After slaving over the thing for months, you finally have that treasured opus finished and you want to rush it to every publisher on the horizon.
As an editor and book reviewer, some submissions that came across my desk made me cringe. And it is for one reason only: the author has failed to follow submission guidelines, and is an immediate turnoff. Your chances of getting that manuscript accepted will increase dramatically, quality of your work notwithstanding, if you follow the publisher’s guidelines. It is as simple as that. It might be simple, but I am constantly amazed how many authors overlook this basic fact.
Most common mistakes
Okay, what are the most common mistakes and triggers for rejection?
- Incorrect margins
- Embedding tags
- Using the Tab key to start a new paragraph
- Using the space bar to center a chapter heading
- Using the Enter key to get to a new page for a chapter heading
- Using a double space between sentences
- Leaving double or multiple spaces at end of the last sentence in a paragraph
- Not using a spell checker
- Using Word’s automatic ellipsis instead of three full stops
- Not using double spaces between lines
- Inconsistent text formatting
Why are they a problem
These days, publishers receive lots of submissions, and most end up in the slush pile for a variety of reasons, mostly because of bad writing, not necessarily because the story was bad. If he is a kindly soul, a submissions editor may overlook your setup mistakes, but I wouldn’t bet on it, and dive into evaluating the quality of your story. However, more generally than not, a sloppy presentation will invariably add to his slush pile regardless of how good your novel might be. Why? A submission that doesn’t follow the defined guidelines tells the editor the following about the author:
- Did not bother reading the guidelines
- Did not bother following the guidelines
- Shows disdain for the guidelines
- Shows lack of discipline
- Raises questions about the quality of the submission
The major problem with a sloppy submission, if the work is accepted, it adds enormously to the workload of the proofing editor, distracting from the primary task of editing the manuscript. In such cases the work will be sent back to the author to fix these problems before further editing is done, which generates frustration, makes work for everybody, and delays publication. Moreover, the submission would have created a negative image in the editor’s mind and reduced the author’s chances of being accepted down the track.
What to do
It all begins with the author as part of starting that opus! All the setup mistakes I mentioned should have been eliminated during the writing and final proofreading before thinking about making a submission. Properly setting up and formatting the manuscript should be an automatic process for the author, part of being a disciplined professional, and cognizant of the fact that editors are also people who appreciate a properly structured submission and don’t enjoy having their time wasted.
Okay, let’s say you have done all these things and you are happy with your manuscript. Ready to submit, is it? Definitely not! Once you select a publisher, read his submission instructions! That really helps. Most publishers have similar submission requirements and formatting guidelines, but some have their own specific demands. Regardless of how onerous or unreasonable they might seem, if you want to get accepted by that publisher, it behooves you to follow their instructions – or don’t bother making a submission. It will save everyone concerned some angst.
Read the submission guidelines
All publisher websites will have a submissions icon. If they don’t, I would consider carefully before getting in touch with them. Within the submission page, the publisher will outline their requirements for making an initial query, sending the manuscript – either a sample or complete copy – and formatting instructions. Look for these instructions always, read them carefully and follow them! If your manuscript has been written that avoids mistakes I already mentioned, in most cases you will be ready to make that submission without having to do anything. But if the publisher asks for a specific format, comply! Remember, resistance is futile.
Stefan Vucak is an award-winning author of seven techno sci-fi novels, including With Shadow and Thunder which was a 2002 EPPIE finalist. His Shadow Gods Saga books have been highly acclaimed by critics. His recent release, Cry of Eagles, won the coveted 2011 Readers Favorite silver medal award. Stefan leveraged a successful career in the Information Technology industry and applied that discipline to create realistic, highly believable storylines for his books. Born in Croatia, he now lives in Melbourne, Australia.