Always read all of the directions, and then follow them.
Before submitting, always check double check the editor’s or agent’s submission guidelines. Then make sure you follow all of the rules. Remember when it says double-spaced, it means double-spaced. Not 1 1/2 spaced, not triple spaced. Double spaced.
When an editor (or agent — this applies to them too) asks for your complete manuscript via email, do not send each chapter in its own separate attachment. Send the entire work in one document.
This is not a joke. I really did get a full manuscript from the Bloom Award sent to me with every chapter in a document. I threatened to refuse to read it on principle, but I was told I had too. Remember you don’t want to alienate the editor before you even get started, and having to combine 17 documents into 1 so I can load it on my reader definitely puts me in a foul mood.
When you submit to a press that publishes books, submit a written manuscript.
I used to think that this went without saying. I sort of assumed everyone sent a written version of their submission. They might send illustrations or dummy books or some strange printed out thing, but somewhere, the words are written down. Today we got a picture book read on an audio CD. It didn’t have a single manuscript with it. Not only does it make it hard to evaluate this submission, but the reading of the manuscript itself was hard to listen to. This wasn’t a professional recording, but a homemade, occasionally strangely paused rendition. It was distracting. It was unusual. It’s now officially the oddest submission I’ve received yet.
Keep track of all of your submissions.
And by track, I mean in something like a spreadsheet even if it’s a handwritten one in a columnar ledger. You need to remember who you sent a manuscript to, when you sent it, and their response. Part of this is so that one of your manuscripts won’t languish for years in someone’s slush pile. We won’t name names. Okay, probably mine. You have no idea how easy it is for a manuscript to slip through a crack. Literally. Yesterday while packing for the Great Move, I found a 17 month-old manuscript hiding between my file cabinet and a book case.
Also, you need to know where you’ve sent the stuff. Unless an editor or agent specifically asks to see a rewrite of that particular manuscript, you don’t get to send it to them again. Nothing is more annoying than getting an unasked for rewrite of a suspense manuscript when the main reason you rejected it was because you already had acquired 12 suspense manuscripts for the next 3 years. And finally, the nice little chart of your submissions will help you to visualize your submission process. Do you always submit your different manuscripts to the same places but only receive form letters? Try somewhere else. You get the picture.
Check a publishing house’s or agent’s website for the most up to date submission information.
At the very least, look at the latest edition of the CWIM or similar publication for the information in them. Do not use an out of date copy of one of those books. It’s bad enough to send stuff to publishers who are no longer accepting submissions, but it is even worse when the submissions are addressed to people that haven’t worked at those houses for years. Do your research beforehand, and save yourself lots of time, trouble, and postage in the future.
You can never have a manuscript accepted by an agent or for publication if you fear the possibility of rejection.
Now, that little pearl of wisdom is neither new, nor particularly unique to me. However, that doesn’t mean it isn’t true or valid. Lots of people do not want to submit because they fear the response. And I do understand how difficult it can be. No one likes to think that someone won’t like them and their stuff. But, if you are so scared that they won’t like you, you never will know if they do.
Do not send queries or manuscripts through email directly to editors. Use the house’s submission email address if they allow electronic submissions.
The only exception would be if you know the editor and have a personal relationship with them. They probably would not mind queries that way. I am happy to get email from authors I am working with or have worked with in the past. I also belong to a critique group and get emails from those authors all the time – often about gossip unrelated to writing. But again, I have relationships with these people. They are not strangers. And we’ve all been taught not to talk to strangers.
When considering where to submit your religious fiction, don’t limit yourself exclusively to that religion’s market.
Although you always want to start focused when submitting, remember that many religious fiction books can work for the mass market as well. Like submitting any kind of fiction, the key is to do research into the publishers and agents you want to submit to. Obviously you are not going to submit Christian fiction to Llewellyn, publisher of such Wiccan works like Blue is for Nightmares or A Witch’s Spell-A-Day Almanac. That would just be a waste of everyone’s time. But depending on your story, you might be able to send it to a general editor at a house like Penguin/Random House. Just research, research, research. Try to make sure you get your manuscript into the hands of someone who is predisposed to liking it.
Once your book is sold, it is no longer about you. It is about everyone else.
This is another word of wisdom that comes to me through the experiences I’ve had with my wedding. As I learned early on, my wedding is about everyone but me. And like my wedding, your book, once it’s been acquired by a publishing house is about everyone else but you. Before that point, it’s just about yourself. You write whatever you want. It can be intensely personal. But after sale, it becomes about everyone else’s needs. The editor has requirements. The publisher needs you to fit a market. Your readers want you to meet certain expectations typical of your chosen genre. The moral of this tip is to enjoy that original time before your work sells. It’s the last time your work is truly your own.