How exactly does one submit a manuscript to a publisher?
It’s a step that, for me, has been on the far distant horizon for so long that until recently, I’ve given it very little thought. Increasingly though, over the past year as I’ve inched my way towards completing my manuscript, I’ve come across many scraps of advice here and there, some confusing, some contradictory, and some seeming to require a level of expertise that I simply don’t have.
Perhaps it’s all part of the mirage of the imposter syndrome I’ve been reading about, but increasingly it’s been feeling like the process of submitting a manuscript, let alone writing the thing in the first place, is a minefield of ritual and know-how known only to the initiated and enlightened few. (I don’t know who these people are, but I’m pretty sure they all have English Lit majors and wear black, mostly, and write in elegantly boho-chic garrets at the top of Victorian London houses).
Even though this isn’t true, and these literary masterminds (probably) don’t exist, it doesn’t stop the task of dipping my toe into the glittering world of publishing from seeming incredibly overwhelming.
Last month however, I took a step that showed me just how false this feeling is. I attended an event called ‘Inside the Publishing House’ at Hachette Australia headquarters in Sydney. This event was organised by the incredible Emerging Writers’ Festival and it is easily the best writing event I have ever been to.
Here is what I learnt.
Publishers are not fierce, snobby literati gate keepers (and not all of them wear black), they are simply really passionate readers, lovely people who are so very keen to help emerging writers. The enthusiasm shown by the whole Hachette team (publishers, editors, authors, publicists, marketing and sales teams) was not only surprising, but incredibly inspiring. Everyone who spoke to us during the day was incredibly generous with their time and knowledge, answering all of our eager questions, helping to wipe the mist of uncertainty away from the submission and publishing process, and making the possibility of publication seem just that little more real.
And speaking of the submission process; how exactly does one give their manuscript the best chance of standing out and being read amongst the flurry of submissions that hit publishers’ inboxes every week?
Here, according to publisher Sophie Hamley, is the best possible form of a submission:
- • A well-structured submission email. This needs to be professional; remember, you’re looking to enter a professional relationship with this publisher. Be polite. (For more on the submission email, Sophie Hamley has an article in the current Queensland Writers’ Centre magazine)• Include a brief discussion of what your work is about. This needs to give the publisher a reason to first want to read, and then sell your book.
• Author bio. Include what else you are looking to write. It takes a lot of effort to break out a debut author, so the publisher wants to know that they can continue working with you.
• FOLLOW THE GUIDELINES. This point was really stressed, so there must be a lot of dodgy submissions going into the slush pile. This has to be the easiest part of the submission to get right, so I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t follow the guidelines. Best to triple check, just to make sure you’ve got this one covered.
• Know where your manuscript fits in the Australian marketplace. Show that you have done your research and that you support other Australian authors. Mention you favourites. (Which means more time in the bookshop buying your favourite books, all in the name of furthering your writing career- yay!)
• And lastly, if you’re not sure, ask! Give the publishing house a call and ask the desk your questions, or, if it’s a really basic question, tweet the publishing house. They love to help, after all, at the end of the day it makes their job easier if more submissions come through correctly formatted than not.
So my advice, after my wonderful day at Hachette, is to sign up to any and every event you possibly can where you can get a little inside glimpse into the world of publishing, it’s amazingly re-assuring. Talk to the publishers, editors, and marketing team. Learn what your manuscript is up against and what you need to do to get it over all the hurdles that come before publication. It can’t be more daunting than not knowing.
I would love to hear any anecdotes about other people’s publishing experiences, or any advice of your own you have to share. This submission business is so thrilling and daunting and breathtakingly exciting all at once. Post in the comments if you have any stories or advice to share, and if you’d like a peek into the world of my writing, reading and mothering, you can find me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. Until then, I’ll see you next week!