The writer’s version of a job interview.
Renee Frey, CMO, and Rebecca Mikkelson, Editor-in-Chief Authors 4 Authors Publishing
You wrote a great book, and now you’re ready to publish it. Congratulations!
Before you start querying that manuscript, let’s have a discussion: What does submitting a manuscript entail? What should you have ready? How many submissions should you send?
Pride and Prejudice: First Impressions Matter
If you’ve ever read Jane Austen’s classic, you’re well aware of just how much damage a bad first impression can do. Unlike other jobs, there aren’t automatic filters that kick out queries or books, so publishers still have to look over every submission with human eyes. While that might seem like a relief, the opposite is true.
If a publisher or agent has a stack of 100 submissions, they’re going to make some pretty drastic cuts to make that pile manageable.
But I worked so hard, and query letters are just...impossible! And you can’t really ‘get’ my book until halfway through!
Sorry. I really am. But agents and publishers flat out don’t have the time to read an entire manuscript and hope to find brilliance somewhere along the way. Your manuscript and query letter are NOT a resume and cover letter: they are your job interview and 90-day trial all rolled into one. Just as (I hope) you would not attend a job interview in jeans and a t-shirt, or mail your resume in on a napkin, please don’t interview with a potential publisher with an unpolished manuscript.
Preparing Your Manuscript
Going with our job analogy, part of the interview is the preparation. Let’s look at the areas you should concentrate on in order to get your manuscript and query letter ready for their “big day.”
Read the Formatting Guidelines
The first step of a job interview is researching the company, learning about them, their culture, their expectations. Similarly, just about every agent or publisher has a format or other expectations for their submissions. Take formatting, for example. A lot of publishing companies have formatting guidelines, so we aren’t the only ones, and we didn’t put it on the website because we like to hear ourselves talk. Part of the reason that publishing companies put up guidelines is:
- To see if the author can follow directions.
- Make it easier to read the manuscript.
If you can’t follow directions for something as simple as formatting, how can a publisher trust you to make requested edits, adhere to a deadline, and perform other promotional tasks? We would rather have an author whose manuscript needs a little more TLC but is great to work with than the best manuscript in the world written by an author who can’t do something they are asked to do.
Also, given the sheer volume of slush piles, do you want your manuscript to be the one that makes our eyes hurt? We’ll probably put it down, and save our eyesight for something formatted the way we asked.
Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
It’s the day of your big interview—so you plan the perfect outfit, groom yourself well, and bring a pen and notepad for notes. You print out and load the directions on your phone and practice driving to the interview or leave extra early so you aren’t late. You should do the same for your manuscript.
We get that things slip through the cracks, especially when you’ve been staring at the same story for days, weeks, and even months at time editing it. As authors, we need to use every tool in our toolbox to make our work the best it can be. Spellcheck is one of those tools. You can even use the free version of Grammarly to find some of the mistakes you might miss after the twenty-seventh time you’ve read your manuscript.
A few spelling errors here and there are fine; it’s not going to turn us away from your manuscript. But when the work is riddled with spelling errors that could have been easily picked up by using spellcheck or Grammarly, then it becomes a problem. We don’t have to have utlra-polished, but we do have to have effort.
The Bourne Identity: Communication is everything!
Okay, you’ve done your homework: you’ve formatted your manuscript, double and triple-checked it for errors, and written a killer query letter! Now send it in!
But when you do, please avoid these mistakes.
I’m ready to query my manuscript...kind of.
Congratulations! We’ve liked your work enough to ask to see more of it. You should be really excited because we certainly are. If you can’t get it to us right away, that’s fine, but you need to let us know it’s going to be more than a few days. Don’t send us your work a month later with no explanation and expect us to read it in a timely manner.
Why should I tell the publisher it isn’t ready?
Common courtesy, for one.
When you query your work, it should be finished to the best it can be. Sometimes you want to do another check through just to make sure there isn’t anything you’ve missed. That’s fine, but tell the people asking for your full manuscript that that’s what they’re doing. You’re wasting their time wondering if you’ve received their request, having to check in, etc.
We’ve seen plenty of people ask, “Should I tell the publisher/agent I need to get it ready?” and get the response of, “Nah, they’ll take it when they get it, and they’ll like it. They need authors to function.”
No. No, we won’t. We won’t like it, and if it isn’t you, another author will submit their work and get it in timely, and you’ll have lost your chance to get published sooner.
Razzle Dazzle Us!
Or the agent you’re targeting. Or whatever lucky reader receives your manuscript. Treat it like a professional job interview, because it is. Even if you don’t get a request for pages, your reader will appreciate (and remember) your care and consideration.
Next week, we’ll start our in-depth look at publishing options, beginning with Traditional Publishing.
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