Thursday, August 14, 2008

Lesson #2: They Want Me To Do What Now?

So, as discussed yesterday, you now:
  • Have your first draft finished
  • Know where you're going to submit
  • Have a copy of the publisher's guidelines for submission in your hot little hands

For this example, I'm going to totally steal the submissions guidelines from my own company, Harlequin, because those are the ones I know best. Guidelines for each line are available on You just scroll right on down past the bells and whistles, and in small print at the bottom of the main page, you'll see the words, "Submission Guidelines," which will lead you to the magical world of this page, where you can find not only general manuscript format guidelines, but also descriptions of each imprint and what they publish. Which you might totally find helpful while working step #1 of this long process.

So, you have the guidelines in front of you. Now, even though I'm working from Harlequin's guidelines, and Harlequin, in their tree-saving wisdom, doesn't accept unsolicited manuscripts (you have to query them first... don't worry, we'll talk about queries tomorrow), we're going to assume that you're sending a full or partial manuscript along.

So, here you are, clutching your list of manuscript guidelines, because you printed them off, which is extra smart of you, because if this is your first time, you're going to want to cross things off the list as you go so as not to forget anything.

Let's go to the guidelines and find out what good old HQ expects of us:

Harlequin®, Silhouette®, Mills & Boon® and Steeple Hill® publish only category/series romance and women's fiction. Please do not submit any type of nonfiction. Your manuscript should be told in the third person, primarily from the heroine's point of view. However, the hero's perspective may be used to enhance tension, plot or character development. Please see the guidelines for each series for details.

Only you can tell for certain if your book fits into the guidelines for where you're sending it. But what if you read that paragraph and go, "Oh, great, I have like, two scenes from the best friend's point of view!" do not despair! You can still submit your manuscript. All you have to do is change those two scenes, right?

HELL TO THE NAW, my friends! Do not, under any circumstances, change your story to fit a particular publisher's guidelines UNLESS THEY ASK YOU TO. Why? Because let's go ahead and imagine that you're an editor. This great book comes across your desk (ew, that was probably not the best imagery I could have used) and it's just perfect. Except for the two scenes that are written in the best friend's POV. You know it will fit perfectly in your line, be a balls out best seller, but those two pesky scenes. Guess you can't buy it now.

Or, can you? Can you, in your infinite editorial wisdom, contract the author and ask them to remove or rework those scenes during the revision process? Why yes, yes you can. It is in your power, mighty editor. You wield the sword of revisions like a modern day Excalibur, red ink glistening in triumph upon its blade! Oh, the pen is mightier than the sword, dear readers. Far, far more mighty.

What I'm saying is, unless you find out at this crucial stage that your manuscript is not at all fit for the publisher's consumption ("Heroine and Hero? My book is about a bowl of fruit, slowly decaying on a counter top! It's a metaphor for the decline of society, and it's brilliant!"), don't go hacking away at your manuscript until they tell you to.

That rule goes for word count, too. Unless your book is grossly over-inflated for the publisher's requirements (You wouldn't submit a 100K novel to a 50K word limit line), don't go trimming the heck out of it. If an extra 5 or 10k are a problem for them, let them choose where to lose them. That's what editors are for. Editing. See violent pen imagery, above.

So, you can check that one off. Phew. Let's take a look at the next one:

All material should be the author's own original work. Stories that contain scenes or plotlines that bear a striking resemblance to previously published work are in breach of copyright law and are not acceptable.

I'm going to give you the benefit of the doubt here and guess that since you're at the point of seriously considering submitting your work to a major publisher, you've done enough research about writing to know that plagiarism isn't okay. If you're reasonably sure that you didn't take a bunch of Ambien, black out, and type up a word-for-word recap of what happened on Big Brother last night, then you can check this one off. If you think no one is going to recognize the startling similarities between your book and "Paradise Lost," well, you're beyond my help. Go in peace, and enjoy jail.

Our next item up for bid:

All material must be typewritten, double-spaced, and on a reasonably heavy bond paper. No disk submissions. Computer-generated material is acceptable, but must be letter quality, and pages must be separated. Any material received on computer reams will be returned without evaluation.

Okay, first of all, Harlequin, come on. You need to seriously update the wording here. "Typewritten?" Really? Not to mention, does anyone even own a dot matrix printer anymore? Are you really getting reams of dot matrix paper all strung together like sausage? Is that still in production?

But I digress. Your manuscript needs to be typed, double-spaced, on "reasonably heavy bond paper." Panic! Do they mean cardboard? Do they mean resume type paper? Calm your bleeding brain, friends. They just don't want it printed on that see-through paper often found in bibles and wedding invitations. Regular old printer paper (provided you don't jog on down to NASA circa-1984 and borrow their reams and reams of green-and-white lined dot matrix paper) is fine. Photo paper is right out. Just use the regular old paper that would shoot out of a copy machine.

As for double-spaced, I'm going to throw my hat in the ring here and say something about font size, which they have not mentioned. Do you have really bad eyes, requiring you to use 16pt Times New Roman, bolded, in order to read your text on the screen? Alternately, do you have really, really good eyes and type everything out in 8pt Mistral, italicized, and it doesn't bother you one bit. Assume that the person opening up your manuscript at the publishing house is a happy medium. Use a monospace font, a font where each character takes up the same space on the page. Don't know if you're using one already? Check some out here. These are, in general, easier on the eyes, and it's easier to catch typos and such when reading them. Use 12pt size, and yes, always double-spaced. This will also help the publisher determine word count, if they use the traditional word-count method of 250 x #of pages = estimated word count.

Now, once you have made these changes to your document, I'm going to have to ask you to step away from the guidelines for a second. Print out what you're going to be sending. If you're sending off your first three chapters, print them out. If you're sending off the whole darned thing, print that off. Now, spend a day or two going through the material line by line, looking for possible typos, continuity inconsistencies, anything that might need changing.

Now, you're probably wondering why I'm asking to you waste a bunch of paper printing it out, when it's already there on, your screen. I don't know why, but it's just easier to see the errors on paper than on the screen. I think you're more likely to recognize mistakes, rather than read what you thought you wrote, when it's on paper.

This is not the point, however, to become super panicky, and spend three weeks agonizing over word choice or checking just one last time to make sure all your commas are in order. The editor who reads your work is not going to say, "Oh, great story, but I see that on page 210 you wrote 'teh' instead of 'the,' so we're going to have to pass." Just give it a brief once over, and let it go.

Moving on!

Do not submit your material bound in binders, boxes, or containers of any kind. Secure material by rubber bands. Cover sheets must have your complete name, address, and phone number. Each page should be numbered sequentially thereafter. Please type your name and title in the upper left-hand corner of each page. If we ask to see your manuscript, please include a complete synopsis. Enclose a self-addressed, stamped postcard if you require acknowledgment of receipt.

Ah, this is important. If you haven't done so already, you need to make a "header" on your document with the title of your book, your name, and your page numbers. This is really easy, I'll leave it up to you and your ingenuity to figure out how to do this in your own word processor. But you want to put your title in ALL CAPS, just so it stands out. Your header should have YOUR TITLE, Your Name on the left hand side, and your page number should align to the right.

When you're getting ready to ship out a manuscript, put a rubber band around the middle of it and put it in a big enough envelope. Yes, it's going to indent the edges of your pages. Trust me, they won't care. Wait until you see what it looks like when you get it back. Hand of God, once they sent a smashed fly back in my line edits. They're not grading you on the integrity of your paper, but the quality of your story.

I will step out of line here and say that, for smaller submissions, like when you're sending off three chapters, a rubber band isn't going to cut it. Use a binder clip. No one will slap your hand. They will, however, keep your binder clip. It's almost universally acknowledged that editors hoard binder clips like dragons hoard treasure.

As for your cover sheet, type one up fast and print it out when you print out your fully corrected manuscript. If, like me, you're a freaking genius, you might find it handy to create a word processor file called "COVER SHEET" on which you can simply edit the title of the work and print it off without any heartache for later manuscripts.

"Now, this is all fine and dandy," you may be saying, "But I'm submitting to Ellora's Cave, and they want only electronic submissions, Times New Roman, single spaced!" Well, give them what they want. The point of this little exercise has been to calm your fears about what you have to do to your manuscript, and how to follow the guidelines you're given, even if you question the wisdom of such guidelines (like the rubber band, which makes me cringe every time. I like paper with nice, neat edges).

Following a publisher's submission guidelines is important. Sure, it might show them that you're really creative if you illustrate your manuscript and send it in on blueprint-sized paper, but they don't care about your creative packaging skills. Publishers write their guidelines based on what is the most efficient and convenient for them, so that they can look at two hundred manuscripts a week and not miss out on the really good ones because they were printed in red ink on neon paper and they just couldn't subject their eyes to that kind of nonsense. Following their guidelines to the letter won't get you published if your book doesn't tickle their fancy, but not following them can get a good book ignored, if the editor who picks it up is a stickler for the rules.

Tomorrow is Friday grab-blog, and a much needed rest for me. Actual blogging with like, worthwhile content is hard, y'all. But on Monday we'll be back with Lesson #3: My Query Letter And Synopsis Can Eat A Bowl Of D***s! I Quit! I Hate Writing!

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