Writing for the publisher

Hello! At The Next Page, we’re keen to help you with every step of the writing journey, whether that’s through prompts in workshops to kick-start new writing ideas, or advice for people further along the writing path. For the first in our monthly series, we’re delighted to welcome Laurence Patterson of Crooked Cat, for some top tips in presenting your work to a publisher…

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Writing for the publisher.

Let’s face it, authors, submitting your work to a publisher is one of the most hot-stake-through-the-eye painful and soul-bearing experiences you’ll ever have to put yourself through. What with the need to include this and that and this and that, it’s a wonder that they don’t ask you for a vial of blood and a bunch of hemlock, collected by light of a new moon. What makes it worse is not knowing really what they might be looking for, and thinking that they may be chuckling to themselves about ‘the state of your submission’. And we’ve all heard the stories of authors that have received rejection and rejection, with next-to no feedback attached, making it impossible to know quite what the problem was.

Follow a few simple rules, however, and at least you’ll know that the steps you took when submitting were correct.

  1. Check the submission guidelines on the publisher’s website. Don’t go by what your author friends say the guidelines are – go to the horse’s mouth and read it. If necessary, ask the horse itself: send an email to the publisher, asking for clarity. If they don’t respond, they’re not the right publisher for you.
  2. Gather everything together, normally (but not always) the following:
    1. The first three chapters (or 10,000 words) of your story. This should be the ready-to-go version, no first or second draft, no alternative version, nothing fancy. Just written text.
    2. A synopsis of your story, no longer than one or two pages of A4. Grab attention by introducing the story hook, if possible, as the first thing in the synopsis. But make the synopsis factual – tell the story as it is.
    3. A covering letter. Introduce yourself. Introduce your story. Make sure you address your publisher correctly.
  3. Address your submission correctly and use a tone appropriate to a formal introduction. We once received a submission from author which began ‘Dear Doris’. No-one working here is called Doris.
  4. Be patient! It may take weeks for a response. But it’s okay to ask for an update, politely.
  5. Handle rejection like a pro – it takes just one good publisher to like you. But it’s okay to ask for feedback. If you don’t get it, they’re not the right publisher for you.

A word to the wise. Publishers judge your submission not only on what you present to them formally, but also on how you present yourself publicly. In a world where publishers are likely to see hundreds or thousands of submissions a week, consider the degree to which you have already stepped up the plate and shown who you are, professionally, to the world. If you are not active as a writer, if that (small) circle of followers is not to be discovered, if you have engaged very seldom, online, you may be underselling yourself. Ensure that there is a trail for the publisher to follow – leaving them in no doubt that, as well as being a good writer, you are an engaging and active writer, too.

Laurence Patterson is co-founder of Crooked Cat, a small Europe-based publishing company.

Crooked Cat can be found online here, or follow them on Twitter here.

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