Reflections In Hindsight

Grace in the Rearview Mirror…it's closer than it appears

  • Ephesians 4:29

    Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (NIV)

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Market Mondays: Part Two of Nuts and Bolts of Submission

Posted by Lisa Lickel on May 9, 2011


The second stage of the journey is figuring out the logistics. Do I have enough money, time, interest in the trip? Do I have the right apparel, vacation time? How do I follow the map? 

Just like the proper preparation for a trip, writers should lay the groundwork for the submission process. Last week we talked about why we write and how to find a destination; this week we’ll discuss the firs t step in the process of sending out your manuscript. We’ll learn how to follow the directions for the target publisher or agent and write sample query letters.

Nuts and bolts are integral to the framework upholding your final product. In our case, “final product” is that published article, devotional, short story, novel, novella, play, joke, greeting card, poem, song…whatever you’ve written that’s been acknowledged and printed by someone who didn’t raise you. Money isn’t part of the equation yet. As in any building endeavor, there are directions to follow in order for the completed structure to stand strong. Publishers already know this. That’s why they’ve developed a particular strategy to weed out the weak. You can use this to your advantage. Practice is a good thing (that’s how we professionals look upon rejections – or “denials” as a good buddy calls them).

Submissions vary according to individual publishing house rules. You must be very careful to follow the house rules, or guidelines. But there are some basic underlying documents to prepare and keep on hand that can be adjusted as needed. Even if you don’t use each document, it’s still good practice and being prepared helps when you get that publisher’s message “Send me your proposal and the first three chapters at your convenience.” The preparation will help you understand and bond with your project. Enthusiasm and a focused theme are important when pitching your project, both verbally and in writing. For most written work, you’ll put together a “submission packet” which will probably include some or all of the following:

  • Query/ query letter
  • Cover letter
  • Synopsis which will include a hook or theme or log line
  • Writing sample, which will usually be the first few chapters or completed piece
  • Writer’s Resume
  • Clips
  • Writing Plan
  • Marketing plan
  • Market analysis
  • Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope if sending by land

Always write your very best, use appropriate punctuation and grammar, no typos, everything neat and professional. Keep in mind, though, that different companies have different requirements. You may be asked to include a resume or fill out extensive information about yourself and your goals and experience from forms they’ll send you or tell you how to download, or a questionnaire of some kind to fill out online.

Rule number one and foremost: Do what you’re asked to do. Double check the submission guidelines. For now, think about you and your work. Who are you? What is your qualification for writing this material? Who do you want to target? A publisher or an agent? Pick out three targets from last week’s lesson that might be a good fit for what you want to submit, and carefully go over the guidelines again. If there are specific requests that must be part of the query letter or submission packet, make a note of them. If there is an online form to fill out, copy down the required information to use as a template in your word processing program.

Query/Query Letters

Publishers are over-inundated by the clamor of writers who want to be published. How to sort this out? They’ve often resorted to a query. Query, of course, means:

The publisher or agent wants you to ask him or her if your project is a good fit for the publication. This is your first impression. You might be asked to submit a simple query of a paragraph or so to begin with in an e-mail, or you might be asked to submit a query letter. These letters almost exclusively are limited to one page. If you have a paragraph query in which to make your case, use succinct language to outline your project in a couple of sentences; add one sentence about why it fits the publication and finish with one or two sentences about why you’re writing this particular item. This is good practice for any time someone asks you what your book is about and what audience you expect to read your book, anyway, so you might as well see what you can do.

A whole page will seem like a feast after trying the paragraph query. The whole page, of course, includes the industry standard format of header, body of letter, signature. Don’t make it look too crowded. Industry standard asks you to use a seriphed (ones with little tails like this one I’m using) font like Times New Roman, 12 point. No odd type face. Black letters. White paper. One-inch margins around your entire document. Cheaters will be caught. Bleary-eyed editors can tell ¾-inch margins or 10 or 11 point font in an instant. Some care. Don’t give them any excuse to toss your letter. This format holds whether you submit electronically or through the postal service. A letter is a letter. One page is one page. If you’re sending your letter in the body of an e-mail, and it’s supposed to be one page, test it out by writing the thing on a page in your word processing program, then cut and paste it into the body of your e-mail. Don’t try to mess with funky formatting; html will just make it look messy, anyway, when it’s received by the editor who reads it with his or her own e-mail program which may not be the same as yours. Either paragraph format is okay, but hint: If you use indented paragraphs with a .3 indent instead of .5 you’ll get more room on your page than if you use straight paragraphs with a space instead of an indentation; but remember to make it look neat, not desperately over-filled.

A letter starts with a Header. Upper left or right corner:

Your name and address



(left side) target Publication





Salutation (Try to give a name if possible; I’ve run across the situation where I specifically asked the company for a name, and they responded “we prefer to be anonymous”; otherwise, address Dear Acquisitions Editor, or however the company has it worded.)


Body of letter: probably about three paragraphs.

In general, how to make your case would include the query information, just expanded. I usually use up a sentence starting out by thanking the editor for looking at this query. Do include:

  • Nature of your project, including the final word count. (Now here’s where I have to say to beginning writers – please don’t submit stuff before you have it finished. It’s just a bad idea. And yes, I have experience with this.) Pretend you’re looking him or her in the eye, and they’ve just asked you what your (book) is about. Answer in three-four sentences. Pitch one project at a time, even if you have a drawerful.
  • Who you are and your reason for tackling this project. The range for this paragraph is enormous. Just sticking with the facts is always best. Do not make any statements about what you think the scope of your project will be – that’s their vision. Do not compare your work to the big guns – although…some editors will tell you they like to know if you think you write like Jodi Picoult or Ted Dekker…it’s a tough call. You could probably be safe by sticking with genre instead of name dropping. Are you in any national organizations? Professional organizations? What’s your day job and does it have anything to do with your potential audience. This paragraph will mostly be a personality test and a potential marketing platform. Portray the best and most real “you” there is. If you’re a shy flower, ask someone else to describe you and use some of those descriptions.
  • Your third paragraph will probably be house-keeping stuff, like letting the editor know that you know who they are. Some general sentence about a recent release or article that affected you. A little repeated thanks. Let them know when you can be reached. Let them know you’re a hard worker and willing to do what it takes to be successful without sounding like you’re begging or groveling. Probably not a good time to mention that drawerful of rejections, either. You don’t bring up money or payment, or pleas to work on commission, or anything like that. You don’t ask questions about it. In fact, you don’t ask questions about anything. Not even when he thinks he’ll get back to you. If they accept your work and offer a contract, then you get to ask questions.

 Come back next week for Part Three of the Nuts and Bolts of Submission

2 Responses to “Market Mondays: Part Two of Nuts and Bolts of Submission”

  1. linda said

    Good info, Lisa. Too bad so many writers don’t listen and follow guidelines, it hurts more than helps them in the long run.

  2. Lisa Lickel said

    Thanks, Linda…so true. Everyone has great ideas! We know it, but since our idea is better than anyone else’s and God-ordained, we feel we have the right to skip the process. –Bad attitude.

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