Preparing for a Manuscript for submission

Top 5 tops tips for being published:

  1. Work hard and make sure that manuscript is ready before you submit. Write, rewrite and rewrite again
  2. Write what you know and love. Write because you have to, because you can’t get those characters out of your head, because you’re a wee bit lost when you don’t write.
  3. Research the market eg visit local bookstore or search online.
  4. Research the right publisher
  5. Be optimistic but realistic and don't give up!

Another great way to develop your work is to join a manuscript critique group, like the online groups we’ve set up at SCBWI. Find out more HERE

So now, you’ve honed and polished your brilliant idea and now you are ready to submit it to a publisher.

But how do you begin?

Firstly, research which publisher is right for you. Not every book is right for every house or every publisher in that house. Go into bookstores and research on line who is publishing what books. Eg there’s no point handing in a joke book to a publisher whose list is largely literary fiction. 

After you have chosen the right publisher, follow their guidelines precisely. Take note of the word count, font requirements, whether they want the entire manuscript or simply a synopsis and sample chapter. The best way to annoy a publisher is not to follow their directions and we don’t want that.

The advantage of online pitching is that getting a response is generally much quicker than the slush pile process from the past.

Don’t be impatient. We know of authors who were picked up at SCBWI conference and then turned down because they harassed the publisher so much after the conference that the publisher decided they’d be too difficult to work with, so didn’t go ahead with the contract. Publishers are very busy people who want to read everything that comes to them, but there is also so much to do in any regular day. So be patient, polite and considerate in how you correspond with them.

A ‘no’ is not the End of the World. If you do get a no, don’t take it personally – publishers are people too and would love to publish your work, but it may not be the right time, they may have published something similar or their list may be full. There are other publishers who may love your work.

Be Open to any Criticism that is Offered. Most often you wont receive notes but if you do, cherish them. They may not suit, but always make note of them, whether you decide to act on them or not.


A Few Picture Book Issues

If you are submitting a PB MS, avoid adding directions, we have heard from many publishers who ask their assistants to delete directions before handing it to them.

Publishers also prefer finding the illustrator for new texts. If you are an author/illustrator, you can submit your own work, but perhaps read the portfolio advice from SCBWI Australia East and NZ before you do so. 

It’s not necessary or recommended for authors to commission illustrations to submit a picture book idea. In fact, publishers often prefer text only. 


A Word on Agents

Should you approach a publisher directly or find an agent?

In the US the trend is leaning very heavily towards getting an agent. Most top US publishers wont even look at unsolicited manuscripts and trust the agents to know what they should and shouldn’t pitch, saving everyone lots of times and anxiety. Australia is different and many publishers have online pitch processes that anyone can submit to (see above).

Check HERE and HERE for a few websites you can peruse to hear other advice on knowing when your manuscript is ready to submit.


Face to Face Manuscript Critiques

SCBWI offer opportunities to have Face to Face critiques from time to time and at the bi-annual SCBWI conference.

Firstly, if you do have the chance to have a critique, be calm, respectful and ready to listen.

Decide why you want a critique. If it is to be published, you may need to readjust your expectations. If it is to have an honest critique of your work and what is and isn’t working, be as open to praise as to criticism. As hard as that can be.

The value of a critique is to have fresh eyes from an industry professional peruse your work. Avoid taking a piece of work to be critiqued if it just isn’t ready. It is better to take more time on a piece and than give an industry professional an almost ready idea.  

Here are a few things to think about from the 2014 LA SCBWI conference:

  • Remember to keep an open mind. Leave emotions at the door. Take notes. Ask for clarification.
  • Rehearse your pitch out loud. Think one-minute summary.
  • Be prepared to take notes and bring a highlighter.
  • Leave your manuscript at home. Editors and agents are traveling and don’t have the space to lug around pages. If an agent or editor asks to see your work, they’ll let you know how to submit.
  • Come prepared with questions for Q&A sessions, about featured books, about process and craft, about submission possibilities.
  • Be your genuine self. Remember that agents, editors, and award-winning authors are people, too. They appreciate a friendly chat.
  • Familiarise yourself with books agented by or edited by your critiquer. You'll gain insight into their tastes and be ready with conversation starters if the opportunity presents itself. Go to their website, google them or ask other SCBWI members.
  • Enjoy yourself.

Here are a few things to avoid doing:

  • Don't stalk the editor or agent. Let them go to the restroom in peace.

  • Don't wear or bring gimmicks in the hopes of getting noticed.
  • If you are asked what your book is about, don't whip out your manuscript. Revert to your rehearsed elevator pitch. Think one or two minutes, tops.
  • Don't call yourself the next J.K. Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, Rick Riordan, etc. Be original.
  • Don’t disrupt a critique in progress. And don’t exceed your own time limit.
  • Don’t record a speaker’s session without first asking.

By Deborah Abela