It’s not easy to sign with a literary agent or to get a traditional publishing contract, but it’s not impossible either. Actually, it’s much easier to do if you’re willing to wait—give yourself time to learn how to write a book, then strengthen your writing skills before you submit. Honestly, if more writers did that, there’d be fewer rejections, but we can’t help ourselves! We submit early and often in our excitement to share our stories with the world.
It’s okay. I did the same thing, and I received lots of rejections, but I also received several requests to read my manuscript on my first-ever query letter and book proposal. I still got lots of rejections because the manuscript was terrible, but I managed to do what many authors can’t—I got my foot in the door.
You can’t hope to sign an agent or publishing contract if you can’t get anyone to read your manuscript, so how do you do it? How do you get the pros to keep reading?
Many new authors find this hard to believe, but there’s no magic formula. There’s no trick. There’s no secret handshake. There’s one very simple—very basic—way to make a great first impression, and it works every time.
Follow the submission guidelines.
I’m sure you were hoping for some surprise bit of information you’ve never read before, but that’s it. As a former acquisitions editor and a freelance book editor with dozens of friends in the industry, I can tell you without hesitation that submitting the right information in the right way will keep the agent or publisher reading.
My agent sent this to me before he was my agent:
Karin, you have me intrigued already because you’re one of only three people in the past six months who actually followed my submission instructions to the letter.
That’s all it took to get his attention. I followed the directions.
All agents and publishers have their own list of what they want you to include in your submission, so make sure you follow their guidelines. They’re usually listed on their website. If you don’t see them, send a polite email. Ask if they’re open to submissions and if they would please send you their guidelines so you can make sure to send them everything they want.
Once you know what to send, format it properly. I cannot stress this enough. If you use the font and line spacing from this document, most agents and publishers will ignore you. Why? Because you either haven’t done your homework or you think the rules don’t apply to you—neither sends a good message about the type of person you’ll be to work with.
Instead, follow their formatting standards. If they don’t tell you what to do, that’s not an invitation to do what you want. It’s an opportunity to impress them with your understanding of the publishing industry’s formatting standards for book manuscripts. Here they are:
- 12-point Times New Roman font
- Black text only
- 1-inch margins all around
- Eliminate extra spaces between paragraphs
- Auto-indent the first sentence of each paragraph (0.5”)
But don’t stop there! Here are a few other formatting preferences that will get you noticed for the right reasons.
- Create a hard break between chapters (Ctrl+Enter on PCs).
- Number your chapters, center the title (Chapter One is all you need in fiction), and start them a third to halfway down the page.
- Include your name, the title of your book (titles in italics), and a page number in the header. Align it to the right, and use the automatic page number feature (Insert/Page Number/Top of Page) instead of numbering them yourself.
It really is that simple to make a good first impression. When you give an agent what he/she wants and your manuscript looks the way it should, you’re letting them know that you’re serious about your writing. You took the time to find out the right way to do things and you followed directions—that tells the pros that you’re willing to do the work necessary to succeed. Who wouldn’t want to work with someone like that?
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. I succeed when you succeed, so let’s work together to turn your good manuscript into a great book!