File Names:  If they accept attachments, they often require a specific file name be used. This helps them differentiate your file from other submissions.  Make sure you follow this guideline exactly.
  • Information:  Do they want the entire manuscript or just the first five pages? Pay attention to what they're willing to receive. Also, most novel submission guidelines require extra materials such as a query letter and synopsis. A few ask for marketing plans and suggested audience profiles. Historical pieces usually require a bibliography. Non-fiction book-length submissions often ask for an outline and the first few chapters.  (NOTE:  If you have an idea for a non-fiction book, you do not write the entire book before submitting your idea to an agent or publisher.
  • Deadlines:  Contests have deadlines.  Many agents and publishers will announce they are closed to submissions for a period of time. Don't send something during these closed periods unless they specifically requested it from you.  Make sure your email subject indicates you're sending requested material.
  • Email Subject:  Many agencies ask for a specific email subject to help them organize how they prioritize their inbox.  You won't help your chances by ignoring these guidelines.
  • Response Time: Will you get a response to your submission? Most guidelines tell you if you will or won't. Those that will, often indicate how long it might take to hear from them. If the site says you will hear back, and you don't in the specified time, it's acceptable to follow up.
In many cases, submission guidelines will not cover all of these points.  I've provided industry standards for several of the categories listed above to assist you when information is not available.

If you need assistance with some of the formatting suggestions listed above, I've written two posts on formatting in Word:

The key to a good submission is checking the guidelines and making sure you follow them. Don't let the details ruin the chances of a successful manuscript submission.


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