You've finished your Great American Novel and now you want to send it out for publication. That's right — slap it in an envelope and await the publisher's fat check.
The next step, as you await the fixes back from a professional editor, you need to create a submission packet. What is that? It is what is going to sell your novel before the publisher reads the novel.
Of course that doesn't make sense. In truth, it really does. You can't just send your novel to a publisher — like the Ivory soap commercials, 99 and 44/100th percent of them will not accept unsolicited manuscripts. They do, however, accept queries and submissions packets are part of the query process.
What does a submission packet consist of:
- A query letter
- A synopsis — as specified
- A cover letter
- Sample chapters 1-3 or 50 pages — as specified
- Anything else the publisher desires
Let's review each item for a better understanding.
A Query Letter
This is your introduction — a short introduction. A query letter should be no longer than ONE page. This is where you push a blurb: that thing you read on the back of a book to tempt you to buy it. A query letter is NOT a synopsis of your novel. Always remember: succinct.
You'll probably want to write this first since it will help in finishing the Submission Packet. A synopsis is not a detailed description of each chapter but a telling of the novel through the eyes of a main character, usually in present tense and 3rd person. This could be in conflict of your novel's voice of 1st person, past tense. Don't let that bother you. Just choose the best character to tell the story and reveal the main plot via a hook, main event, important plot elements and HOW THE STORY ENDS. This last is very important since many authors are reluctant to reveal the complete tale and plot. Remember, publishers are not your readers, they can handle spoilers without the alert.
Now here is interesting aspect about a synopsis. Publishers want long, up to 3 pages and they also want short ones, maybe only 500 to 800 words. Some publishers will want both, some will want long, while others will request the short ones. Therefore, make more than one — a long AND a short. As the Boy Scout motto says: Be Prepared.
A Cover Letter
This is the letter you'll send once you've received positive feedback from the publisher regarding your query letter. In other words, they want more.
A cover letter is by spec. What does that mean? Each publisher has their own particular way of wanting to see the manuscript. This is where you will need to have a basic form-type-letter ready for you to customize it to each publisher's guidelines. The cover letter will contain some similar basic information. Your name, address, book title AND WHO REQUESTED THIS SUBMISSION from the publisher.
Sample Chapters 1-3 or 50 Pages
Actually, it will be per the guidelines but normally most publishers request the first 50 pages or they want chapters 1, 2 and 3. Some may want only 10 pages. Others may want only the first chapter. Yet another publisher may request the first 5k words. Again, this is per the publisher's prerogative. If you have established a file with 50 pages and the first 3 chapters, you should have 90% of the publishers covered.
Anything Else The Publisher Requires
This can become an interesting collection. Over the years I've been asked for a short bio — 200 words, a long bio not to exceed 1 page, a bibliography, a chapter by chapter action description of the novel, and sometimes a professional picture in B&W or in color, usually 5x8 at 300dpi or better.
The bio and bibliography can be made available and created before it is requested. The chapter by chapter outline should be an easy do and be ready, if needed. The photo? I'd wait until asked, especially if they are requesting a professional photo.
If you create the above package for each novel written and have it available, you will find yourself turning around submission information very fast. Plus, you will have taken the time to make sure it is done properly and appears very professional rather than being slapped together overnight and in haste.
The bottom line is simple: Read the guidelines before you do anything. The publisher may request much of this material with the query letter. READ THE GUIDELINES.
The above doesn't only apply to submitting your novel to a publisher but also is valid when searching for an agent.
Great post Bob! The submission process is definitely a PROCESS! Thank you for defining all of these items. When writing fiction, I found it helpful to have the synopsis written before I wrote the book. That gives me a full direction of where it's going and which dots I need to connect in order to bring the story full circle.
Lisa M. Collins
Bob, great list. I think this is one of the main things that trip up new author. They think that once they polish their manuscript their work is done. :)
Excellent resource for authors! Your willingness to share your knowledge and experience is one of the many things I appreciate.
I will say that the relief I have for not having to send these out any longer is unbelievable. I sent these packets out for 10 years and felt like an effort in futility. Now that I'm indie, I don't really have to do this - though now I may think of pitching to Hollywood... hence getting the packet ready again!
Thanks for spelling this out so clearly. It's interesting how many steps there are in the process. Is the letter to an agent different from the letter to a publisher?
This is a great post. I had no idea about the submission process.
Thanks for this - a lot here I didn't know, great wisdom as ever Bob.