Saturday, 27 April 2013

Avoid looking like an amateur

Always, always, always we’re looking for great stories and good writing. We may from time to time look beyond typos, lack of control and an obvious ignorance of the publishing world if the story is excellent and the writing superb. Alas, the latter is very rare and often due to talent. There is also a business side to publishing and we need to know that every writer, even the talented ones, can engage with that. Just think: you have made your script the best it can possibly be and we ask you to change it. There is no way we’ll believe you capable of doing that if you can’t follow a few simple guidelines and adhere to a few general rules.
Give us what we ask for
If we ask for three chapters and a synopsis, give us that. We don’t need four chapters just because your chapters are short. If you can’t crystallize your story into a 500 word synopsis you’re probably not sure what you’re doing anyway and that will show in the text.  
Format your work to industry standard
Unless otherwise stated, double space your work. Indent all but the first paragraph of a section. Do not put an extra line space in front of a paragraph. Use a standard font – Times New Roman 12 point or Arial 10 point are favoured. You might use the automatic paragraph set up in Word to do this. However, beware that you may need to change this to something more manual for some publishers at a later date. Format left, ragged right, please.
Other presentation etiquette
Create a title page. The top left had corner should include full contact details – name, address, telephone numbers and email. The title, your name and the type of book should go in the middle, centred, and the rounded number of words in the bottom righthand corner. Note, if you use a pseudonym use that in the middle of the page and your real name in the contact details.
It’s good practice and useful for you to include your name and the title of the book, perhaps shortened, in a header and the page number and number of pages in the footer.  Again, you can set this up automatically in Word.
However, if you’re entering a competition there is often a requirement that your name doesn’t appear anywhere on the script. In this case, if you include it they’ll just put your script in the bin. You will have wasted the entry fee.
Never staple or bind your work. Hold it together with a paper clip or if it’s a hefty script, sandwich it between two pieces of thin card and hold it together with a large elastic band.  
Business-like cover letter
Make your cover letter informative and to the point. Give us a two line summary of your text. Tell us the three or so facts from your CV that are the most relevant for this work. Tell us what to do with your script when we’ve finished – bin it or post it back.  If the latter, remember to include return postage. (Of course, these days, many publishers accept electronic submissions.) Don’t give us the impression that you have a one-size-fits-all query letter.  
Avoid being quirky here and in any synopsis unless you can do it extremely well and convincingly. Most of the time it just irritates us.  
Near-perfect script
Make your script as mistake-free as possible. The odd typo, punctuation mistake or clumsily structured sentence may be forgivable but a host of them is not and actually prevents us from seeing your work clearly. Be particularly careful about how you set out dialogue. This is incredibly easy to get right but it is amazing how many people make serious errors in this area. Read you work out loud and get someone else to check it before you send it out. It may even be worth paying someone.       

It’s all about the business of writing. Take yourself seriously and we might too.     

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Are email submissions actually more complex than the old-fashioned one side of A4 double-spaced etc.?

It used to be relatively simple. You sent the first three chapters of your novel, a synopsis and a query letter, plus return postage. You probably took it to the post office to get it weighed. It was at least half a day’s work. Then you sat back and waited. Or hopefully, you carried on writing.
The publisher accumulated a slush pile at least as tall as herself and an office junior delighted in reducing that pile by sending it back to hopeful authors with a standard rejection slip.
A disappointed writer heard the loud thump as the rejected manuscript landed on the doormat.
Electronic submissions common sense?
You would think so. Yet so much can go wrong. The submission may never arrive. The process of sending it electronically may screw up the text or the formatting. The publisher loses control over their slush pile because they can no longer see it three dimensionally.
Yet there are advantages for the publisher and the writer. The publisher receives a text that is already partly type-set. The writer can probably get out three submissions in the time it used to take her to get out one.  
Complex guide-lines
Many publishers do now accept submissions electronically. The variety of ways they ask for material can be confusing for the writer, however.  Some want the submission via an on-line form, some want it in the body of the email and some want it as an attachment. There seems also to be much variety in what should be contained in whichever method is chosen: the first 5000 words, the first three chapters, the first ten pages, a one page synopsis, a fifty word synopsis, a two-line description. Then there is a variation of where these items go-  in the body of the email, as an attachment or even all just in one  document  Many publishers ask for an a author bio as well. One or two want a full CV. Many are interested the writer’s social networking habits. A sound presence on Twitter, Facebook and in the Blogsphere is welcome.
The standard manuscript is still there somewhere
Double-spacing and 12 point Time new Roma remain popular, but different publishers require different additional formatting details: the size of the margins, whether one uses Word headings, how indents are generated,  and whether footers, headers or page numbers are permitted or desired. Much of this depends on what is a particular publisher’s design process after editorial. The publisher does not want to be fighting the writer’s text as they prepare the digital file.
As ever, the writer must read these guidelines carefully. Two sets can be amazingly similar but nevertheless include critical differences.
Electronic editing
This is really coming into favour now. Even when a hard-copy has been accepted at submission stage, editor and writer will often work on the script electronically. Many publishers use a combination of Track Changes and added comments. These can make scripts seem messy but it doesn’t take too long to get used to. It’s useful to the publisher also to see where the writer has made changes in various versions of the script. Version-naming etiquette is essential and what that is will also vary from publisher to publisher.
Editing for house-style
Authors will often have to edit their text to bring it in line with a certain house-style.  This will include such features as single or double quotes, how thoughts are portrayed (often in italics), and how section breaks and headings are handled.  

Confusing? Indeed it is. But worth getting right. Busy publishers haven’t got time to look at something that is not properly presented. Although some of these rules may seem complex it’s usually relatively easy to set up your document to obey them. What may look like a list of demands is actually more like a step-by-step guide.  
And still you can get submissions out more quickly than you could using the old-fashioned way. Publishers can also respond more rapidly.