- Neglecting to thoroughly edit manuscripts.
Many writers tend to think that because they’ve spent so much time writing their story, that what they’ve written is flawless and free of errors. As such, they don’t thoroughly read through and edit their manuscript, or hire a professional editor to review their work. When an agent or publisher begins reading a manuscript and notices several errors (grammatical, punctuation, spelling, sentence structure, etc.), they’re immediately turned off from wanting to continue reading what your story is about. Additionally, this is turn leads them to draw the conclusion that you’re a novice in the business of publishing.
- Submitting incorrectly formatted manuscripts.
Agents and publishers have guidelines or instructions for how manuscripts should be submitted for review, and these are usually posted on their websites. Many writers in their eagerness to submit their work disregard these guidelines, and in turn direct their manuscript to the ‘slush’ pile. If the agent or publisher states your manuscript must be submitted in Microsoft Word (the publishing standard), don’t send your document in OpenOffice or Pages format. If they state to include the first two paragraphs or first 10 pages in the body of your email, don’t paste in your first chapter. Follow their instructions and give them what they ask for.
- Neglecting to thoroughly research agents and publishers.
One of the biggest mistakes writers make is not thoroughly researching their target agents and publishers. If the agent or publisher specializes in science fiction and you submit a steamy romantic manuscript, it’s guaranteed your work will be immediately dismissed. Don’t try to pitch something you know they’re not interested in hoping they’ll make an exception. Do your research and find out what the agent and publisher represents to determine if your manuscript falls in that category.
- Neglecting to address the agent.
Addressing your manuscript “Dear Agent,” or “Dear Publisher” tells agents and publishers that you’re ‘blindly’ sending your work out hoping someone will take notice. That’s not how the publishing business works. Failing to directly address an agent (by name) and incorrectly spelling their name will automatically cause your manuscript to be discarded. Instead of submitting a generic query letter to several un-named agents, tailor each query letter to a specific agent. This demonstrates you’ve done your research and understand what they’re looking for.
- Overlooking the importance of your query letter.
Not spending enough time to get your query letter right can cause you to miss the opportunity of having your manuscript considered for publishing. Your query letter is in essence your pitch to the agent or publisher telling them why they should choose your story as their next project. Refrain from including too many personal details about yourself, especially details that are irrelevant to your manuscript or experience in the industry. Instead highlight your credentials via any writing awards and accomplishments you’ve achieved, and demonstrate how your manuscript will be the right addition to their published books. Keep your query letter short (an average of 250 words) and to the point. Think of it as the hook that will make agents and publishers want to read your story. Introduce your main character, as well as demonstrate conflict and emotional appeal.
- Revealing too much story plot.
While you want to pique the interest of agents and publishers, giving away too much of your story’s plot takes away the excitement of wanting read the actual story. A query is not a plot summary or synopsis. As such, give agents and publishers a taste of what’s in store for them and your target readers, but don’t spoil the appeal by serving up the whole pie.
What do you need to be mindful of as you prepare your manuscript for submission to agents and publishers?
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