jeudi 14 décembre 2006

What to submit to a publisher

a book proposal will
vary according to the publisher. Most companies
state clearly on their website what would-be
authors should supply to them.
You’ll find that some of the largest publishers
actually say they won’t even consider submissions
that don’t arrive via agents. This is an unfortunate
obstacle for unpublished, unagented writers but
it’s a fact of the industry that cannot be avoided.
The smaller publishers will usually ask for a
single page proposal or a covering letter, a
synopsis and between one and three sample
Your sample chapters must be cleanly printed
on fresh paper. If your toner or ink is running
low make sure you replace it before printing
anything. Publishers don’t want to read weak and
smeary text.
That’s straightforward enough, but it doesn’t
tell the whole story. The purpose of a proposal is
to give enough information to an editor about
your manuscript for them to make a judgement
as to whether they would like to read more.
But there are other ways to tantalise a
publisher, as we’ll see later.
Accompanying the submission with
a large envelope and sufficient
postage for the sample chapters to
be returned is actually a pointless
thing to do because you should
never re-use those samples anyway.
It’s far better to enclose a postcard
(with a stamp on it) addressed to
you so that the publisher can
acknowledge receipt of your
submission. If the proposal is
rejected the sample chapters can
then be thrown away or recycled
by the publisher. Make sure your
e-mail address is included in your
covering letter so that the
publisher can send you a reply
without incurring any costs.
What to put in your covering letter
Three things should be in your covering letter:
Your book
Reasons to publish it.
When writing about yourself, aim for a paragraph
summarising relevant points about what qualifies
you to write this book. If you want to say lots
more about yourself constrain the extra words
to a separate C.V. to make sure your covering
letter isn’t so long that it gets confused with the
book itself.
The publisher needs to know if you have had
any publishing successes before, if you have any
relevant qualifications for writing your book, and
if you plan to write any more books on the same
Your book
Describe the book in one short paragraph. There
is plenty of space to explain its intricacies in more
detail in the synopsis. Here is where you write a
short ‘teaser’ that will intrigue the editor
sufficiently to make them want to know more.
Imagine you’re writing the publisher’s blurb
that they will use to describe your book on the
back cover, in their catalogue and on their
website. There’s no need to give away the full
plot – leave it open for the editor to wonder how
it resolves.
Then add a short line to describe how you
envisage the book in its printed form. For
example you might see the book as a bargain
paperback or a lavish hardback.
If the book is similar to a bestselling book or
to another book by the publisher you’re writing
to then make that comparison. It makes it easier
for an editor to visualise the kind of book you’re
Reasons to publish it
List any significant reasons why the publisher’s
risk will be small in taking on your book. Perhaps
you have contacts in the media who have
promised to help you publicise the book. Or
you’ve done some research into the likely level
of demand for your book and can demonstrate
that the market is crying out for it because there
is a gap in the market. Maybe you’re involved in
a society whose membership is sufficiently large
to create enough guaranteed sales to justify a full
print run. Or you’re a lecturer on a subject and
are sure the students at your college and others
will all buy this book. Or you have the ability to
sell the book through your own business.
Taking this principle further, imagine you
planned to purchase a substantial number of
copies of your book at the author’s discount
(usually between 35% and 50%) for selling
privately to friends, family and colleagues or to
sell in your own shop.
You mention to the publisher that you think
you can sell 500 copies of the book, should it get
into print, and that you would make a firm order
to buy those copies, non returnable, so that they
can be delivered direct from the printer.
If your book is up against similar, equally well-
written manuscripts for consideration, this kind
of offer could clinch the deal for you. It won’t
help you if the book isn’t good enough, or it’s
wrong for the market, or the publisher doesn’t
specialise in that kind of book, but it can make a
difference in the right circumstances.
What kind of a difference does a guaranteed
sale of 500 copies make to a publisher? Actually
quite a lot. It depends on the size and price of
the book, but in most cases it’s enough to cover
as much as half of the printing costs and therefore
reduces the chances that the book will lose
How to write a synopsis
Generally speaking, one paragraph per chapter
is adequate. As long as the synopsis fills one or
two pages and no more then it’s the right length.
It’s not easy to distil your masterpiece down to a
few hundred words unless you’re clear in your
mind as to what the important themes and
concepts are.
Leave out all unnecessary detail. As with the
‘blurb’ you wrote in your covering letter, don’t
feel the need to answer all questions – leave some
things hanging tantalisingly in the air so the editor
wants to read the whole book to find out more.
10 ways to leapfrog other submissions
Call the publishing company and ask for
the name of the appropriate editor for
your genre of book.
Ask to speak to that editor. If you get
through to them, summarise your proposal
in a couple of sentences and ask if they’d
like to see it.
Make sure your submission is personally
addressed to that person.
The covering letter inside must not be a
generic, photocopied ‘Dear sir/madam’. If
you’ve already spoken on the phone,
mention it.
If you have enough relevant experience and
qualifications, include a separate C.V.
Otherwise, don’t bother. Leave out jobs,
swimming certificates and exams that have
nothing to do with your book.
Think of a stonking title and subtitle
combination, or an enticing tag line if the
book is fiction.
Schmooze with publishers at book fairs,
launch parties and award ceremonies.
Use ‘friend of a friend’ contacts mercilessly.
Offer to buy a chunk of the print run.
Prove to the publisher that you can attract
publicity for yourself.
Submissions are often made to publishers in a
gimmicky way. I’ve seen a proposal written on a
scroll wrapped up in a cardboard tube,
submissions printed on expensive coloured paper
(a gold cover page is the worst offender), and
ideas for books packaged with ribbons and bows.
Needless to say, all were rejected.
You might think a gimmick is an effective way
to get noticed in the slush pile – it will get your
proposal noticed, but for the wrong reasons.
Editors sigh at the sight of coloured paper and
fancy packaging. They know from experience
that authors who wrap their submission in such
a decorative way are, either consciously or
unconsciously, trying to divert attention from
weaknesses in their writing. Such attempts have
never worked and never will. Keep your proposal
looking professional, and that means print it on
standard 80gsm white paper. If you need to bind
a few pages, use a staple in the top corner. If there
are more pages than a stapler can manage, bind
them in a simple and plain way that won’t attract
Generating a cover design
Some authors go to the extent of designing a
cover for their book when sending in a proposal.
This can help the editor to imagine your book in
print and how attractive it would look, but only
if your design is of a professional standard. If
you’ve never designed a book cover it might be
advisable to avoid attempting one to send in with
your idea. Instead, you
could commission a
design from a local
graphic designer or art student. If the design turns
out to be stunning, giving the book a similar style
to a bestseller in its genre, then things could start
to go your way more easily. You should supply
the designer with any high quality photos or
artwork you possess that might be suitable, advise
them on the target audience and show them
similar book covers that you like. This will help
them to understand the style of drawing or design
they should aim for.
A mock-up of your book cover is not essential,
since most books that are published do not come
from illustrated proposals, and the wrong kind
of design can actually put editors off. But if you
can get a design that excites a publisher in the
same way that customers in bookshops get
excited by attractive designs that make them want
to buy books, then you’re a little further on your
way towards being a published author.
How long to wait for a response
Wait a reasonable period before chasing the
publisher for a response: this means at least a
month. It takes time to make publishing decisions.
Books aren’t picked on a daily basis. Even after a
month you may not get a very satisfactory answer.
Finding an editor who knows about your
submission (or pretends to) is a challenge in itself.
Many rejections occur quickly, as do requests to
see more of a book if only a sample chapter was
received initially. But the wheels of publishing turn
slowly because so many factors besides the quality
of the writing have to be taken into account before
making a decision. It’s better to think of your
submission as planting a seed that may bear fruit
after many months. Don’t sit around waiting to
see if it grows: keep making and planting new seeds
all the time.
Copyright protection
Anything you write is automatically your
copyright and will remain so until seventy years
after you die. But if someone tries to steal your
work that’s of no help to you unless you can prove
that you wrote it. Digital technology is making
theft of writing texts much easier than in the past,
so if you want peace of mind just follow these
basic procedures:
Keep copies of all your different drafts. They show the
progression of ideas as you developed the writing. The
person who stole your writing would not be able to
show the court any evidence of how the writing evolved.
Mail a completed copy to yourself and if it arrives with
a clearly dated postmark leave it unopened. It’s not a
failsafe system, but if you open it in front of the judge
it can help to demonstrate that at that date you were
in possession of the writing.
Register your work with a copyright protection agency,
either online or with a physical copy of the manuscript.
Clearly write your name, contact details and copyright
date on all copies of your work that you send out.

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