Saturday 27 April 2013

Avoid looking like an amateur

Always, always, always we’re looking for great stories and good writing. We may from time to time look beyond typos, lack of control and an obvious ignorance of the publishing world if the story is excellent and the writing superb. Alas, the latter is very rare and often due to talent. There is also a business side to publishing and we need to know that every writer, even the talented ones, can engage with that. Just think: you have made your script the best it can possibly be and we ask you to change it. There is no way we’ll believe you capable of doing that if you can’t follow a few simple guidelines and adhere to a few general rules.
Give us what we ask for
If we ask for three chapters and a synopsis, give us that. We don’t need four chapters just because your chapters are short. If you can’t crystallize your story into a 500 word synopsis you’re probably not sure what you’re doing anyway and that will show in the text.  
Format your work to industry standard
Unless otherwise stated, double space your work. Indent all but the first paragraph of a section. Do not put an extra line space in front of a paragraph. Use a standard font – Times New Roman 12 point or Arial 10 point are favoured. You might use the automatic paragraph set up in Word to do this. However, beware that you may need to change this to something more manual for some publishers at a later date. Format left, ragged right, please.
Other presentation etiquette
Create a title page. The top left had corner should include full contact details – name, address, telephone numbers and email. The title, your name and the type of book should go in the middle, centred, and the rounded number of words in the bottom righthand corner. Note, if you use a pseudonym use that in the middle of the page and your real name in the contact details.
It’s good practice and useful for you to include your name and the title of the book, perhaps shortened, in a header and the page number and number of pages in the footer.  Again, you can set this up automatically in Word.
However, if you’re entering a competition there is often a requirement that your name doesn’t appear anywhere on the script. In this case, if you include it they’ll just put your script in the bin. You will have wasted the entry fee.
Never staple or bind your work. Hold it together with a paper clip or if it’s a hefty script, sandwich it between two pieces of thin card and hold it together with a large elastic band.  
Business-like cover letter
Make your cover letter informative and to the point. Give us a two line summary of your text. Tell us the three or so facts from your CV that are the most relevant for this work. Tell us what to do with your script when we’ve finished – bin it or post it back.  If the latter, remember to include return postage. (Of course, these days, many publishers accept electronic submissions.) Don’t give us the impression that you have a one-size-fits-all query letter.  
Avoid being quirky here and in any synopsis unless you can do it extremely well and convincingly. Most of the time it just irritates us.  
Near-perfect script
Make your script as mistake-free as possible. The odd typo, punctuation mistake or clumsily structured sentence may be forgivable but a host of them is not and actually prevents us from seeing your work clearly. Be particularly careful about how you set out dialogue. This is incredibly easy to get right but it is amazing how many people make serious errors in this area. Read you work out loud and get someone else to check it before you send it out. It may even be worth paying someone.       

It’s all about the business of writing. Take yourself seriously and we might too.     

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