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  • Publishing Q&A
  • Publishing Q&A

     i. I'm supposed to send 3 chapters. Which ones do I send?
    If a publisher or agent requests to see sample chapters, always send them the first three chapters of your story in the order that they occur.

     a. What's a query letter?
    Due to time restraints and huge slushpiles, often editors and agents request that you send them a query letter that tells them what your book is about. This letter is called a query letter because you're querying (asking) the agent/editor if they would like to see your book. If the query letter hooks their interest, they will request a partial or full copy of your manuscript.

    A query letter should always include a SASE (self-addressed stamped envelope). It also should fit on a single page and provide a 'teaser' of your book, without sounding like a synopsis. The query letter should capture the spirit and tone of your book and characters through language choices and apt description.

    Other resources, including a sampling of good and bad query letters:
    www.underdown.org/covlettr.htm
    www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/pubquery.htm
    How to Write Irresistible Query Letters - Lisa Collier Cool

    An excellent article from AgentQuery.com on how to query agents: http://www.agentquery.com/format_tips.aspx


    Also, see this CC thread on query letters that sold

     h. What are writing samples or writing clips?
    If a publisher or agent requests writing samples or clips, they're asking to see samples of your writing. Samples should be portions of published material and should be related in some way to the project you're shopping. For instance, if you are submitting a romance novel, a non-fiction magazine piece isn't an acceptable sample. A portion of a published fiction or romance magazine story would be appropriate. If you have no publications and the party requests writing clips, send your submission without the samples.

     b. What's a cover letter? How is it different than a query?
    A cover letter is the letter you send along with your manuscript or sample chapters. The material in a cover letter is essentially the same as what you would find in a query letter, except you're telling the editor what they're about to read as opposed to asking them for permission to send it.

    Cover Letter Tips:
    www.underdown.org/mf-cover-and-query-letters.htm
    www.writing.com/main/books/action/view/entry_id/275584
    How to Write Attention Grabbing Query & Cover Letters - John Wood

     m. Can I send my rewrite to someone who denied the original?
    Generally, no. When a publisher or agent is interested in a project, even one with serious problems, they will usually give you an option to revise and resubmit. If you receive a flat rejection, you can assume that they're not interested in your proposal. There are plenty of other possible 'homes' for your work in the publishing field. Send your manuscript to the next possibility on your list.

     d. How do I format my manuscript for submission?
    This is another area where editors and agents don't always agree. For this reason, be sure to check their websites for possible guidelines in this area.

    A few formatting tips that most everyone agrees upon:
    * Type your manuscript in a 12-point monospaced font, like Courier or Times New Roman
    * Always double space
    * Leave 1" margins on all sides
    * Print your manuscript on one side only of plain white bond paper

    There are many more guidelines that aren't quite as cut-and-dry. In regards to the more argued elements of formatting (front page layout, headers and footers, starting new chapters, section breaks, etc), please see the following resources:
    http://www.agentquery.com/format_tips.aspx
    brendacoulter.com/BrendaCoulterManuscript.htm
    www.speculations.com/format.html
    www.gkbledsoe.com/articles/submissions/format.html
    Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript - Jack Neff, Glenda Neff, Don Prues, Glenda Tennant Neff

     f. How do I write a synopsis?
    There are many schools of thought as to what makes a good synopsis. Most authors just want to know how long a synopsis should be and how to format it, but editors and agents themselves don't always agree. It's hard to know just what they want, since many of them don't post specific information on their websites, but some do so it's always best to check.

    Here are a few things that most everyone agrees on:
    1. The synopsis is your entire story boiled down to its most important events.
    2. The synopsis should be written in present tense.
    3. The names of important characters should be written in all caps the first time they're introduced.
    4. The synopsis should relate the important details in a way that expresses the story's emotion and voice, as well.

    More information on synopses can be found at the following resources:
    www.institutechildrenslit.com/rx/ws05/panicfree.shtml (for children's authors)
    www.simegen.com/romance/query.html (romance authors)
    www.carolynjewel.com/craft/synopsis.shtml (general fiction)
    www.fictionwriters.com/tips-synopsis.html (general fiction)
    Writing the Fiction Synopsis - Pam McCutcheon

     e. I'm ready to send out my manuscript. Who do I send it to?
    Many resources exist that provide information on publishers and agents and what kinds of material they represent:

    Publishers
    Writer's Market: the latest version can be bought or borrowed from your local library. Also available at www.writersmarket.com.
    Children's Writers and Illustrators Market: this reference can also be bought or checked out.
    Duotrope's Digest (includes magazine and poetry markets): www.duotrope.com

    Agents:
    AgentQuery.com

    Publishers and Agents:
    Preditors & Editors: www.anotherealm.com/prededitors/
    First Writer.com: http://www.firstwriter.com
    Literary Market Place: the latest version of this resource can be bought or borrowed from your local library

    When shopping for a publisher or agent for your project, you should make sure the potential agency/house
    * accepts projects that are the same genre as yours
    * accepts projects that target the same audience as yours
    * accepts unsolicited submissions or query letters
    * accepts submissions from unagented authors (if you have no agent)
    * accepts submissions regardless of publication history (if you have no publications)

    Once you've produced a list of potentials, it's also very helpful to check the books they have recently published/acquired, to see if your project is their kind of book.

     g. What should go in a writer's resume/bio/curriculum vitae?
    When an agent/editor requests a resume or curriculum vitae with your submission, they're asking for your history as a writer. This document should include the following information:
    1. Contact Info
    2. Experience. This section should list the jobs/projects you've had as a writer. Examples:
    * Writer of fiction literature
    * Guest speaker at XYZ Writer's Conference
    * Freelance writer for XYZ magazine
    * Editor of the XYZ website
    3. Publications. This should be a listing of whatever publications you can claim. Include the title of the publication, the magazine/company that published it, and the date of the publication. Examples:
    * "Prom is a Four Letter Word," Guideposts Sweet 16 (May 2008).
    * "I Wish I Was An Oscar-Mayer Wiener," Anthology of Inane Poetry (Wieners Are Us Publishing Co., 2004)
    4. Education. List any college level degrees you hold. Also include any credible writing courses that you have completed. Writing conferences and online workshops should not be included in this section.
    5. Memberships. If you are a member of a credible writing organization (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Alberta Romance Writer's Association, The Writer's Guild, etc.), include that information here.

    If you lack experience or material for any of these sections, leave that section out. As you continue to write, these areas will fill up.

    A writer's bio is a little different; it tells your history as a writer, but in a narrative format rather than an outline.

    Sample Bios:
    www.sover.net/~eclift/writersbio.html
    www.victoriahill.com/writers_bio.htm
    www.catherinemadera.com/bio.htm

     k. Can I send my manuscript to several people at a time?
    Maybe. A simultaneous submission is one that has been sent to multiple publishers or agents. You'll have to check the guidelines for each publisher and agent to see if they accept simultaneous submissions. If they do, you can simultaneously submit your manuscript to that house and others at the same time. How many houses you choose to submit to at a time is up to you. Most publishers and agents say they "will accept simultaneous submissions if identified". In this instance, make sure you indicate in the cover letter that the submission is a simultaneous one. You do not have to disclose how many houses are viewing or have viewed your manuscript.

    If a publisher or agent only accepts exclusive submissions, this means they will only view manuscripts that are exclusively sent to them. While your proposal is with them, you can't submit it to anyone else. For example: let's say you've sent your manuscript to four houses that accept simultaneous submissions. Once you've received a rejection from all four of those houses and you know they're no longer interested in your manuscript, you can send it to the exclusive publisher/agent. You won't be able to submit it to anyone else until you get a response from that party.

     j. What's an 'unsolicited submission'?
    When you send your manuscript to a publisher or agent without them having specifically asked for it, it's called an unsolicited submission. Unsolicited submissions go into the slush pile, which is basically a huge pile of unrequested manuscripts that editors and agents have to go through. To decrease this extra workload, many houses have instituted a policy stating that they do not accept unsolicited submissions. This means they will only view manuscripts that they've requested to see; ie, a manuscript sent by an agent, one requested after reading an author's query letter, etc. "Unsolicited submissions" is a term that mostly applies to manuscripts. Many publishers and agents who implement this policy still will accept query letters from the public at large. Just check their guidelines to see if this is the case.

     n. No one responded to my submission. What do I do?
    In their guidelines, most publishers and agents will give an estimated response time. If you haven't received a response by the given deadline, you can send a status inquiry to find out the status of your proposal. This should be done via the delivery system used to send your initial query or manuscript. If you sent it via email, send your status inquiry via email. If you sent your submission by post, your status inquiry should be sent through regular mail, as well.

    The status inquiry should be a short letter, addressed to the person or department to whom you addressed the initial submission. State the name of your manuscript and the date it was sent and ask the person to let you know the status of your query/manuscript. Keep it short and simple. Always include a SASE, or you most likely won't receive a response. If you still don't get an answer, consider the submission rejected and submit to someone else.

    If the publisher or agent doesn't list a response time, or states that their response time varies, it's harder to know when enough time has elapsed for you to inquire. According to Miss Snark, acceptable timeframes for inquiry are four weeks for a query, twelve weeks for a manuscript (misssnark.blogspot.com/2005/09/follow-up-on-submissions-timing.html).

     c. What if I have no publishing credits to put in my letter?
    If this is the case, simply don't refer to it. Don't apologize for it, tell the editor how long you've been writing, or include unprofessional credits like proofreading your church's weekly bulletin or writing a poem for your firm's Christmas party. If you have no writing credits, leave that portion of the letter out and let your writing speak for itself.

     l. Do I need to copyright my work before sending it out?
    No. According to the U.S. Copyright office, your work is copyrighted the minute you set it down in tangible form (as a story, poem, song, play, etc). So you don't need to copyright it before submitting. You can have your work copyrighted if you choose (for a fee), but many publishers and agents see this as amateurish and possibly insulting, as if you're afraid they may be tempted to steal your ideas.

    For more information on copyrights, go to www.copyright.gov/



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