Sultana's Dream

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Sultana's Dream
September 2011

SO YOU WANNA BE A WRITER


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In the second of a series of articles, Amra Pajalic, author of The Good Daughter, continues her tips for breaking into the world of writing...in this article, itís all about submitting your manuscript.

So You STILL Wanna Be a Writer!

How to submit a manuscript

Now that your manuscript is as good as you can possibly make it, you may wish to submit it for publication. Well, Iím going to tell you everything you need to know about this process.

There are three avenues you can take:

  1. Submit to manuscript competitions.
  2. Submit to a literary agent.
  3. Submit directly to a publisher.

As you cannot make multiple submissions you need to decide which submission route you will take.

1. Manuscript competitions

You can enter your unpublished manuscript into various competitions, such as the Allen Unwin/Vogel Award, Premierís Awards that have an unpublished category in each state, the Text Publishing Young Adult competition or the CAL/Scribe Fiction Prize. All have a cash prize attached as well as publication, and most are free to enter.

This is a fast track to publication as the prizes have inbuilt publicity and sometimes you receive a higher cash prize than you would with a royalty advance. Usually a term of condition for competitions is that your manuscript cannot be under consideration by another publisher.

2. Literary Agent

Literary agents represent you as an author. Their job is to submit your manuscript to a publisher and negotiate the terms of your contract. An agent typically receives a 12.5% commission on all royalties earned.

The benefits of an agent:

  • They know exactly which editor should read your novel.
  • They have the connections to have your novel read immediately.
  • They can negotiate you the best deal possible.
  • They will provide feedback about your novel so you can undertake revisions before submitting to publishers.
  • They can navigate your way through the murky world of publishing.

In Australia there arenít many literary agents and because you cannot make multiple submissions, you need to make a list of the order in which you will submit.

You cannot submit to a publisher and an agent at the same time. Once you receive a rejection from a publisher, the agent is no longer able to submit your manuscript to this publisher. If you decide to seek an agent first, you need to submit to all the literary agents on your list, before attempting to submit directly to a publisher.

3. Publisher

In Australia we are fortunate because we have the opportunity to submit directly to most publishers, so you can bypass the agent.

Most publishers in Australia accept unsolicited submissions. Before submitting to a publisher ensure you do thorough research about whether your novel fits into their list. Follow their submission guidelines and most importantly, be patient. If you are sending an unsolicited submission it could take a while for your novel to be read.

If you are a member of a writing organisation such as your local writerís centre or another organisation, you might have the opportunity to make contact with editors through their events or workshops.

If you do have the opportunity to talk to an editor, ensure you do your research so you donít waste their time with something that has no relevance to them. Prepare your pitch and practise it, so that you can make the best of your time to impress them.

I would highly recommend that you do not submit your novel until it is completed. The worst possible scenario is that you have an editor interested in your work, but you canít submit it upon request. By the time you do complete the novel you will have missed your moment. You only have one chance to make a good impression, so be patient and make the best of your opportunities.

Your manuscript submission

There are three parts to your submission:

  1. the pitch or query letter where you sell your manuscript
  2. the synopsis which gives an overview of the main plot points
  3. the first three chapters.

1. Cover letter

Your cover letter should be one page only. While you may adjust the margins and font on your letter to ensure it fits on one page, ensure your margins are not less than 1 cm and your font 11 point. It should still be readable and look professional.

The format of your cover letter should be:

  • your contact details
  • date
  • the contact personís details
  • The first paragraph should contain the title, genre, word count and a description of your book. Make sure you mention that your novel is completed. This gives the editor/agent confidence in requesting the full manuscript.
  • the pitch - two to three paragraphs describing your novel. This is the most important part of your submission. This is where you need to entice the editor/agent into being interested in reading on. The best way you can structure the pitch is to think of it in terms of a book blurb that provides enough information about the conflict to make the reader interested in purchasing it. Research the market you are submitting in and describe your novel against other novels in the market.
  • one paragraph highlighting your achievements. While you may have many literary achievements you could mention, brevity is the way to go. Focus on your achievements that are most impressive and relevant to the publishing industry.
  • courtesy line: ĎThank you for your time and attention.í
  • salutation:  yours sincerely
  • enclosure list - list the enclosures in your letter so that if your submission package goes astray, the editor/agent can figure out what belongs in your letter.

2. The first three chapters

The first three chapters are the most important aspect of your submission. This is where you need to tempt and tantalise the reader into firstly, caring about your characters and secondly, wanting to read on and find out what happens.

In order to perfect these chapters, get as much assistance as you can from readers in your network who will offer you an honest opinion. In some instances agent/publishers will stop reading after the first five pages, so do the hard work in revising and polishing these chapters, and when you think youíre done, leave them for at least a month and do it again.

3. The synopsis

... is a two-page description of the main conflict of your novel. Usually an editor/agent will read the first three chapters and then the synopsis, so you need to focus on describing the plot and character arc you have set up in the first three chapters.

While you will have many secondary characters and subplots featured in your novel, focus only on the main character and his/her journey. Ideally your synopsis should be more than just a recitation of the plot of your novel. It should capture your voice and the tone of your novel.

Ensure that you describe the ending of your book. The editor needs to know how the book ends in order to decide whether they want to read the whole thing. If you think that you need to keep the ending a secret, so they get the same surprise that a reader does, youíve ensured that they donít request your novel.

Non fiction submission

When submitting a non fiction manuscript, there are two main differences:

  1. You may submit a proposal of what you will write if you receive a book contract.
  2. Instead of a synopsis you would submit an outline describing each of your chapters.

You would still follow the basic manuscript submission protocol of:

  • cover letter
  • first three chapters
  • book outline.

Resources

A great resource on manuscript submission is A Decent Proposal: How to sell your book to an Australian publisher or literary agent by Rhonda Whitton and Sheila Hollingworth. Also become a member of the writersí centre in your state and you will receive their monthly newsletter which will include articles from industry experts, opportunities for networking, workshops and manuscript assessment services.

Good Luck!


Amra Pajalic
   
Editorís Note:
Hereís what the Canberra Times had to say about Amraís debut novel.

ĎA funny and challenging debut novel that has been described as the Bosnian answer to Looking for Ali Brandi.Ē ďThe Good Daughter is a gritty and enjoyable novel, at times unflinching and dramatic.í


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