On Writing: More on Interpreting Submission Guidelines

In On Writing: Interpreting Submission Guidelines, I showcased a few examples. Today, I’m going to do a shorter version of the same thing, jumping right to the chase and making a running commentary and what my interpretations of submission guidelines are and how the instructions need to be followed.

I am a ‘I need an example’ type of girl, so I’m hoping that making a post dedicated just to the examples, I can help others understand this a little easier.

As a refresher:

  • Times New Roman 12 point font is your friend. Comic Sans is your enemy.
  • Follow the Instructions. (This post should help demonstrate how.)
  • Use first person in your bio. I wouldn’t go up to an agent in a bar and say, “RJ is pleased to meet you.”
  • Read all of the bios of all of the agents you submit to. This matters.
  • Know your genre.
  • Only submit a completed and edited manuscript.

I am going to start with a small press, Flying Pen Press.

These are publisher guidelines, and are quite short in terms of the information provided. They are closed to unsolicited fiction queries, but have left their guidelines up for when they do open for queries again. They are open for non-fiction. This is pretty standard stuff. They show word counts, and their minimum and maximums.

I’ll take a minute to mention that if a company lists a minimum and maximum, stick with it unless you have an in with that company. There is a reason for minimums and maximums, and usually this reason involves profits and costs of production. If you have a longer piece, try an agent first. They have ins. You don’t.

This is a very ambiguous submissions guidelines. By that, I mean, they request a resume (this is unusual), a readership count (also unusual, but becoming more common), and they want a publication biography (common). These things help them gauge risk. This is a very small press, so they have to watch their budget and their risks carefully.

So, what are you supposed to do? It doesn’t tell you.

Send a query letter. Use Times New Roman, 12 point font. For everything. No attachments. They didn’t ask for attachments. This is that 2-4 paragraph, 250 word or less dust-jacket blurb that talks about what your project is about. Copy-pasted into the email, also include a basic resume on your credentials as a writer, your short biography, and what social networks you are on and whether or not you have a readership base. Also include in your query the genre of your book, the total word count, and state that it is complete. (It really does need to be complete.)

Send it only when they are open to submissions.

This interpretation may not be right, but it is based off of current standards.

DAW’s Submission Guidelines – Imprint of the Penguin Group

This is one of the first submission guidelines I ever looked at, and boy, is it intimidating. This is because they use the traditional method of submissions. By traditional, I mean, typewriter days. Some businesses still use mailed submissions.

There is nothing wrong with this. That said, it is really scary, involves owning a printer, and shipping your prized query and manuscript to them the way of the snail.

I will break this one down for you bit by bit.

Send us the complete manuscript with a cover letter. We do not accept electronic submissions, and please do not submit handwritten material. Manuscripts must be letter-quality computer-generated.

This means a hard copy version of your manuscript is required, like I mentioned above. I recommend a laser printer because the print quality is superior. Kinkos and Staples can print for you if you do not own a printer.

Clear photocopies are acceptable. The manuscript should be on 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper or a close equivalent, double-spaced, with at least 1″ wide margins all around.

Letter-sized, double-spaced, and one inch margins. They don’t mention it here, but use standard Times New Roman 12 point font. You can set all of these types in word. It is very, very simple, just go into paragraph settings, it will be there. Control-A to highlight the entire document will allow you to change the font for the entire manuscript.

Please use only one side of the page, number your pages consecutively, and put the title of your novel at the top of each page if possible. Manuscripts should always be unbound.

This is where you use the header function of the document. Go to the first page, click add header in the appropriate dialogue, and select one that includes a field you can add your name and the title of the novel as well as a page count. I usually do – TITLE – RJBlain – # (# being page.)

You are entitled to Media Mail rates for literary manuscripts-ask at your local post office.

Seriously, take advantage of this. It will save you a lot of money. Most publishers do not mention this fact but it applies any time you submit.

This is the killer. If you look below at their guidelines, they do not accept unsolicited simultaneous submissions. This means once you send it, you’re locked to them in an exclusive until they accept or reject you. That puts your manuscript in lingo.

This is a showcase example of why an agent is extremely advantageous. They can break this rule by speaking directly with the Editors at DAW. It also takes them a lot less time to get a response, even if they do insist on no simultaneous submissions.

Please type your name, address and phone number in the upper right hand corner of the first page of your manuscript. Right under this, please put the length of your manuscript in number of words.

Just do exactly as they say. Round to the nearest 1,000 word, using your computer’s word count tool.

Please enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope with your submission for our correspondence. We ask that you only send us disposable copies of your manuscript, which will be recycled in the event they are not found suitable for publication. We regret that we are no longer able to return submitted manuscript copies, as the process resulted in too many difficulties with the postal service and unnecessary expense for the prospective authors.

In other words, put your address on an envelope, add sufficient postage, and include it with your manuscript so they can send their reply to you.

It is a lot to deal with, but just remember, deep breaths, stay calm, and approach it one step at a time. It isn’t stressful if you only do one thing at a time. Make a check list of all of things you need to do for that manuscript. It will help.

HarperCollins Submission Guidelines (Look Ma, no link!)

They don’t have any. That’s right. If you want to be published by HarperCollins, you need to have an agent or you need to be picked up off of their slush pile website authonomy.

Harlequin Romance Submission Guidelines

Incoming information overload. Harlequin provides a lot of information for hopefuls. Like agents, they require a query letter rather than a straight submission like DAW. Like DAW, they are very specific in what they want. Deep breaths, make a check list, and approach it one step at a time. There is nothing actually new here, it just looks dangerous and overwhelming.

Please Note: The text highlighted above belongs to their respective publishing houses are are being used here as fair use under copyright law. Please refer to the publishers, as these guidelines may change at any time. This has been done for education purposes only. I do not make any money from this blog. In fact, it costs me money every month… apparently those internet hosts like being paid.

For my last trick, I’m going to a special case. This is something that makes me facepalm, and is an exact example of what you should not do.

Meet Colleen Lindsay.

Once upon a time, she was a very beloved agent for speculative fiction, especially fantasy. She was actually my first choice of people I wanted to submit to. Some things are never meant to be. (As a secret between you, me, and the rest of the internet, I am still tempted to query Colleen just to get a rejection. That said, she knows where to find me.)

Colleen is closed to submissions because she is no longer an agent. But, guess what? People who don’t follow instructions still query her. I see tweets of her facepalming because someone else has queried her.

I know, she is awesome. But, she no longer works as an agent and really likes what she does. (And, if she ever did come back to agenting, I claim dibs on the first spot in line.)

Trust me on this one. However awesome your manuscript is, she isn’t going to say yes. She isn’t in that business anymore. This is an exact demonstration of why agents get mad at writers who do not take the time to read.

As always, these are just my interpretations from piecing together advice I have received from helpful agents and other writers. I am no expert on this, but I’ve been told this exact stuff multiple times, so it is a good starting place. It is not a substitute doing your own research.

Leave a Comment: