Monday, January 25, 2010

I have an idea! Now what?

I had an idea and the words were flowing. Life was good. I was doing something I enjoyed and it was constructive. My brain felt like it was expanding with knowledge as I typed every word. It was a great feeling.

Even though everything was wonderful, I needed the occasional mental break. No one can sit there for hours straight without going a little nutty or at least without getting leg cramps. During these breaks, I did a variety of things:


  • Checked out a few Thesauruses.

  • Bookmarked a few grammatical websites.

  • Researched the publishing industry.


One thing about me is that I always skip ahead. I’ve always done it and will continue to do so. The only things I don’t skip ahead on are books and movies. I love the suspense too much to ruin it for myself. Everything else in life, however, I want to know what’s next and be prepared. Boy scouts have nothing on me when it comes to my preparation and planning skills.

It’s break time. I'm stretching my legs, but my mind is still on writing and plans for the future. I’m thinking positive and wonder, “What happens when I finally finish writing my book?” “How do I contact publishers?” “Do I need an agent?” “What’s the process?” “What format do I use?” “In this day and age of technology, can I email my manuscript?”

The questions went on and on. It got so bad that I even questioned what word processor I used. After all, I could be typing in a format that will get my manuscript rejected. Why not start out with the industry standard from the beginning? Problem was, I didn’t know what the industry standard was.

Not having a plan for the future, I panicked enough to enter research mode. It’s like a little like switching into Voltron without the cool robots and with fewer explosions.

Research mode activated!

Not even knowing where to begin, I blundered my way through the internet. Having crossed several helpful sites, I finally had a template that I was going to use and I cheerfully changed my font, margins, line spacing and other settings.

Knowing that each publishing house and agency wants something a little different and that I should check with each individually, I at least had what they typically request. This is what I found:

  • either 1.5 or 2.0 spaced, single sided. This allows for whoever might read it to make notes between the lines if necessary and is easier to read.

  • Large margins. Generally 1” to give room to make notes.

  • Courier or Times New Roman font. Monospaced Fonts (typically courier) have been used in the business since before time began. These are fonts where every letter takes up the same amount of space. Many fonts try to squeeze letters together to get more on a page. This sometimes makes reading something quickly hard. It also makes getting a word count the old fashioned way tricky. There is a debate on whether to use Courier or New Times Roman. Pick one, and stick with it. Don't pick anything else. Just don't.

  • Indent each paragraph by 1/2 inch or 5 spaces.

  • Don't use "fancy" formatting. Keep it simple.

  • Indicate blank lines by centering "###".

  • No cover page. Use the first page to write your information. In the upper left corner, type your name (your real name if using a pen name), your address and contact information. In the upper right corner type the word count (it's already assumed to be approximate, so writing the word approximate is unnecessary). In the middle of the page, type the title of your story, centered. The next line should be your name (or pen name if you choose). Enter another line and then start writing your story. You'll get about 13 lines of your story on the first page and that's why it's said that your first 13 lines are the most important. They might be all that's ever read by publishers and agents when looking at your submission.

  • Put a page number and your name in the upper right corner of all following pages. No other headers of footers should be used. Sometimes the name of the book/story is helpful, but can get complicated if you change the name down the road.

The majority of the guidelines I found was put in place for the simple fact that it makes it easier to read your manuscript. Additional preferences are usually mentioned on their websites.

Sometimes they want just a query letter with an outline. Sometimes they want the first three chapters. Occasionally they want the whole thing. The important thing to keep in mind is to check and double check what they each asks for and give what they want; nothing more, nothing less.

Always be prepared for any request. Don't send a query letter or even approach a publisher or agent if your manuscript isn't finished. You never know when they could ask you to see the whole thing and then you have to say, "Oops, my bad. It isn't done yet. Can you please wait another couple months?" (We're talking fiction here. Non-Fiction sometimes varies.)

Don’t push your whole manuscript on them when they didn’t ask for it. Don’t forget to include what they did ask for. Each house/agency has their own procedures and following their guidelines makes their lives much easier. Considering they are evaluating not only an author's writing, plot and salability, but they are looking at how easy/hard it is to work with us authors. Making their lives easier is a very good thing.

Lastly, get used to rejection. Just resolve yourself right here and now that if you get to the point where you are making submission, then you're going to get rejected by someone, somewhere (and probably frequently). It happens to all authors. It's nothing personal.

Being rejected doesn't mean your manuscript it bad. It could be something as simple as your manuscript is a western and they only deal with romances.

If by some luck, you get a personalized rejection letter or any suggestions at all, take that as an incredibly good sign. That means that someone liked your manuscript enough to actually pay attention and critique it. Take their suggestions to heart and keep submitting.

Personally, I look forward to many rejection letters in my future. That means I've finished my book and am on to the next level in becoming published.

See you on the slush pile!

1 comment:

A.R. Norris said...

Interesting post. Great job with it!

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