May 28, 2019

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.

May 22, 2019

Where Do I Submit My Writing? The Manuscript Submission Process, Part III

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You've polished your manuscript, checked for errors, asked others to look over it, and NOW, you're ready to submit your work!

First of all, pat yourself on the back. Most people who want to write (or say they want to write) never get this far. Good job!

What you do next depends on your publication goals and what kind of manuscript you've written. I've broken these out by categories below.


If you've only revised your manuscript once or twice, you probably shouldn't be submitting yet. If you've been through rigorous revisions and had beta readers read it, you probably can submit. So who do you submit to?


Agents represent you and your interests through the publishing process. They are your first option for publishing a novel through a traditional route. Research the agencies, their agents, and their submission guidelines. Some of the guidelines are very specific; some aren't. I once submitted to an agency that weeded out the less-than-dedicated writers by asking them to watch three (yes 3!) videos. If you didn't watch the videos, you wouldn't submit your manuscript in the prescribed way. They dangled bits of the process within each video. Skipping them guaranteed your submission's automatic rejection.

The key to submitting to agents is reading their profiles to make sure you fit what they want and ensuring you follow the proper submission guidelines listed on their site.  It will not be the same from agent to agent.

Where can I find agents?


If you decide to skip the agent pursuit, some publishers do accept unsolicited manuscripts without an agent's representation.  As mentioned above, read the guidelines to ensure you submit your work the right way.

Unfortunately, there are scammers in this market. Some self-publishing companies imply they are presses on their websites. If you submit to a self-publishing company that represents itself as a publisher, they will accept your manuscript, but you will pay to have it published.  Don't be fooled. If you're not sure about a publisher, find everything you can to ensure the press is legit and not a scam. A great resource for this is the Writer Beware blog sponsored by Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. They do a great job identifying scammers and explaining how to spot them.

Short Stories and Essays

Your options include contests and journals for the most part. A few publishers will print your short story or essay collections, but most don't.

Before you submit, it's a good idea to read some of the past publications. This will tell you if your work fits the publisher's area of interest. I've saved myself a lot of time by doing this. Also, decide whether you want to submit for pure publication or submit through a contest, which may or may not include publication. There are pros and cons to each approach.

If you choose to submit to a contest, check out the judges' bio and any other accessible information. If they appear to write or publish works similar to yours, it can help. If they write deep, dark, heavy prose, and you're submitting something light and fun, they probably won't choose your submission.

Not sure where to find contests and journals?  Here are three sources I use regularly:


As mentioned above, be careful of scammers in this market. Not all small publishers offer the same services. With self-publishing, you will need to do all, if not most, of the work yourself.  What's entailed?  Editing, formatting, and cover art are the big ones. And self-publishing can get expensive.  Please don't take short cuts by not getting your work professionally edited, first.

Self-publishing means you will market your work by yourself (not that traditional publishers do a lot of marketing these days).

Make sure you research any self-publishing company that you consider. I tend to be cautious if the company is new or less than three years old. Self-publishing companies sometimes disappear over night. Also, reading the Writer Beware blog mentioned above will help you identify some of the warning signs in contracts.

Not Everything

This is not an in-depth overview, but I hope I've given you helpful information and access to sites that will help you.

Good luck on your submission process journey!

May 14, 2019

The Manuscript Submission Process: Part II

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Last week, I defined some of the terms you may find on a submission guidelines page for an agent, publisher, or contest.  Today, I want to talk about the submission process itself.

When Should You Submit?

This question stymies many writers. No matter how many times you read over your manuscript, you're going to find something you could change. If that's the case, then when is it ready? No one has a perfect answer, but these are some of the warning signs that you shouldn't submit:

  • Typos
  • Inaccurate shifts in point of view
  • An incomplete manuscript (yep, I do need to say this one)
  • No time to revise or edit before the deadline

I have submitted work the same day I wrote it...and actually gotten it published. I wouldn't expect that every time.  Most of the time, I submit my stories after months of working on them. You can feel safe if you're sure it's clean of errors and has a full story arc (for fiction) or complete message (for nonfiction).

What Is Submittable?

Some journals ask you to submit through Submittable. This website provides a customized entry form and a place for you to download your manuscript. Publishers use it to control how they receive submissions. I appreciate journals who use this site because I know it will walk me through the process, and I worry less about whether my submission reached its destination. If the guidelines indicate you need to use Submittable, then use their link and follow the directions. You need to create an account, and then you can send your story on its way.

What If You're Rejected?

Congratulations! It hurts to get a rejection, but it does mean you're putting your work out there. Just because one agent or publisher rejects your work doesn't mean every one will. If you've gotten reasonable feedback from other writers and researched good writing techniques, then keep at it. If you've never attended a writing workshop, critique group, or conference and keep getting rejections, maybe check out the educational services available in your area.

Keep in mind that some rejections have nothing to do with the work. Often, the person making the decision is looking for a specific story or subject and yours doesn't fit that category. For example, one of my rejections came from a journal who decided to only publish cancer stories in the next issue. This wasn't advertised in the guidelines, so it probably surfaced as a pattern when they began to read submissions. Mine was not a cancer story, so it didn't fit.

What's the Bottom Line?

If you don't submit, you'll never get published. It's that simple.  So clean up and polish your work, read and follow the guidelines, and submit.

Next week, I'll focus on other requirements that show up in submission guidelines.