Monday, May 17, 2010

Submission Etiquette by Smoky Trudeau

You’ve written the next Great American Novel—congratulations! But your work isn’t over. Now, you have to present your work to prospective publishers, and there is a right way and a wrong way to do that.

The first step to submitting your work is to study the submission guidelines for each publisher. Some might ask for a query letter and a one-page synopsis. Others may ask for a query letter and the first three chapters, or a one-page synopsis and the first chapter. Every publisher will want something different, and it is important that you send exactly what each requests—no more, no less.

One thing you always will need when making a submission is a query letter. Your query letter should be crafted with as much care as your novel itself, because this is the first example of your writing a publisher will see. Mess up your query letter and your manuscript won’t even be given a glance.

Open your query with a short teaser about your novel. Take a look at the back cover or front flap of any book in your library where the story is described. This is the sort of thing you are looking for—just enough information about the story to make the reader want to read more. Then, if you have any writing experience, say a few words about that. Include any other relevant information as well. For example, if you have a degree in ancient Roman history and your novel is set in ancient Rome, mention your expertise. If your novel is set in some exotic foreign land and you lived there for a year, mention that. This type of information gives your novel credibility. Say what genre the book is, and give the word count.

Whether you’re submitting your query packet or responding to a publisher’s request to see your whole manuscript, watch out for these Really Stupid Things Authors Do To Screw Themselves:

Really Stupid Thing #1: Trusting Your Spell Checker: If ewe think yore spell checker will fined awl yore miss steaks, u r wrong.

Spell checkers are handy, and a useful place to start your proofread. But they’re not infallible, as the above sentence makes clear. That sentence made it through my spell checker just fine.

Then again, you should never trust your own eyes to catch all your mistakes, either. Authors are notorious for being able to catch spelling errors in other writers’ work, but not in their own. This is because the author sees what a sentence is supposed to say, not necessarily what it does say. It’s always a good idea to have someone else read your manuscript before you submit it for publication. Preferably someone you know can spell.

Really Stupid Thing #2: Admitting You Are Clueless. I’ve seen query letter where the author wrote, “I don’t have any experience, but I think my book is very good and know you will too.” Why would you admit you didn’t have any experience? If your book is good, it won’t matter. If your book is awful, it will matter even less. Never, ever give out negative information about yourself this way. If you consider yourself inexperienced, the publisher will, too. Also, don’t presume to know a publisher will like your book. Of course, you hope they will. But you don’t say that. You wouldn’t be submitting your manuscript to them if you didn’t think it was a good match.

Really Stupid Thing #3: Displaying an Over-Inflated Ego. You may think your YA fantasy novel is great, but that doesn’t mean you write “My book is the next Harry Potter and will make me as famous as J.K. Rowling” in your query letter. Book critics decide whether you’re the next Rowling, or Hemmingway, or Faulkner—not authors.

Really Stupid Thing #4: Making Unrealistic Demands. My publisher once got a query letter where the author wrote, “I will require at least a $10,000 cash advance.” Needless to say, that letter got pitched before the publisher got to the next sentence. Yes, some publishers offer cash advances. But certainly not all of them do, especially when you’re talking about independent presses. Even when they do offer advances, they are likely to be a few hundred dollars, not thousands of dollars. This is especially true for unpublished authors. Advances are just that—advance payment of anticipated royalties. Publishers can’t risk shelling out big bucks on an untried author and then not be able to recoup their losses.

Smoky Trudeau is the author of the newly released Observations of an Earth Mage, a collection of photos, essays, and poems celebrating our beautiful planet earth. She is also the author of two novels, Redeeming Grace and The Cabin, as well as two books for writers, Front-Word, Back-Word, Insight Out: Lessons on Writing the Novel Lurking Inside Your From Start to Finish, and Left Brained, Write Brained: 366 Writing Prompts and Exercises, all from Vanilla Heart Publishing. You can learn more about Smoky at, or at her blog on Xanga, You can also look her up on Facebook.


  1. Great advice, Smoky. Agents also suggest that the query letter should state that the novel has been completed. If it hasn't been, then it's too soon to be sending out queries.

  2. Good point, Malcolm. Never query a novel that isn't complete! On the other hand, if you write nonfiction, sending a book proposal is perfectly acceptable.

  3. My favorite spell checker story is when I was editing a synagogue newsletter - the family name was Pincus, the computer changed it to Penis.

  4. Gotta love that spell checker! Good thing you were the one editing it, Chelle.

  5. This is such great advice! If I'd known these basics when I started querying my first novel, it would've saved me a lot of heartache! :) I'm sharing it on FB.