Your manuscript is ready for submission! Congratulations, as that’s no mean feat. Many of us contemplate writing a book but don’t find the time, courage or patience to get there. Having come this far – chipping away for months, perhaps years – you may believe you’ve sculpted your masterpiece to the point of completion. But there are always one or two tweaks that can increase your chances of getting noticed. In this blog, I’ll share some simple tips you can use to make your manuscript stand out.
Having worked in publishing, specifically very closely with submissions, I can confirm that unfortunately, the majority end up straight in the dreaded “rejections” pile. There may be all sorts of reasons for this, but oversight on the submitter’s part is a major culprit. Examples include blanket emails showcasing carelessness; failing to align with the publisher’s niche; diverting from the publisher’s guidelines; asking questions that are clearly answered within the submission guidelines and even use of aesthetically displeasing fonts. If you make your submission difficult to read, or difficult in any way, you’re already putting yourself on the back foot.
So, let’s have a look at some simple yet effective steps you can take to truly make your manuscript stand out.
Step 1: Fully research the publisher and their submission guidelines
This is essential. Publishers can tell who’s done their homework and crafted their submission and cover email to that particular publisher’s remit, and who’s simply cast a net out in the hope of catching something, anything. To make your manuscript stand out, the best place to start is the publisher’s website. If open for submissions, there will be a submissions tab on your chosen publisher’s homepage. Do not skim read this as it will contain valuable information you can glean. For example, whether your submission email should contain a particular subject heading, if you need to include a short bio and how many sample chapters are required.
It’s also worth looking at online publications like The Bookseller and finding press releases or articles detailing your target publisher’s recent acquisitions. This will give you a feel for what’s piqued their interest in the past, as well as why and how your manuscript differs from anything they’ve already published. You should also look at your chosen publisher’s social media channels including LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. It’s a two-way street and you want to make sure that they really are the publisher for you.
Step 2: Font and layout – this does make a difference!
Choose a universally accepted font like Helvetica; clean, classic and simple
Bright, bold rainbow Comic Sans on a purple background is not going to make your manuscript standout. This might sound laughable but it has happened, and will only cause any potential interest to diminish, if not dissolve altogether, while triggering a headache. You want to ensure that as soon as your email lands, it’s an effortless and uncomplicated experience.
Ensure that your manuscript is well presented
Begin your book with a title page and start each chapter on a new page, indent paragraphs as you would see them indented within a published book, and ensure any dialogue is formatted correctly too. There are books and websites that can help you with this if you’re unsure.
Step 3: Write an effective but concise cover letter
Generally, the shorter your cover letter the better. It may not be the manuscript, but a strong, succinct cover letter really can make your manuscript stand out. It’s less work for whoever is doing the reading and will put you in better stead. So, unless you have something extremely compelling to say, keep it short: one paragraph. Even in a professional context, emails are skim-read due to lack of time and people being overworked. Your manuscript is very important to you, but that doesn’t mean the submissions handler, after reading their 50th cover letter of the week, will have time to read an entire side of A4 before even getting to your manuscript. Attention spans are extremely short so include the bare essentials and make it easy for them. Where possible:
- Personally address the commissioning editor, ensuring you spell their name correctly. If you can’t locate this, “Dear Submissions” is fine
- Introduce yourself and include a bio
- Include one line about why your manuscript is unique
- Include your social media handles when you sign off
- Triple check for spelling and grammatical mistakes!
Step 4: Find a publisher niche that fits your manuscript
This can really increase your chances. Targeting the big and well-established publishers, especially if you don’t have an agent, can be extremely disheartening. There are all sorts of independent publishers out there looking for material that’s not mainstream, and where the competition will be less fierce. Pin down exactly what genre your book is and then begin researching which publishers would think your work is a great fit. Publishers Global is a strong place to start.
It is a very tough market to break, but the likelihood of your manuscript standing out among the crowds of other hopefuls will increase if you follow this guidance. Also, if the publisher has timescales on their website detailing when submitters can expect a response, do follow up if you haven’t heard back from them within this timeframe.
Cleo Asabre-Holt is a freelance editor, writer and performer based in Nottingham, UK. She was formerly in editorial roles at Trigger Publishing and LeftLion Magazine. She also holds both an MA and Bachelor’s in Creative Writing from the University of Nottingham. This year, Cleo won a Print Future’s Award to further develop her writing career.