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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Submissions for Traditional Publishers: Getting the Material Ready

Let's assume you've finished your manuscript, and you are going to try for a literary agent (or editor). What do you need to do? Again, I'm just giving a quick overview of information that is widely available -- you'll need to do more research beyond this blog to actually produce an exceptional submission effort.

I like to think of the submission process as a two-pronged approach: you need to figure out WHAT you are going to prepare, and WHO you are going to give it to. Today, let's start on WHAT you are going to prepare.


Writers often spend months or even years writing a novel, and next to no time preparing materials to find a home for it. This is a big mistake -- a poorly compiled presentation will doom your manuscript to failure, even if you've written the next Gone with the Wind. Take some time to craft an exceptional submission package.

Before you start preparing your submission package, you need to sit back, take a deep breath, and figure out what you already have. I am going to assume for this blog entry that you've whupped your manuscript into the best shape it can be. This means that you didn't just type *The End* last week -- you've taken some time to edit, cut, reshape, and clarify your prose. This step is critical!!!

Now, for preparing to send it out. First question: what genre is your manuscript? Some genres are romance, adventure, mystery, suspense, and so forth. Some more questions: what are similar works to what you've done? What are some unusual characteristics of your story?

For example, Lever's genre is SF/adventure. A similar series is Randy Ingermanson's City of God series: Transgression, Premonition, and Retribution. Lever has time travel and a Messianic theme (since it explores the first century roots of Christianity and Jesus' life from a Jewish perspective).

How long is your manuscript? Is this length appropriate for your genre? Many publishers especially of romances give strict word limits, and all genres have *typical* word ranges. For example, YA and romance novels might be about 50,000 words, other genres might be longer. A manuscript over 100,000 words can be a serious strike against you no matter what the genre; try to pare it down to about 80,000 - 90,000 words if you can.

For example, Lever is about 92,000 words (rounded to the nearest thousand).

Next, if you haven't already come up with these, you need to write a 15-25 word zinger (see my website HERE for some tips), a short tagline, and a one paragraph summary. Here are mine:

Zinger: A small military team travels back in time to film the theft of Jesus' body from the tomb

Tagline: The Case for Christ meets The DaVinci Code

One Paragraph Summary:

In the near future, the Israeli military has developed a prototypic time machine. When believers in Yeshua (Jesus) create a politically explosive situation that threatens the balance of peace between Israel and nearby countries, the Israelis must send a team of four elite soldiers back to film the theft of Jesus’ body from the tomb and thus disprove Christianity. The team, consisting of a Special Forces soldier as leader (Benjamin), an ex-American astronaut as engineering specialist (Sara), an archaeologist, and a linguist, has exactly seventy-two hours to collect the video evidence. Drawn into a web of first century deception and death, the only way to escape is for the team to change the past. In the present, a traitor, Gideon, attempts to sabotage the mission and seize control of the military complex. Benjamin is the only one who can reveal him, but he is trapped two thousand years away. Even with a time machine, time is running out…


You'll need to write the following documents for your submission package:

1. Query Letter

2. One Sheet

3. 1 Page Synopsis

4. 3 Page Synopsis

5. highly polished first 3 chapters or first 25 pages of the manuscript, correctly formatted

6. Book Proposal, including marketing plan


OK, I'm going to sign off here today, and I'll pick up with query letters next. In the meantime, let me point you to a few resources that you may want to check out:

There is a free e-book entitled How to Write a Great Query Letter, available HERE. This book is by Noah Lukeman, a stellar literary agent and author of The First Five Pages, The Plot Thickens, and A Dash of Style, and is well worth studying.

Noah Lukeman has another free e-book at the same link HERE entitled How to Land a Literary Agent. This one is also excellent.

Author Kaye Dacus gives some pointers for how to develop a one-sheet HERE. She also has two examples of one-sheets HERE.


Billy Coffey said...

Thanks for all of this information, Amy. This can be such a frustrating part of getting published. Query letters and taglines and a synopsis are for me harder to write than the actual manuscript, and I need all the pointers I can get.

Andra M said...

Wow, you provided so much information I fear my brain will explode.

It's all good though. Better too much information than not enough.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Amy. The whole submission process can be daunting, can't it? Thankfully there are a lot of resources out there.

Great post.

Lydia said...

Great post and links. Amy, thank you for taking the time to share your knowledge of all these many facets of writing. You are a dedicated teacher, as well as writer.