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A Note on Submitted Manuscripts

October 28, 2009 | Deborah Cooke | Comments (0)

First of all, congrats to those of you who have submitted partial manuscripts to the TPL for me to critique. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the calibre of work has been quite high. Kudos all around!

That said, I have a couple of general comments.

• There is a standardized format for manuscripts in publishing. I've written a post that will appear later this morning detailing precisely how manuscripts should be formatted for submission to an editor or agent. There are no exceptions. Have a look at the rules and follow them!

• Secondly, I think there is a little bit of confusion about the reader expectations for a romance novel. It may well be that many of you know that you're writing a women's fiction novel and not a romance, but let's just clarify things. I've got a post queued up for this morning on genres.

• And thirdly, you need to be sure you follow the submission guidelines. In this particular case, I asked for a maximum of 50 pages double spaced. That could be either the first 50 pages of the manuscript or the synopsis and first chapters of the ms up to a max of 50 pages. A number of you did not send the beginning of your book, but either chapters from later in the book or a selection of chapters from throughout the book.

Manuscripts, though, are not acquired on the merit of Chapter Fifteen - the merit of Chapter One will determine whether the editor or agent continues to read and/or requests to see the entire manuscript. And this makes sense because most readers will judge the merit of a book - as well as the wisdom of their investing their time in reading the book - on the basis of Chapter One. Some decide on the basis of the first half page. (There is a saying in publishing that if a customer cracks open a book in the bookstore and begins to read, that person will buy the book if they turn to page two.)

No matter how wonderful your Chapter Fifteen might be, it's not going to make the sale for you.  And in fact, if you do not want to show your Chapter One to an agent, editor or writer in residence, maybe it's time to have a hard look at how well that chapter is working as an introduction to your book. It's not uncommon, for example, for new writers to begin the book long before the actual beginning of the story. It might be that you wrote a lot of backstory that you needed to know, but that the reader doesn't need to know until further into the book.

Similarly, if your book has an unusual structure, or if you want to check the progression of a subplot, or if some other variable tempts you to send chunks of your book instead of the beginning, please stop and reconsider. We read books in order - this is common to readers, agents and editors. Submit your book in order. It is the job of  the synopsis, which travels with your sample chapters, to illuminate any structural plan or show the dovetailing of subplot(s).

So, please remember to follow submission guidelines when you send out your work. If you send Chapter Fifteen to do Chapter One's job, most industry professionals will send it right back to you, unread. Because I am not such a tough guy, I will read all of your submissions, even if you did send me Chapter Fifteen, and make some comments for every work submitted.


Toronto Public Library's Romance Writer-In-Residence Deborah Cooke discusses writing and getting published in the romance genre.

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