It used to be relatively simple. You sent the first three chapters of your novel, a synopsis and a query letter, plus return postage. You probably took it to the post office to get it weighed. It was at least half a day’s work. Then you sat back and waited. Or hopefully, you carried on writing.
The publisher accumulated a slush pile at least as tall as herself and an office junior delighted in reducing that pile by sending it back to hopeful authors with a standard rejection slip.
A disappointed writer heard the loud thump as the rejected manuscript landed on the doormat.
Electronic submissions common sense?
You would think so. Yet so much can go wrong. The submission may never arrive. The process of sending it electronically may screw up the text or the formatting. The publisher loses control over their slush pile because they can no longer see it three dimensionally.
Yet there are advantages for the publisher and the writer. The publisher receives a text that is already partly type-set. The writer can probably get out three submissions in the time it used to take her to get out one.
Many publishers do now accept submissions electronically. The variety of ways they ask for material can be confusing for the writer, however. Some want the submission via an on-line form, some want it in the body of the email and some want it as an attachment. There seems also to be much variety in what should be contained in whichever method is chosen: the first 5000 words, the first three chapters, the first ten pages, a one page synopsis, a fifty word synopsis, a two-line description. Then there is a variation of where these items go- in the body of the email, as an attachment or even all just in one document Many publishers ask for an a author bio as well. One or two want a full CV. Many are interested the writer’s social networking habits. A sound presence on Twitter, Facebook and in the Blogsphere is welcome.
The standard manuscript is still there somewhere
Double-spacing and 12 point Time new Roma remain popular, but different publishers require different additional formatting details: the size of the margins, whether one uses Word headings, how indents are generated, and whether footers, headers or page numbers are permitted or desired. Much of this depends on what is a particular publisher’s design process after editorial. The publisher does not want to be fighting the writer’s text as they prepare the digital file.
As ever, the writer must read these guidelines carefully. Two sets can be amazingly similar but nevertheless include critical differences.
This is really coming into favour now. Even when a hard-copy has been accepted at submission stage, editor and writer will often work on the script electronically. Many publishers use a combination of Track Changes and added comments. These can make scripts seem messy but it doesn’t take too long to get used to. It’s useful to the publisher also to see where the writer has made changes in various versions of the script. Version-naming etiquette is essential and what that is will also vary from publisher to publisher.
Editing for house-style
Authors will often have to edit their text to bring it in line with a certain house-style. This will include such features as single or double quotes, how thoughts are portrayed (often in italics), and how section breaks and headings are handled.
Confusing? Indeed it is. But worth getting right. Busy publishers haven’t got time to look at something that is not properly presented. Although some of these rules may seem complex it’s usually relatively easy to set up your document to obey them. What may look like a list of demands is actually more like a step-by-step guide.
And still you can get submissions out more quickly than you could using the old-fashioned way. Publishers can also respond more rapidly.