your manuscript in the right format and to the right publisher can
mean the difference between getting an acceptance call...and another
rejection slip. While there are no guarantees to getting published,
these tips will ensure your manuscript receives a welcome reception
from an editor.
of advice is more valuable. You may have written the greatest category
romantic suspense ever penned, but if you send it to a house that
only publishes historical single-titles, you are going to get a
rejection letter in the mail. (If you're not sure what some of these
terms mean, keep reading; I'll try my best to explain.)
Research the publishers you're thinking about submitting to. Look
up their listing in The Literary Market Place, which is updated
annually and available in all libraries, and in other market guides
(see our chapter on Markets). If the publisher has a web siteand
most large ones docheck it for information. Some publishers
announce what types of manuscripts they're currently looking for.
Many publishers have tip sheets, which they'll send to you if you
write and include an SASE. Never call a publisher and ask what they're
acquiring these days or if your manuscript is appropriate. Editors
are busy people, and they won't appreciate the interruption.
the very best way to get to know if a publisher is buying the type
of book you've written is to read what they're currently publishing.
That cannot be emphaSIZEd enough. Before submitting to a publishing
houseRead, read, read. Here are a few things to look out for.
Some publishers are quite specific about the length they require,
particularly those publishing category books, which must be similar
in length to other books published in the series. Generally, expect
mainstream novels and single-title releases to be longeraround
100,000 words. If every book you've seen from a publisher is a lengthy
historical, don't bother to send in a 50,000 word contemporary romantic
comedy. (See Word Count to determine how many words your manuscript
Know what genre your manuscript fits into and whether the house
publishes it. Common romance subgenres are:
Historical: These usually take place before 1900. They may be further
broken down by setting or other elementsfor instance, western
historicals, Medieval, or Regencies (which take place in Regency
England and have a light, witty air)
This large genre is further broken down into:
Also called "sweet" romances; little or no sex is depicted
Often a rags-to-riches story with a glamorous setting
With a mystery or other element of suspense
Similar to suspense, but with a strong element of danger for the
When the humor is a major element of the story (not just sprinkled
throughout the book)
issue: Story revolves around some social issue familiar to the
reader (for instance, Alzheimer's in the elderly or adoptees' searching
for birth mothers)
Not to confuse matters, but you'll hear about these subgenres, as
Has a strong element of the supernatural
Travel: Might even be considered a historical, depending on
Like a women-in-jeopardy or suspense, but with a dark, brooding
atmosphere specific to this subgenre
With a prominent Christian theme
or Single-Title. Know which type of books the house publishes.
Publishers with categories, like Silhouette and Harlequin, require
that books fit into an established line. Likewise, single-title
publishers won't consider category romances.
romance: Also called "series" romances, they're published
as one of a group, or line, of romances. Romance lines can be loose
(for instance, all books in the line are suspenseful) or more specific
(for instance, each story revolves around a wedding). Read as many
books as you can from a line to get a feel for what the editors
romance: Also called "single release" or "mainstream,"
these are publishedand marketedsingly (not as part of
a category or line). As a result, story types may vary widely. However,
don't be fooled into thinking there are no guidelines at all. Careful
reading of a publisher's mainstream releases may reveal quite marked
similaritiesand hence, the editors' preferences.
of Sensuality. Is there no sex beyond a kiss, or are there plenty
of "hot-and-heady" love scenes? A publisher who accepts
only sweet romances, like Avalon, will turn down a sensual novel
faster than you can say "wrong publisher"even if
your sexy novel is the best thing that ever (might have) hit the
the market and what publishers are looking for will increase the
odds of your manuscript finding a favorable reception. If a publisher
offers guidelines, follow them as closely as possible. Don't gamble
that an editor will make an exception just this once for you. With
all the competition out there, most editors won't be willing to
take that chance, especially on an unknown or first-time author.
get hundreds, even thousands, of submissions each year. To make
sure your manuscript stands out, find out what the submission requirements
are and follow them. Guidelines vary from publisher to publisherand
sometimes from editor to editor within a house.
publishers seem to want to see every manuscript they can; other
houses are harder to break into than Fort Knox. Following the submission
guidelines set down by the publisher won't ensure you get a contract,
but it can get your manuscript read by an interested editor. Name
an Individual Editor. While not in any guideline, it's a good idea
to send your manuscript to an actual person. You can find the names
of individual editors in the editorial staff lists in The Literary
Market Place; or by placing a quick, polite call to a publishers'
general telephone number.
the Correct Material. Nearly all publishers will consider a
query letter; some may require a query with a synopsis and/or a
partial; others may wish to see the completed manuscript. Often,
the material they wish to see depends on whether the author is previously
published or not. Submit all and only the materials the publisher
submission materials include:
letter: A one-page letter briefly describing your story and
who you are; may be called a "cover letter" when you're
sending other materials as well (see Lisa Plumley's Writing a Query
Letter for more detail)
A brief summary of your story, describing the major characters,
conflicts and plot pointscan be as short as 2-3 pages or as
long as 20 pages, although most editors prefer a middle ground of
A "partial manuscript"; the first 100 pages or the first
three chapters; send the latter if the publisher doesn't specify
manuscript: See Manuscript Format below
Self-addressed stamped enveloppublishers won't return
any material without one
you may hear of a writer sending in a "proposal." A proposal
can vary from a detailed synopsis to a query letter with synopsis
and partial. Find out what the publisher means by the term.
Other Submission Guidelines. Publishers usually state other
submission requirements in their guidelines, tip sheets and listings.
material: Some publishers will accept only "agented material"meaning,
they will only look at manuscripts sent to them by a literary agent.
submissions: Many publishers won't accept a multiple submissionthat
is, a manuscript that's been sent to more than one publisher at
the same time. Even for those that do, it is considered very bad
etiquette to send a multiple submission without stating clearly
in the cover letter that the manuscript is being considered by other
and dot-matrix printouts: Most publishers require paper submissions
(an exception is electronic publishers) and won't accept disks.
Dot-matrix is frowned on because the type is often too light or
difficult to read (see more about this in Manuscript Format below).
you're serious about being published, it pays to take the time to
submit a professional looking manuscript. Here are some basic guidelines:
Use a good-quality, reasonably heavy-bond white 8½ x
Your manuscript should be typewritten or letter-quality printed.
Use black ink only. 12-point Courier is the easiest FONT to read;
it copies clearly, which will be helpful should your manuscript
sell; and it conforms well to pagination formulas (see Word Count),
which editors will appreciate.
Margins should be 1 to 1½ inches on all sides, left-justified
Double-space all materials (with the exception of your cover letter).
This leaves room for an editor to pencil in comments. Don't put
an extra space between paragraphs.
Indents: Indicate all paragraph beginnings with a 5-space indentation.
Here are a few points of manuscript style. Most are designed
to make life easier for typesetters. If followed, they'll make you
look like a true professional.
Don't italicize words. Instead, underline them, which indicates
to the typesetter that the word should be in italics.
dash: Indicate an en dash by two hyphens.
Punctuation goes inside quotations marks"I
don't know," he said. "What do you think?" (Of course,
since this is English, there is an exception to the "Rule":
the ornery colon and its brother, the semicolon.)
out all words, such as "and" ("&" is a no-no),
unless there is a reason, such as in IOU or The Mutt & Jeff
Don't hyphenate words. There's no need, and it can only clutter
up your manuscript. Turn hyphenation off in your word processing
Check and recheck. Make your spell checker your best friend.
Some publishers accept them, others do not. Unless a publisher specifically
says they will, don't risk it. Keep the copy and send the original
to the publisher.
None. Repeat: absolutely none. Don't staple, paperclip, rubber
band, tie in ribbons, bind in folders or box your manuscript. It
annoys editors...and we don't want that!
Count. Editors aren't really interested in the exact number
of words in your manuscript. What they are interested in is a way
to quickly and accurately estimate the total number of finished
pages a book will have. That's why it's a good idea to use 12-point
Courier and 1- to 1½-inch marginsthese allow an editor
to use a standard formula to calculate the finished pages. Using
Couier and proper margins gives a total average word count of 250
words per page, which makes it easy to figure out the length of
the typeset book. For instance, on a page with a lot of dialogue,
there may be as few as 150 words. But an editor won't careshe's
only concerned with the number of lines that dialogue eventually
will take up in the finished book. Submitting a manuscript with
an average of 250 words per page makes the editor's job easier.
Layout. Here are a few examples of manuscript page formats:
1. Title Page. I like a title page on longer works like book manuscripts.
Put the title followed by your name in the center. Your address
and phone number in the bottom left-hand corner, and the word count
(see Word Count above) and the line you're submitting to (if one)
in the bottom right-hand corner.
2. Chapter Opener. On the first chapter, put your name, address
and phone number in the top left-hand corner. Put the word count
(and line, if one) in the top right-hand corner. For all subsequent
chapters, follow the header format for a regular page (see Figure
3). On every chapter's opening page, put the chapter title (Chapter
One, Chapter Two, etc.) about one-third to one-half of the way down
the page. This leaves room for the editor to make comments.
3.Page Two and After. From the second page to the end of the manuscript,
use this type of header: Your Name / The Manuscript Title / Page#
. Most editors are very careful with manuscripts, but even the most
cautious can accidentally drop a sheaf of pages. Putting your name,
the title and the page number on each page can save someone a big
Hearing Back from the Publisher
times vary, but generally you can expect to hear back from a publisher
within 2 to 3 months. If you haven't heard anything by 3 months,
a short letter of inquiry stating your name, the title of the work
and the date you sent itor even a brief phone call to the
editoris not inappropriate.
Almost every writer has seen plenty of these. It's never pleasant,
but it seems to be an inevitable part of the process of getting
published. Remember, also, manuscripts are rejected for a myriad
of reasonsnot only because they "aren't good enough."
The publishers may have just bought or published books similar to
yours; you may have hit this one editor's "sore spot";
or the publishing schedule is full and doesn't allow for new acquisitions
at that time. Whatever the reason, it's a good idea to respond with
a brief thank you letteryes, honestly! Thanking an editor
for considering your manuscript is a nice thing to do. Editors appreciate
and remember things like that. And who knows? Maybe when you send
in your next submission...
Occasionally, an editor will write or call with a request to see
revisions. They are neither rejecting nor accepting the manuscript;
generally, they liked something in the book too much to quite let
go of it, yet they see problems with the manuscript. In these cases,
they may ask the author to revise the manuscript, perhaps even making
suggestions. It's up to the author to decide whether to make the
revisions or not. You may work hard to rewrite your manuscript,
only to have it rejected in the end. On the other hand, a willingness
to take editorial direction and revise your manuscript may result
in a sale. Even if the manuscript is eventually rejected, the editor
will remember you as someone who is easy to work withand that
could influence a decision to buy your next submission.
This is the part of the job editors like most. They'd like to make
these kinds of phone callsand they usually do call rather
than writeall the time. Don't be surprised if your new editor
sounds as excited as you are. At least until you get off the phone,
try to stay calm enough to note when they'll send you an acceptance
letter and a contract. Especially if this is your first sale, you
probably won't take in all the details, but don't worry. It usually
takes a year or more for a book to be publishedyou'll have
plenty of time to peruse contracts and sweat over revision letters.
For now, just celebrate!
Copyright © 1999, Kathy Marks.
All rights reserved.
You may reprint this chapter in whole or in part
provided credit is given to the author.
Marks spent 8 years as an editor before trying life on the other
side of the publishing desk. The author of both romantic suspense
and romantic comedies, she's currently working on her fifth Harlequin
novel, The Knight and Daye. Kathy lives in Arizona with her husband,
son, and two rambunctious mutts. You can e-mail Kathy, or visit
her web site.