As authors, you naturally want editors to look at your submissions as favorably as possible. But many of you sabotage yourselves without even realizing it. What most of you are unaware of is the volume of work an average editor has on his or her desk at any given time. We often have dozens of manuscripts either waiting to be edited or waiting to be read and accepted or rejected. Consequently, anything you can do as an author to make your submission package easier to read is a big help to us. It also helps you to get a quicker, more favorable reply. Why? It’s simple. The harder a submission package is to read, the less likely we are to read it.
We simply don’t have time to reformat an unreadable manuscript. Nor can we spend time trying to undo whatever cutesy thing you may have done to get our attention. For example, I once got a submission package with a bright red background. The email query letter was bright red, as was the synopsis and even the manuscript. No doubt the author assumed that the color would make her manuscript stand out. And it did. However, it also made it so hard to read and so irritating to my eyes, that I deleted it without bothering to read it beyond the first couple of paragraphs of the query letter. I always feel bad whenever I have to do that because I may have been throwing away a brilliant story. But as much as I strain my eyes on a daily basis, they just weren’t up to reading a bright red submission package. It also told me that this was probably the author’s first manuscript, as experienced authors are usually more professional. If she had been around very long, she would have—or at least should have—learned this kind of gimmick only hurts your chances with most editors.
On the other hand, I have found that I tend to read farther into a submission that is well formatted and easy to read than I might otherwise do, even if I don’t think I want to accept it. Our policy at Black Opal Books is to read at least the first chapter of every submission (except for bright red ones) before we decide to reject it. However, I have found myself reading two or even three chapters of a well-formatted, easy to read submission I don’t particularly like, hoping the story or the writing may get better farther in. On a couple of occasions, this has led to us accepting a submission we might otherwise have rejected because the story did catch my interest in chapter two or three. If those manuscripts had not been so well formatted, the authors would have lost the sale.
In the current economy, authors are finding it harder than ever to find a publisher willing to take a chance on a story. Don’t sabotage your own chances by submitting something that the editor is going to reject on formatting alone. Here are a few tips that can help you:
Be professional, not cutesy—submissions should be black print on a white background. No exceptions.
Check submission guidelines—publishers post them for a reason, one of which is to see how well you can follow instructions. So pay attention and do what they ask, regardless of how silly it seems to you. They won’t thank you for deviating.
If a publisher asks for double-spacing on a manuscript and doesn’t specify the spacing on the synopsis, don’t assume it can be single spaced. Unless there is a specific limitation on the number of pages the synopsis can be, double space it, too.
If you don’t know, ask. Most publishers nowadays have a contact form on their websites that allows you to ask submission questions before you submit. If they do, use the form to ask about anything they don’t explain in their submission guidelines. This will do a couple of things for you. It will show them that you are professional enough to understand how important the guidelines are, and it will also let them know they need to correct the guidelines to answer the questions so authors don’t have to ask.
And lastly, don’t take a rejection so personally. Editors and agents are human. Some stories appeal to us and some simply don’t. It doesn’t mean you are not a good writer. It just means we didn’t like the story. Just because I might reject a story that I don’t think is good enough to sell, it does not mean another editor or agent won’t love it just the way it is. So before you revise your entire manuscript based on the opinion of one editor, get some additional input from another one or two. If two or three editors reject it, especially if they all reject it for the same reasons, it is time to think about revising it. And don’t hesitate to re-submit it to the same editors once you have revised it. They may reject it again without reading it, but if you include in your query that you took their advice to heart—if you really did—and revised the manuscript according to their suggestions, I’m betting they’ll be tempted to take another look, even if only to see if you really did. I know I would.
Professional Manuscript Formatting: Make It Easy For Editors To Say Yes, presented by Lauri Blasch, runs from February 6, 2012 through February 26, 2012
Lauri Blasch has been a professional editor for over ten years, first as a freelance editor then as a non-fiction, technical writing editor and now as an acquiring editor for Black Opal Books. She has a BA in special education and taught disabled as well as gifted children for a number of years before switching to a less-stressful career. She loves working with authors, especially with new authors because they are so willing to learn. She’s a single mother of four pre-teen children. When not working or tending her children, she takes night classes at the local community college, working toward her masters in education.