Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Nuts and Bolts of Manuscript Submission

I received a letter from an aspiring writer this week. She had heard me speak about publishers' interest in a writer's "platform" and wondered what I meant by that. She had completed a children's book and in consulting Sally Stuart's Christian Writers' Market Guide, had learned that her targeted publisher first wanted a query, and then a request for the manuscript would follow if their interest was piqued. What was my advice?

Since the purpose of this blog is to assist aspiring writers on their journeys, I some of you might benefit from my answer:

That's terrific that you're to the point of shopping your manuscript around. I think you'll find the vast majority, if not all, publishers will want a query unless you attend a writers conference where you can meet them face to face (I highly recommend this approach if you're ready to pitch your proposal/manuscript). It's not cheap ($500 - $700) but well worth it to bypass the query step (often the queries are answered by "underlings" and the real editors never even see them).

You can Google "Christian Writers Conferences" to find one that emphasizes inspirational childrens publishing.
Locally, check out the Florida Christian Writers Conference ( website for the conference in Leesburg, 2/26 - 3/1/09.You should be able to click on a list of the publishers/editors scheduled to attend - do a little research and see if any of those are a good match for your book. Most conferences allow you to officially meet with 3-4 but you can also sit by them at meals and pick their brain or woo them while they eat. I'll be teaching a few workshops there as faculty.
Another possibility is the Spacecoast Writers Conference in Melbourne 1/23-24/09- I don't know how many publishers they plan to have there, but check it out. I'm teaching there also.
I sold two of my books via this method (conferences) and I know countless other writers who have done the same. You have a much better chance if they meet you and hear your pitch in person. Plus, you get instant invaluable feedback if something needs tweaking so you can work on it before pitching it to another publisher.
If you decide not to go the conference route, I'd focus all your attention on crafting a killer query (one-page, single-spaced pitch letter). I spend almost as much time on my queries as I do on my manuscripts. Editors spend an average of 9 seconds reading them (because they receive thousands per week) so yours had better be good! Start with an attention-grabbing hook - no "throat clearing" introduction, just jump right into meat of your story.

In your query, Include a short synopsis, marketing plan, and bio paragraph explaining your platform. Your "platform" is how people will know about you and your book - are you a speaker? Expert on some topic related to your book? Do you hold public office? With my first book, The Distant Shore, I really had no platform (except my freelance magazine articles) and my only qualification was that I was a life-long Floridian and the book was set in old Florida. So I played that up. When I began shopping around Mom Needs Chocolate (to be released 3/09), I built my platform around my expertise as a mother (hey, I know whence I speaketh!) and connection with mom's groups.

Build your platform by marketing yourself as a speaker (start locally and then branch out), create a website, join Facebook and Twitter, online writers groups, send out a fun and interesting newsletter (sign up for mine at ...anything and everything to get your name out there. Publishers won't take a chance on you unless they see you're willing to take the reins on marketing your book. All authors, unless your name rhymes with bowling and you write about boy wizards, are out there today marketing their books. It's expected and required.

All the experience you mentioned in your letter to me should be included succinctly and without dates (you don't have to say how many years ago you did something, just say you are qualified to write on this subject because you have xxx degrees and experience in xxxxx. You don't have to include how many years you taught, just that you have extensive experience teaching in public and Christian schools. Don't use the word "several" about your acting experience, just say you have a background in acting, puppetry, writing, directing, and performing dramatic plays. (Don't use the word "skit" - many experienced stage people consider it an amateur stamp because they call them "sketches.")
Just say you are an inspirational speaker as well, you don't have to say how many gigs. They may or may not ask for your speaking schedule later (larger publishers will). Play up any possible connections you have with your proposed book market - be creative. I'd mention your writers group also - show them that you're energetic and a go-getter. They'll want to see that for marketing if they seriously consider publishing your book.
Do a little more research on writing queries and proposals. Some good references are Book Proposals that Sell by Terry Whalen, How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen and The Right Way to Write, Publish and Sell Your Book by Patricia L. Fry. Visit instructional websites like and and don't forget (the blog I started with my co-writers of Grit for the Oyster: 250 Pearls of Wisdom for Aspiring Writers, another excellent reference book for publishing how-to's).

Publishers often request a query first, then the next step is a proposal, which includes long and short book synopses or chapter-by-chapter outline for non-fiction, proposed market (targeted audience), unique selling porposition (why people will buy your book), your platform, marketing plan, author bio and publishing history, a comparative analysis of your competition (similarities and differences of at least three books), endorsers (committed and potential; you'll need at least two and get the highest-profile names in your genre you can), and sample chapters (their submission guidelines will tell you how many; if they ask for three, don't send ten!) If the proposal flies, the last step is to send the entire manuscript.

I hope these ideas are helpful to you. I was in your shoes not so long ago so take heart - it can be done! Preparation is the key - you only get one chance to impress a publisher so make sure you've got all the bases covered.

Wishing you many happy query returns,