Presentation Part Two

Always submit your work according to the agent’s, or publisher’s guidelines. If the guidelines do not state a preferred layout, then submit the manuscript as close to Standard Manuscript Format as you can. Most agents and publishers will specify what portion of your work they wish to see. Don’t send more than they ask for.

If they say they’ll accept email submissions (more common these days than when I first wrote anything), present it neatly according to their specifications if they have listed them, and pay attention to whether they want the story or excerpt in the email or as an attachment, and if so, what format.

If posting the manuscript, make sure you keep a copy. Although less common these days in a digital world, there are still instances where people either send their only copy or don’t back up the one they have and lose their work entirely. If posting a printed copy, make it clear whether the agent/publisher should return the MS and enclose sufficient postage and packaging. This can prove expensive, and not all publishers will have a return service. It’s often easier and cheaper to state they may destroy the submission. In either case (digital or hard copy), most will initially only want the complete work if it is a short story. For a novella or novel, they are more likely to request an excerpt and will specify what portions they wish to see. It’s easier just to reprint this for another publisher, with the bonus that each recipient sees a fresh copy, rather than something that grows ever more tatty as it goes back and forth in the postal system.

Take care with the choice of packaging. Don’t make it difficult to open. Take care of your presentation, and I don’t simply mean the submission layout but everything related to the work. Some writers believe that if their work is good enough, they can get away with anything, but this simply isn’t the case. Badly presented work often gets deleted or sent on its way to the shredder and/or recycling plant without so much as a glance. Work as hard on your blurb, synopsis, and cover letter as you would a story. Keep the cover letter concise. Perfect it. I’m not going into detail here (and I’m still constantly learning how to work on pitches), but look up the term ‘elevator pitch’ to help in constructing these things. Don’t submit before you are sure the work is ready. Don’t think any editing details don’t matter because you and an editor can work on any errors later. You’ll be lucky to send in work without at least an occasional typo, but pay attention to things like story structure, spelling, punctuation. Recheck your first page. Does your opening sentence grab attention? Do the first three pages hook you into reading more? Check the ending. Even at this late stage, it’s not too late to double check. If you’ve taken a break from the story, even it was only to work on the submission format and cover letter, etc., you’ll likely look at your work with a fresh eye.

Though I’ve said previously to go to some pains to address to an editor (at a push Dear Editor is fine, though it’s preferable to address the work personally), there’s a good chance an editor is not the first person who will see your submission. It will go to a slush reader. According to the dictionary, a slush pile is a set of unsolicited queries or manuscripts sent to publishers or by authors or representative agents who are unfamiliar to the publisher. It is these readers’ responsibilities to sifting through these submissions. They will select those worthy of further consideration and often have to summarise the story in two or three sentences. Try to do everything to make this easy for them.

Presentation Part One

Standard Manuscript Format. Yes, there’s a layout for the industry. I won’t go into the specifics here. Do a search and the details will readily appear. If the publisher’s guidelines don’t specify, it’s easy to find the format. Roughly, it’s one-inch margins, double-lined spacing, although there’s more to consider, such as what goes on the front page. I’m not talking about a cover letter, but the layout of the manuscript (MS) itself. Name, contact details, word count, title, what publication rights are on offered, and the MS may require page numbering and other information in the header and footer. Check Standard Manuscript Formatting alongside the publication’s guidelines, and if in doubt, keep it basic.

Forget fancy fonts—again, a publisher may specify but otherwise choose something simple such as Courier or Times New Roman. Forget fancy graphics. Forget all the computer programmes that create beautiful layouts. Publishers aren’t interested. They want to see and read the MS clearly.

I’ve heard horror stories of poorly laid out work. I recall one where an editor wrote an article about one particular MS she received in the post. It arrived in one of those padded envelopes that have fluff in the lining. As she struggled to open it, some of this ‘fluff’ went all over her desk. When she pulled the MS out, it stank of cigarettes and the pages had coffee cup ring stains. Result: Binned—not so much as a glance at it and no reply to the writer. Why? Simple. The editor rightly felt the writer had shown her no respect—hadn’t even shown his own work respect—and had therefore revealed himself to be someone she wouldn’t be able to publish, no matter how good the story might have been.

The MS is a writer’s product, work, even ‘baby’. Why not give it the best chance it could have? This starts with how one presents the work, whether sending it in the post or via email. It’s amazing how many writers never even think to look into how they should present a story. I’ve had editors thank me for my presentation, so what does that say?

If including a cover letter, then consider writing it as when applying for a job… which, in an actual sense, a writer does every time they submit a story. I’ve read an article about a teacher who had criticised a student for writing a covering letter to a publisher for ‘sounding as if trying to sell something’. At the risk of repetition I stress, publishing is a business. Writing is an art form—a craft—but beyond that, it is also a business, and the writer has to sell an idea and convince others it is worthy. This is the purpose of a cover letter and synopsis before one even comes to the MS. Try to find the name of the current editor and address it personally. It does not matter if a reader is the one who sees it first (yes, editorial departments have ‘readers’ and these people are the first line of defence a writer has to pass). Just as a personnel department may first see a resume before the manager, still, finding the name of the person in charge shows effort and research capabilities.

The publisher wants to know what any employer wants to know—what this person is capable of. Writing the letter is as important as the MS. Detailing achievements, experience etc., is important, but shouldn’t come across as boasting. Could be the writer has had nothing published and won’t have very much to say, but the way they wrote the letter reflects the writer and the work. Make it sound as if the story is the best the world will ever see, and needs no editing, and the publisher will think this isn’t a person he or she can work with. Sound arrogant, and the MS may go in the trash pile as swiftly as the editor reads the first paragraph of the cover letter.

It is, in reality, easier to explain what ‘not’ to do in a cover letter than how to write a good one. I’ve mentioned a synopsis and I’ll cover what that is separately sometime, but some may ask why they need to write both. Sometimes it’s unnecessary. Some publishers will specify for the writer *not* to put in a cover letter—another good reason to pay attention to guidelines—but most don’t say or ask. Information required in the cover letter can also vary according to project. The problem of writing a letter increases when considering a short story—shorter work can mean even less to say and a cover letter/and or synopsis may both have to be concise, precise, and dynamic.

The letter needs to introduce the writer; it may be an opportunity to draw attention to a few writing credits, but if the writer has none, it would be pointless to harp on about it. Some publications are looking for unpublished writers but going overboard and complaining how, despite sending work out for ten years, no one has yet seen the genius in the style and stories, will not sing a writer’s praises or make an editor take pity. One thing no editor does is publish out of pity. Equally, never state the opinion of friends and family. No publisher cares that a writer’s grandmother’s uncle’s second cousin adores the story. I’ve yet to meet a writer who has sold an editor on their work by protesting how good others consider the work to be. Unless that opinion is an endorsement by someone in a noteworthy and relevant field, it’s nothing but an obstacle.

Use a cover letter as an introduction—to the writer, to the work. Make it sound calm, crisp, friendly, optimistic, and the MS something that the publisher may be interested in looking at. Most publishers will deign to read letters and synopsis at the very least. Forgive the cliche, but this is the first hurdle—don’t fall over it.

Update March 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:

Slowly gathering the supplies we need for the garden. Plants ordered. Have one more thing to track down and buy. Now we depend on the weather; however, as the world reopens after Easter, we’ll be staying home for the foreseeable future. If we go out for a walk, we’ll be playing things safe and certainly not even considering going abroad until 2023, being sadly realistic. Still, we’ve enough to do in and around the house… and I would love to get in the garden over Easter, but it looks as if winter will be back by then. Don’t mind it cold, but don’t relish working in the pouring rain.

FILM/TV:

We’re still watching The Black List and Resident Alien as episodes appear. Tuned into the few appearing episodes of The Walking Dead. Really, this series has carried on too long, but having stuck with it this long, with one season to go and one film, it seems a waste not to finish. I’ve read all the graphic novels.

Continuing with Black Mirror and it’s still not disappointing, and reaching the end of the comedy show, Community. I’d watched the first season of Virgin River, but not the second, so now we’re watching it all together. If I lived in a place with that kind of scenery, I think I’d cry, especially during a pandemic.

Irresistible, a film starring Steve Carell is an open look at politics which turned out to be far better than we expected. Highly recommend. We also sat through all of almost 4 hours of the Snyder cut of Justice League. Definitely better than the far more humorous theatrical cut, though to be fair they called Joss Whedon in the last minute to take Zack Snyder’s place; as much as I like Whedon’s work, and although the CGI still isn’t the best, it’s much more gratifying to see Snyder’s take.

READING:

The Duke and the Lady in Red, Lorraine Heath

Not the usual book I read, I picked this up on a friend’s recommendation and found myself pleasantly surprised. I can see some readers might complain about certain aspects, but this is historical romance for a modern audience so political correctness or errors of the era (and I’m not attesting whether there are any) will be toyed with for entertainment, much as the protagonists Rosalind and Avendale toy with each other. Their misconceptions and mutual attractions are well-played, but it was the perhaps unlikely but heartwarming way in which the story treats Harry that provided the greatest emotional impact. Alas, there’s no way to explain why without spoilers.

Twilight Eye, Dean Koontz

A re-read as part of a book clearance. When I started this, I couldn’t even recall reading it the first time around. The author rarely writes in first person, and perhaps this is why. The idea of someone with a second sight which allows them to see the ‘goblins’ among us starts off well, and overall is a decent book. Alas, it feels as though it goes on too long within a few pages, possibly to the sometimes enjoyable, sometimes eye-glazing descriptions. There are a lot of subtexts to this story of resistance to the evil among us, a perfect analogy of the evil in humans. Too much, perhaps, another of its faults. There’s meaning here that’s ultimately lost in what feels like an overly long book to get the point across. The book works as an allegory to human behaviour, particularly in how we treat each other, but doesn’t especially tell us anything new. The book suffers from excess. Well worth reading once, but not to revisit.

Malorie, Josh Malerman

The end of Bird Box led me to believe this book would take an entirely different route, that the reader would learn about a different section of Malorie’s life than the one in this sequel’s pages. That the story is so unlike what I expected isn’t a bad thing, making this tale a complete surprise. We continue to follow Malorie and the children, now grown, and inescapable hope in the bleakest of times. Malerman hits an emotional tone in this book that feels deeper than the one in Bird Box, driving Malorie on to face danger at the moment in her existence when she has even more to lose. Like most great suspense stories, both these books are not about the monsters, but those who struggle to survive against the odds.

Lassie Come Home, Eric Knight

What can be said of this original classic? Some situations In this book may strike younger generations as strange if they don’t know their history. The way of life, the cruelty, women’s work being very much a part of the home, but the only real warning this book requires for animal and dog lovers, is a box of tissues required. A beautiful keepsake featuring one of the most famous dogs of all time.

Finders, Keepers, Stephen King

Although Hodges doesn’t feature so heavily in this second book of the trilogy, each containing separate, tenuously linked stories, I preferred this to the first. Perhaps because the subject is an obsessed reader. Not only a more than decent thriller, this entire story is a disquieting examination of obsession. Though fiction is a way to explore the actual world, this throws an uneasy light on the reader/writer relationship, questioning expectation vs dictatorship of the writer’s imagination.

The Castrato and His Wife, Helen Berry

A fascinating factual account of Tenducci and his bride, Dorothea Maunsell, this is not only a great insight to the life of a castrato and those responsible for the mutilation of young boys (unsurprisingly, in part the church), but a peek into the influence of opera on London and the lives of women back in the 1700s. Perhaps most amazing is the rebellious and staunch Dorothea during a time when a modern audience might expect a woman of that age to cower in fear. History may look at her two ways, either conniving or resourceful, the lengths women needed to go to in order to have any control of their lives, being the property of a man, either that of their fathers or husbands. It also throws a light on society of the time, revealing an inclination to live above one’s means even with the threat of debtor’s prison. Well, written and engaging, there are many reasons to read this book.

Slade House, David Mitchell

A house that only appears every 9 years with two of the strangest ‘ghosts’ ever sounds like the recipe for a true scare, but I never found this book frightening. The story’s told in 9 year breaks by each consecutive visitor, and like the one who believes she’s on a drug-induced trip, that’s how much of this book came across. Perhaps a little too surreal for me with too many obscure references in parts, though nothing that stops you from understanding the basis of what’s happening. Still, there’s something persuasive about the story and the writing which acts like glue. I’ve heard it’s a companion piece to The Bone Clocks, and as I’ve not read that, perhaps it’s why this fell short for me; alas, this didn’t entice me to pick it up the other novel (maybe one day but not immediately). Much of Mitchell’s writing has a dreamlike quality that pulls me in both directions, offering both something fascinating and yet inexplicable, leaving me uncertain as to my level of like/dislike. I guess the best word I have for this is intriguing.

WRITING:

I finished re-editing and adding to an older book and would have subbed it already had I not run into a word processing issue, namely that Mac’s current edition of Pages has a problem changing straight quotes to curly quotes after the writing. In Word (or Scrivener), you can do a simple search and replace, and the programme alters both forward and backward quotes in the right way. In Pages it makes them all face the same way so that half of them are wrong. So, I need to transfer the file to the Window’s computer and deal with this issue first. Then I’m going to work on a new idea.

Stay happy and healthy!

Sharon x

Dragon #10

Actually, two dragons. Quite fragile, and they feel like they’re made of clay. Feel homemade, though I’ve seen them around, and expect they’re more mass-produced than that, but still love them.

Have to keep these two together. I found them in a little shop in Dorset.

Guidelines 2

Check an agent or publisher’s guidelines. It sounds simple enough, but it’s an important detail so many wannabe writers miss. Most have them, and many are readily available either on request or if you have internet access on their website. Also, check that the guidelines are up to date. There’s no point in looking at what a publisher wanted ten years ago, or even ten months ago. Their requirements may have changed only last week.

Use the guidelines as any writing tool. It’s important that the writer check they are sending the right piece of work to the right publisher. It may be difficult to believe, but it’s amazing how many people still send a romance book to a horror publisher, or vice versa, but it happens. Some writers seem to think a publisher is a publisher, and it doesn’t matter, or that their work is so brilliant the agent or publisher will still help them even if they don’t deal with that type of literature. This is not the case. If a writer sends a romance to a horror publisher that publisher is going to put the manuscript in the bin the moment they realise its contents. The chances are they won’t even reply, or they’ll dispatch a terse note advising the writer to ‘check our guidelines’. Save them and yourself a lot of time, money and aggravation, by doing this prior to sending out anything.

As well as advising on content, guidelines may also provide further information such as formatting requirements. Most publishers want standard manuscript formatting, but this can vary a little. If it states a certain layout, then follow it. If not, set your work out in standard manuscript formatting. Another thing to be aware of are submission calls and deadlines. There’s no point sending in an unsuitable story, or even a suitable one, after a deadline has passed. On that note, when answering submission calls, I’ve seen it suggested sooner rather than later is preferable. Many publishers wheedle through that pile right away, throwing out rejections, placing others in a possible pile, a few in another in case they’re left with a space to fill. A few wait until the deadline passes, but not all. If there’s a minimum and maximum word count, some publishers will say it may increase your chances to write closer to the minimum count. Longer stories fill an anthology length, and too many of those leaves less space for the number of stories the publisher wishes to include. Therefore, they’re more likely to take more of shorter lengths. Always research individual requirements of each publication.

How it all began…

Some posts like memories are worth keeping. Looking back, it’s hard to believe my social media journey started way back in October 2006 with Myspace, a site many writers (including me) have left in the dust since its focus now seems to be music.

Still, it’s the time I’m thinking of here. It’s difficult to believe it’s been that long because that also means that my first book came out fifteen years ago. Where has the time gone?

I can still remember in 2004, I wondered ‘when’ would I have a larger writing credit out there. Up to that point, my credits had been for poetry, essays, and (mostly) short stories.

Though I rarely read such books, I was in the middle of a decent self-help book. Like many similar volumes, the information told me nothing new, though it’s nice having beliefs and feelings confirmed. One particular chapter talked about not sitting around waiting for things to happen but ‘making’ them happen. Not surprising, but that day, forced to face reality, was the kick I needed.

I knew with writing there were two ways to go. You write what you like and hope to find a publisher or you look for a market, and write for it. Most writers have more success that way, and I’d done pretty well dabbling with both options. For a novel, I chose Loose-Id as a market and wrote a story for them… which flopped, big time. They totally rejected it for three reasons, two of which I agreed with and one which I did not… but that’s neither here nor there, and I’m unsure I can even remember those details now. The strange thing is, I was wholly grateful for that rejection for two reasons. Most important: I learned a lot from their comments.

Determined, I studied what was selling and return to the ‘drawing board’. Second, I was trying to write for a genre I’d never attempted before and the likelihood of my story being snapped up first try would have been extraordinary. With so many vanity and unscrupulous press out there, if Loose-Id had snapped up my first book, I think I wouldn’t have trusted them nearly so much and therefore believed their good comments on my second submission attempt.

So, I wrote for Loose-Id. Why? This is a special question because my heart most lies in dark fiction, although I read all genres including an occasional romance. It’s no lie when I say I like to write as I read, and my library is eclectic. Mostly, I wrote a romance because the first stirrings of a story came to life. I chose Loose-Id because I liked the concept. They published erotic romance, and many of their books were authentic stories, not just a poorly disguised series of events loosely linking a load of sexual content. I had to get over the embarrassment of writing such scenes, but told myself I would worry about what my friends and family would think when I came to it. Before that, I had to come up with a plot so concentrated on a story I believed they couldn’t reject.

I formed my idea in June 2005. In fact, I still have all my hand-scribbled notes, not only for that first book but for books two and three of the trilogy. Looking at them now always provides me with a few moments of smiling. These notes on their own make no sense and some last scenes differ from those first images that flashed into my head, but in that large envelope of messy, nonsensical notes I have my story. But all stories begin in the mind.

As long as there are writers there will always be readers who will ask, ‘Where do you get your ideas?’ The answer is everywhere. Life. Playing the ‘What if’ game. Putting two seemingly disconnected events together. That first book I entitled Uly’s Comet, and it began when I pictured a man sitting on a bench in open parkland and a thief about to steal his money. I did not know who the man was or why he sat there. I did not know the identity of the thief. Later, I came across a name: Shavar, ‘Comet’ and suddenly I had the answers. This story nagged for me to write it. I loved the world, characters, and story I created and lucky for me, so did the publisher…

Sadly, as many of you may know, Loose-Id closed recently enough for it still to sting. A fine business and group of people which did amazingly well and should have lasted even longer, and while I have republished some tales I wrote while with them, I have yet to revisit the world of my comet. I’ve also gone on to write other things, and here’s the point of this blog. Had I not tracked down a publisher, chosen to write something good enough to submit to them, and worked hard at it, achieved my goal, started with social media, I wouldn’t have networked. I wouldn’t have made other contacts, or written for other publishers, and series, including several novels in the Lethbridge-Stewart world (The Brigadier of Doctor Who fame), or even, by recommendation, my short eleventh Doctor audio story for Big Finish. All because one day I decided it was time I achieved a larger writing credit… and took the next necessary steps, refusing rejection.

Update Feb 2021

Hi Everyone!

AT HOME:
Following on from last month, we finished the dining room makeover, taking down the curtains, painting two end walls the same colour as the hall (a much better shade to go with the wallpaper), swapping three pieces of furniture around, and putting up a window scarf in place of the curtains. A weekend’s work that’s given us a completely new feel to the room, one which makes us more interested in using the area. Next we have plans for the garden. Alas, I’ve had a few bad days again, which meant I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked in the home or with writing. I also missed a week’s blogging.

As for lockdown, saw a news item referring to home schooling, showed someone doing 250 x 10 with a group of children on zoom, and they were writing numbers in boxes below the problem. What the hell for? You put a 0 on the end and get 2500. No need to write anything. No wonder the parents struggle to teach them anything. I’d want to throw these new-fangled ways out the window.

FILM/TV:
We finished watching Fortitude, the British horror psychological thriller television series I mentioned last time, which grew increasing bizarre and violent, though overall we must have enjoyed watching as we finished all three seasons. Currently, we’re ploughing through the latest Death in Paradise (recommend every season), and the current series of The Black List — been good but can’t help feeling it’s overstayed its welcome now. We also started watching Resident Alien, for which I’m a little biased as it stars Alan Tudyk who I love mostly from Firefly. It’s quirky and madcap enough to make us laugh. We also started Black Mirror. Never realised this is individual stories or we might have watched it a long time ago. As with all anthologies, no doubt we’ll love some tales more than others, but so far so great.

Best film seen recently was likely Mank. Gary Oldman’s appeared on The One Show talking about the film on Netflix, the story of the man who wrote Citizen Kane. We watched it the other day, and it’s extremely stylish in the way it’s filmed with a beautiful look in black and white, and was way more interesting than we expected it to be.

READING:
Voice of the Gods, Age of the Five trilogy, Trudi Canavan
An interesting book to complete the trilogy, which certainly deals with the clash of politics and religions. One that brings the tale of Auraya and Leiard to a satisfying and hopeful conclusion. Some have said there are no big surprises in this trilogy, and for anyone who understands story construction in some ways, that’s true; however, I found this trilogy a joy to read and expertly told. I also wish I could adopt one of the adorable creatures called a Veez. I loved all the characters, and this author’s skilful plot.

The Accidental Werewolf, Dakota Cassidy
A light, fun read, well-written for the genre. Although I wasn’t sure about the high-maintenance protagonist Marty, I was pleased to see her over-talkative, somewhat scatty personality develop over the course of the story. The council issue and Keegan’s relationship with them might have benefitted from fledging out a little more. Summer holiday entertainment.

Mr Mercedes, Stephen King
Though widely known for horror, I’ve always said King is more than a horror novelist. In this thriller we meet Bill Hodges, a retired detective who crosses paths once more with one of his incomplete cases. I grew to like this character and have a good deal of fondness for him. Like all of King’s work, I found the storytelling comfortable and the work character driven. I did not like the tense changes, or what I felt was a rather stereotypical or ‘comic book’ bad guy, but for all I know King did his research and psychoanalysed his perp, or ‘perk’ as anyone who reads the book with come to know him. Also found a few elements (one especially) predictable, and a few details overlooked by a supposedly trained detective. But characters, even the good ones, make mistakes. I’ll move on to the second book in this ‘trilogy’ of what appears to be independent stories featuring Hodges.

I started a fourth book, but I’ve not quite finished so will include that next month.

WRITING:
Alas, nothing to report. I’m still doing some editing. Also, some research. I’ve plans for later in the year, but health and other issues mean that’s still to come.

Stay happy and healthy!
Sharon x