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
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:
- Submit to manuscript competitions.
- Submit to a literary agent.
- Submit directly to a publisher.
As you cannot make multiple submissions you need to
decide which submission route you will take.
You can enter your unpublished manuscript into various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an unpublished category in each state, the Text Publishing Young Adult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
The benefits of an agent:
- They know exactly which editor should read your novel.
- They have the connections to have your novel read
- 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
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.
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:
- the pitch or query letter where you sell your manuscript
- the synopsis which gives an overview of the main plot
- 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
- 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
- courtesy line: ĎThank you for your time and
- salutation: yours
- 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
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
- You may submit a proposal of what you will write if you
receive a book contract.
- Instead of a synopsis you would submit an outline
describing each of your chapters.
You would still follow the basic manuscript submission
- cover letter
- first three chapters
- book outline.
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.
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