The world of writing is a wonderful experience. The opportunity to share your thoughts, share your opinions, or even your imagination is limitless when you venture the path of writing. Just as writing is a wonderful and exciting experience, there are steps required to entering the process. You do not need a college degree nor do you have to be fabulous to be published. The needed things are the writing, great communication skills, and finished products that meet industry standards.
As is the case with most new writers, you have no idea what to do first, second, or third. You have no idea where you should go first or next. Unfortunately, without the right information, you are more likely to end in a spin of disappointment. This is not because your work is not good or even great; it is because every career, job, and industry has a certain set of protocols that should be followed to achieve the right results. Therefore, if you want to put your right foot forward take a look at the rules of getting started.
Prepare a query letter. If the query is compelling enough to the publisher or agent, they will request your manuscript. Every publisher and agent is looking for the next “best seller” so put away fear and intimidation and send the query letters. A query includes the following:
- Up to one page max – longer is not better.
- Plain white paper – no fancy stationery
- Plain white envelope – no fancy envelopes
- No fancy postage
- follow the submission requirements exactly
- If a synopsis or sample chapter is required, include it
- If a synopsis is required, do not exceed two pages.
- Highlight the main story/book items within about four paragraphs; no more than five.
- Make it plain, easy to read, and easy to understand.
- Proof-read, spell-check, and do it again – do no rely on software spell-checkers
Never send a completed manuscript unless requested by the publisher or agent. However, make sure you have prepared and completed manuscript that is ready for publication. Regardless of whether or not you have a publisher or agent, always have a manuscript that is ready. Great ideas and no written copy to show for them are useless to your potential publishers. Invest in employing an editor. This is one of the leading causes of rejection and failure. A lot of time is usually invested in writing; see to it, time is also invested in the editing. Publishers and agents take seriously writers who have a “finished” product that is ready for production.
Save your manuscript to disk, on a computer, and any other means you have available to retrieve an electronic copy. With the changes in technology and trends, many are requesting disks. Hand-typed manuscript can cost opportunities because it is an added and often times, unnecessary expense for the publisher to invest in having the entire manuscript re-typed. A manuscript typically includes the following:
- If printed and mailed – plain white paper
- Double-space text is the standard
- One inch margins are the standard
- 12 point font is the standard
- Font family can be Times Roman, Arial, Courier, or Similar – nothing fancy or script
- Do not send your original
- Do not use any binding, unless instructed to do so
- Number your pages and keep them in order
- In the header includes your name and title of the book
- Include a cover letter. The cover letter identifies the title, your name, address, phone, and email.
- Your cover letter is not a query; do not use it to sell your book.
- Send the manuscript in a cardboard box or bubble envelope
- Use a small box or corrugated cardboard envelope for the S.A.S.E.
Some experienced authors may submit “book proposals.” A book proposal is a description of and sample of your proposed book. Again, this too is written copy that has been well organized and provides enough details for the reader to follow the concept or idea of the book; it is not just a sentence, paragraph, or verbal expression of an idea. A proposal includes information on the following:
- What is the Proposed Title for the book
- What is the book about or main idea
- What is important or special about the book
- Why should the book be published
- Why or what qualifies you to write the book
- Who will be the core audience for the book
- What will make the book significant to the audience
- How will your book differ from others that are of similar topic
- What is the proposed outline for the book
- Narrative description of a chapter or two from the book
- About how many pages will the completed manuscript include
- How long will it take you to produce the completed manuscript
Remember a “book proposal” is not a manuscript. It should be as a narrative or short story and no longer than 20 – 40 pages depending on content included that will help the reader understand.
Whether you are submitting a query letter, completed manuscript, or book proposal, always include a stamped self-addressed envelope (SASE). If possible, avoid email submissions unless instructed by the publisher or agent to do so. Send US Postal Service First Class only. Do not use FedEx, UPS, or any other commercial delivery. This does not bypass or speed up the process.
Read other books that are of similar topic and interest as yours. Make sure you are well versed on what is out there and how well or not well those other markets are doing.
Invest in the ‘The Writer’s Market’ published by Writer’s Digest. This book provides a comprehensive listing of publishers and agents. This will help you save time and target the publishers and agents that are in your target market, instead of spinning the top and potentially wasting time and money contacting publishers and agents that are not interested in your topic or area of interest.
Learn your industry. Go to the bookstores, libraries, and research online. Find out more on the topic of publishing. Learn the laws. Publishing contracts are complex. Research and learn about publishing contracts so you will be prepared when your time comes. Learn the functions and industry standards for the various markets of writing. There is no limit to what you can, only those that you choose to impose on yourself.
Minimize fear and anxiety with knowledge. Knowledge is the driving power to success. “What you do not know, can hurt you!” Information builds knowledge. It is difficult and sometimes nearly impossible to address, change, or prepare for the things you do not know. There are many books on the market that help with how to construct properly and prepare a book. There are also many books that address the differences among query letters, cover letters, book proposals and manuscripts.