Manuscript Formatting and Submission
Manuscripts come in many different forms. However, there is one common format to all manuscripts: double-space typed professional twelve-point font (Courier, Times New Roman or Arial) on one side of white, clean paper. I prefer twelve-point Times New Roman. It gives a clean professional appearance and is easy to read.
Example: Instead of the same old articles filled with business garb, family and parenting tips, or even work at home guides, try something new. Dig through that junk mail in your in-box. There are hundreds of stories waiting to be born. Try an expose on the new herbal remedies for ... not being able to ... well, you know. What about the info available on “free” grants ... for only $99! (Excerpt from WLA Connection News: December 2003)
Another important thing to remember when formatting your manuscript is the title page, header, and page numbers. The title page should include the title, the author’s name, complete mailing address, day telephone number, SSN (optional due to privacy issues), and email. Headers should include the title (or enough that, should a page get out of place, it can easily be placed with the proper manuscript) and the author’s name (last name, first name). If the last name is long, omit the first name or use the first name initial.
When an agent requests your complete (or partial) manuscript, be sure pages are clean and in order. Always include a cover letter reiterating the agent’s request. It is even a good idea to enclose a copy of the agent’s letter or email message requesting the material. Agents spend a large part of their day reviewing queries. Mixing up and forgetting stories and names is a strong possibility.
Another point of manuscript submissions is the one issue that is a pet peeve of most agents and editors: errors in the body of the document. A general word processor’s grammar and spell check does not catch all errors. It is important to have a professional review your manuscript or wait a few days/weeks, then revisit the manuscript with fresh eyes and a clear mind.
You may have experience in the following areas or maybe you have asked the same questions. However, it is important that all writers (novice and seasoned) understand the way agencies operate. Therefore, I have compiled a list of common questions and answers:
Q. What if I submit on request and do not receive a reply?
A. If it has been two months or longer, send a polite letter or email to inquire on the status. If you do not receive a reply within one month, assume the agent is not interested and submit elsewhere.
Q. Is it okay to email multiple agents/publishers in one message?
A. This refers to the CC and/or BCC fields of email messages. I cannot answer for all agents/editors, but personally, I do not accept these types of email queries. If I see another agent’s name/address in the message, I delete. If my name/address is not visible and “undisclosed recipients” is listed, I also delete.
Q. Can I submit my manuscript to many agents/editors at once?
A. The answer varies according to each company’s policies. Most list within their guidelines whether or not they accept simultaneous submissions. For example, Williams Agency accepts simultaneous submissions, but asks that writers notify of such submissions. However, exclusivity for a limited time is always preferred.
As referenced earlier, always (did I say “always”?) include an SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). Often times, writers simply forget. However, if an agent is not interested in a writer’s work and an SASE is not enclosed, it is unlikely for the agent to reply. In fact, I do not reply to such queries/submissions.
Williams Agency uses a logbook for incoming and outgoing submissions (applies to queries and partial and complete manuscripts). When material arrives, it is logged in by date, last name, and title. Once the material is reviewed, it is logged out by date with notations, concerning the status (accepted, rejected, requested, no SASE, etc.).
A prime example can be found in the following (true) story:
In October 2002, Williams Agency received a complete manuscript, which was requested. Later in 2003, the author inquired on the status. We were in the midst of a move and had all files in storage. I could not give the author an honest answer without the logbook. The author inquired several times and each time I had given the same response—check back. Finally, we settled in our new office (after a five-month diversion/transition). Honestly, I did not think about the inquiry again.
During the latter months of 2003, we received a query that really impressed me. I requested more and wanted to discuss representation with the author. We corresponded via email a few times and eventually set up a time for a telephone conference. However, on the scheduled date, unexpected issues with a client arose. I could not make the call. When the author inquired, I explained. I also explained that my schedule did not allow for another conference any time soon and that it would be in the best interest of their work to continue contacting other agencies. This comment was sincere and intended as helpful.
After a short while, I received a reply, and a nasty one at that. I was accused of being unprofessional and un-Christ-like. Then the writer went on to inform me that I was to immediately return their friend’s work. Their friend? Remember the writer at the beginning of the story? Yep, that’s the one!
I replied that I could not comment on the work of one writer to another. I returned the second writer’s work and notified the first of the status of their work (rejected with no SASE). That meant the manuscript was recycled (shredded). That should have been the end of it, but it was far from the end. I received a couple of replies and I quit responding. A few weeks ago, I received another message from the first author. Apparently, they believe I took their manuscript to sell as my own. I was accused, threatened, and everything but physically slapped in the face. I have yet to reply.
What this story presents within this book is the etiquette needed when conducting business with an agent/editor. All writers will be rejected at one time or another; some will go on to be very successful. Nevertheless, the one constant should be the way a writer conducts his/herself. If the writer referenced in the story truly felt their work was in danger, they should have gone about the inquiry process from a different angle. For example, they could have written:
With the number of agents and agencies in the news concerning bad-faith practices, I am concerned that I did not hear from you for so long. While I am not accusing, I cannot help but to wonder about my work. Can you please provide something to show that my work was indeed rejected?
Not all agencies will provide the information, I would have provided a photocopy of the log sheet showing the author’s date in/out and status with other information blacked out.
It is important for writers to be professional in the face of all circumstances. Often times, attitude reflects the future of the writer’s career. For example, having endured the attitudes of both writers referenced in the story, I am glad I did not offer a contract. I would rather pass on a story than sign a problem-writer.
What is a problem-writer, aside from the evident one referenced above?