It’s the summer and a bit quiet in the book biz, so I’ve been reading through manuscripts of late, trying to find the next diamond in the rough lurking in our “slush pile.” In order to help me to help you, so to speak, I thought a couple of querying tips might be in order, thus:
The Porcupette’s Submission Commandments
Thou Shalt Restrain Thyself.
First of all: STOP. Take a breath. Put your manuscript away for a couple of weeks. Then go back to it. Read and read again. Get a second opinion. Edit like a mad Zorro with red pen. Be positively ruthless. Once you’ve cut every stray paragraph, nixed every cliché, slashed every extraneous word, read it again and make sure that your spelling and grammar are up to snuff. Though your future publisher will do some editing, a great first impression is essential to getting your foot in the door.
Thou Shalt Know Thy Audience
This one is a biggie. It’s tempting to carpet bomb the Canadian literary landscape with queries as soon as you’ve finished your book. Don’t. Consider who might best represent your style of work. Look into what each publisher is looking for and browse their website to learn about what they’ve already published. Sending a manuscript for a paranormal romance to a poetry press is only going to annoy the manuscript reader, no matter how interesting or well-written the manuscript may be.
Also, please don’t ask publishers how they can help market your self-published work, or whether they can post your book on our website, etc. etc. We’re not in the business of publicizing other people’s work!
Thou Shalt Do Thy Homework.
In addition to your research on publishers and what they’re looking for, be sure to provide all of the materials that the publisher requires. Some publishers want a complete manuscript while others only want a sample. Some require a cover letter or author biography, while others don’t. The take home is, don’t shoot yourself in the foot by ignoring the submission requirements, or your work might be dismissed out of hand.
Thou Shalt Write a Great Cover Letter.
Your cover letter is your chance to impress the publisher before page one. A well-written cover letter indicates that your submission is probably pretty darn good, too. It’s not easy to be interesting and convey all of the necessary information in one page, so spend some time and get it right.
First, be sure to get the publisher’s name right, even if you don’t know the exact person that you’re talking to. Nothing will make me more likely to skip over a submission faster than “Dear Penguin Acquisitions Editor.” If you can offer further personalization, so much the better.
Next, consider the body of the letter. Include:
- An introductory paragraph introducing yourself and your work. Genre, expected word count and an indication of how you feel the book is a good fit for your target publisher would be great.
- A description of your manuscript. Give us your best, most engaging elevator pitch for your book.
- Tell us briefly about yourself. Mention where you live, what your background is, and whether you have any previous publications. (It’s OK if you do not—we love to find a great debut author!)
PRO-TIP: This may sound completely obvious, but try to avoid coming across as a jerk. Nothing is more off-putting than having an author tell us that we should be honoured to view their work, or that their book will sell a billion copies. We’re not saying that you can’t be proud of your accomplishments, but this is Canada. We’ve made humility an art form.
Thou Shalt Be Patient.
We know that your book is your baby. We know that you wait on pins and needles for a response—any response. We know that you want to know right away what the verdict is. We wish we could tell you!
Unfortunately, publishers—particularly small presses—can’t always devote all of their time to reading manuscripts. There are books to be edited and produced, events to be planned, websites to update. As much as we’d love to be able to respond to your query within the week, a more realistic expectation is to wait 6 to 12 weeks for the verdict.
To help you keep track of all of these tips, and to make sure your submission is in tip-top shape here’s a handy-dandy checklist for you to use when you’re submitting your manuscript to us here at The Porcupine’s Quill.
PQL Submission Checklist
☐ I am a Canadian author
☐ My manuscript fits in with PQL’s current area of acquisitions
We DO publish: Literary fiction (novels, short stories), non-fiction (memoir, biography, literary criticism) and poetry
We DO NOT publish: paranormal fiction, romance novels, thrillers, mysteries or other “genre” works, self-help books, chapbooks, children’s books that require full-colour printing.
☐ My submission includes all required materials:
☐ A cover letter
☐ A plot synopsis (novels) or explanation of what makes your collection cohesive (poetry, short stories)
☐ An author biography / literary resume / CV
☐ An excerpt of the work to be considered
Excerpt should be a maximum of 35 pages, double spaced. Word Documents or PDFs are acceptable. Pasting content in the body of an email is preferred.
☐ Send electronic submissions to email@example.com. Please do not send hard copies to the office.
And there you have it. The Porcupette’s Submission Commandments with BONUS Submission Checklist. I hope this helps all you writers out there to create a successful submission package for querying books. Good luck!
Brilliant. One of the best guidelines I have read. Very helpful and clear (with glints of humour)
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Very useful. I do have a question about the two page synopsis. Is this single or double-spaced? Alternatively, what is the word limit? (I have a complex plot).
P.S. The York website is outdated.
Typically double-spaced is best. That said, these are guidelines only. If you feel that you need more or less space to truly do your work justice, go for it. The key is to clearly communicate your plot/themes/relevant details while also endearing yourself to overworked editors for whom time is a cherished commodity.
Your tips for an attractive plot synopsis are very helpful. But it is not clear if these 2 pages should come to you in a separate WORD file – separate from the formatted text sample – or follow directly under my intro letter in the email proper. Please clarify?
Hi Jooni! We’re not all that picky here at PQL, so I would say either way is acceptable–whatever makes the most sense to you is perfectly fine.