ONE MAN’S THOUGHTS: Final Touches


I think back to the beginning of my latest manuscript that I start over three months ago when there was only a title and one blank page. Though I knew where to go with the story there was no predicting quite how it would turn out or what it would take to get there. Now twenty six thousand words and a hundred and ten pages later I have my newest manuscript almost ready to go. If you are new to writing I would like to share a few things with you about this stage of the process.

Though the story is done and the editing complete there is still a remarkable amount to do. My first bit of advice is to go over again. Trust me, there will be more corrections to make than might think. After that the details of the next few steps depend on the publisher you are submitting to. If you don’t know whom you are going to submit to then this is the time you want to do an Internet search for an appropriate publisher and look up their guidelines.

There are several things a publisher is likely to want in addition to the manuscript.

The first is a summary and my least favorite thing to do. A summary is a present tense outline of the manuscript. It should name all the main characters, cover all the major plot points and include the end. If you find that you are submitting a story to several publishers then you are likely to need a different summary for each because they all have different length requirements. I have written summaries anywhere from one page to ten pages for the same story.

Another common requirement is the blurb. This is like the teaser on the back cover to induce the reader to purchase the book. It is two or three paragraphs in length that should grab the readers attention and leave them wondering what happens next. Blurbs are also written present tense and are fun to do. Read the backs of a couple dozen of books and find which ones get your attention. What did those authors say and how did they say it? Blurb writing isn’t the same as novel writing, but once you get a knack for it, it’s a blast.

The excerpt, in theory, should be the simplest requirement. A publisher wants the writer to provide a bit of the manuscript for the reader to sample. Obviously this should involve an intriguing section, but I find choosing an excerpt difficult. What I keep in mind is that it should always include the main character, be mostly dialogue, and like a blurb end with the reader wondering what will happen next. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Not so much.

The real pain in the arse about submitting comes from various publishers’ quirky requirements. Most of the requirements make sense such as length, font size and file types. However a few publishers want specific margins, no use of italics, no spacing other than chapter breaks (such as no * * * between sections), no use of the tab for indentations, and some want headers and footers with certain information. At this point it is more about jumping through hoops than the writing and the author spends significant time creating a specific versions of the manuscript for various publishers. It would make more sense to have the publisher decide if they liked the material and then make the changes for the accepted manuscripts, but I imagine the requirements are used to deter submissions.

In many cases a query letter, or cover letter, is sent as well. A basic three-paragraph format is used and it should be addressed to someone specific whenever possible. The first paragraph contains the basic facts about the manuscript including length, genre, title, and intended audience. The second paragraph is a very brief blurb about the story. The final paragraph is about the author. It should list relevant background, previous published material and experience. It is important to keep a query letter one page in length.

It is vital that an author is always polite when dealing with publishers. There is no call for being rude and it won’t change their minds in the case of rejection. Also, don’t bother being cutesy either. They are busy people and don’t have time for that sort thing. With all your communications be sure to get to the point, relay all the information required and thank them for their time.

My experience has been that E publishers tend to be more about the work. They will require the manuscript, blurb and excerpt with few complications. Paper publishers on the other hand often have more stringent needs. It is almost ceremonial the process of submitting to a conventional publisher and they expect all the bells and whistles. Whatever the requirements, be sure to meet them no matter what type of publisher you submit to. The submission stage is highly competitive and you don’t want to stand out for the wrong reasons. Conform to the requirements and let the work do the talking.

So, good luck to all of us who send our books off to publishers as if they were our children attending their first day of school.

Until next time— happy writing.

Almost forgot, happy father’s day to all of us dads!

Michael Matthews Bingamon

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