Lesson Three: the Parts of a Submission Package

LESSON THREE: The parts of a Submission Package

Before we begin, I want to share this beautiful reminder that it doesn’t take much to make a difference. Stop and check out the two-minute film: http://www.flixxy.com/the-power-of-words-short-film.htm

Carrying on, like appropriate wardrobe for our particular journey, here are parts of a standard package. Please Note: not all companies or agents request each of these pieces. We're defining standard terms. Occasionally agents or publishers use different terms for similar items. Use your best judgement. Think of dressing for the occasion--suit or dress for a fancy wedding; swimsuit for the beach, jeans or shorts for camping. If you're asked to wear business casual, you do it, right? Same idea here--if you're asked for a cover letter and a two-page synopsis, don't send writing samples, your middle chapters and a letter from your mom. If they want more, they'll ask. Don't wear a wedding gown to milk the cows :). 

Cover letter

This is the letter that goes with your project THAT’S BEEN REQUESTED. It often includes much of what you wrote in the query, but here you have a little more room. I’d spend it on the project itself, Could go two pages, but I’d still keep it short and grateful, and very professional. Yes, often you use both in your proposal. And, to be perfectly honest, I’ve often shortened the cover letter, and just used it as a reminder of what my project was about, if the editor asks me to send proposal information such as standard forms that they’ve sent or asked me to download, or my biographical information or my marketing plan and that kind of thing. If I’m only sending a synopsis and the first few chapters, I’ll make the cover letter longer to include those biographical and marketing things, but otherwise, I’ll just make my letter a paragraph on the order of, “here’s the material you requested from me, about my story, which is….”

Your biography should be a nice paragraph saying who you are, expanding on what you wrote in your query letter. What are your writing credentials, maybe why you wrote this book, and a very little personal information. Keep it about yourself, and not your family or fans. List education and awards and previous work if any, organization affiliation, and so on.

I have actually (sorry – love that word) submitted to two publishing houses lately which have not been interested in a synopsis. One of them said, “we know you hate to write it, and we won’t read it, so don’t bother!” Yippee!

A synopsis is a summary, or a complete overview, of your writing project. It is a single-spaced document with your name and title on it, usually told in present tense, but in your unique writer's style and voice. You want to begin with your engaging, fresh, unique and enticing hook or theme or log line – this is the buggiest part of the whole deal. A synopsis has just enough details to showcase the scope of the book. Do not get entangled with all of the back story or subplots in your novel – just give the major points. If it helps you to make a rough draft that starts with a roman-numeral outline, go ahead and practice that way. The finished synopsis should be anywhere from one to three pages, according to what’s asked of you; if nothing is mentioned about length, I’d keep it to about two pages. You tell the whole story. Start at the beginning—of your story, not the back story or the reason you wrote it, or how it came about, but what’s going on now in your book. Tell what happens to the main characters. Tell the entire story, and don’t leave any cute cliffhangers. The editor wants to know if the premise holds, and if the ending is believable, if the characters are real. For non-fiction, you’ll give all your basic information, something about every chapter, your sources, your references, and the final analysis of what you learned, and what your reader should know after finishing your book. I’ve seen synopses up to ten pages, though, and non-fiction writers will need to give chapter summaries. A synopsis is used to judge the completeness of the project more than anything else. Generally, acquiring editors won’t spend the time on that length of synopses. A hook sentence is important, though: it’s your theme, the premise of your story in one sentence, or thirty or so words. Think: What’s the most intriguing thing that happens in your story? What would make someone want to read it, after reading just one sentence? Flip over a dozen books and read the back cover or the inside flap for a few clues. Or, better yet, visit a bookstore and pick up books at random and try to figure out what’s going on and why you would or wouldn’t buy it just by reading the publisher’s blurb.

Writing sample
This will usually be the first few chapters, fifty pages, or completed piece for shorter items – just what it is: give what they ask. If they ask for a "sample" without explanation, send the first three chapters. Always industry standard format font, margins, etc. whether you’re submitting electronically or by land. Check for information about attachments. There are a number of ways to format the pages, if asked to submit in an attachment. If there are no clear directives on how to number the pages, I prefer to use the “footer” like this: title/my name (eg; working title: The Last Bequest/Lickel) on the left, second line has the page number. Some prefer a “header” with this information, or put it on the right. Some people include the date of the submission or the draft. It’s just a toss-up from editors, who, for the most part, have said in interviews that they either don’t care, or will tell the author of his or her preference.

Writing Resume
This is similar to a resume you would use to find work. Writing resumes would be limited to your publication credits and your life of writing, not your work history. If you don’t have any, then you’d include other relevant information, such as projects you’re working on, contracts, your education, coursework, groups you belong to, what you’re doing to get published, your website, blog, social networking and marketing information, things like that. You can still use subject headers like “Goal,” “Education,” “Completed projects or Manuscript history,” “Recent publications,” “Personal information,” etc. For sample writing resumes, I’d check internet sites. Do a search for “writer’s resume.” Here's a site that include advice and a template: http://annieneugebauer.com/the-organized-writer-2/writers-resume-template/

Clips are usually short pieces of published work such as articles, reviews, short stories, or other small pieces you’ve had published that you have “clipped” from the publication and kept. They will most often be used when you submit to magazines or other periodicals. You make copies of these and file the original (or laminate it if it’s a newspaper article to keep it fresh if you think you’re going to use it for a couple of years). These “clips” are sent along with proposals for articles or assignments as proof that someone besides your mother or your spouse thinks you can write. If your articles are published electronically, you should download and either make printable document files (.pdf) of them, or simply get a good copy printed and make copies. Make sure your print includes the publication and date and url. Make sure that the particular clip you send to an editor is relevant to the publication and your proposal, though you’re really just using the clip to showcase your style of work, or provide evidence of your expertise in your subject area. I used my clip file quite a bit when I initially sought magazine publication, but I don’t think I ever got a job based on them. I have a box of them tucked away, and it’s pretty cool to say I’ve written hundreds of articles.

Writing Plan
I include this because it’s something I once had to do for a proposal. The submission guidelines were a set of those vague ones: as in, send your proposal with a writing plan. I’m not completely certain what this is, and a writing plan may mean something different to every publisher who asks for one. While this might be something more suitable to unfinished non-fiction proposals, but it's appropriate to let the publisher know that you're willing to work hard with an editor, that you work on craft, that you work on other material even after you've sent out a proposal (that you aren't planning to write this one book and nothing else). How much can you write in a day or week or month? If they ask you to make major revisions, can you do so in a reasonable amount of time? Are you a contemplative writer or a quick one? Do you endlessly edit, or do you turn in your second draft? Can you write under pressure? I like to gather my research, then attack the story. I can reasonably write a chapter, or ten-fifteen pages a day when I'm in writer mode. My plan would include my willingness to work with the publisher or editor to his or her satisfaction; I can offer a fairly quick turn-around on requested edits.

Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope if sending by land – most companies will return your submitted materials if you include a number ten (that’s the legal-sized, long one) envelope with the appropriate return postage. Some articles say you can include a self-addressed stamped postcard to indicate your submission has been received. The receiving editor will supposedly just have to pop that card in the mail. I did that for a year, and never got one back. I seriously consider buying an electronic postal scale every time I wait in line at the post office. How to decide how much return postage to put on your return envelope when you don’t know how much it’s going to weigh and cost before you head to the post office? I get everything ready, addresses, etc., have my initial pack weighed, ask for the same amount of postage in stamps and stick the stamps on my return mailer while I’m at the window, then package the whole deal and mail it off. I sent a whole manuscript to Canada and since the little PO in my community didn’t have Canadian postage to use for the SASE (no, I wasn’t forking over the money to return the whole ms – they can use it for heat this winter) I bought an international stamp. I gladly give that money  to the post office and hope I never see it back. The company was Torn Veil books; my colleague, JoAnn Durgin, had her debut novel, Awakenings, with them. When we chatted about our experience, she mentioned that sending the ms by snail mail was one of their ways of weeding out the not-so-committed.

This can sometimes be the same terminology as Market Plan; be sure to pay attention to what the publisher or agent is asking. Usually an "analysis" asks for you to find other books like yours for comparison purposes. Who do you write like? What does your story compare to? However, it won't help you to say you write like JK Rowling and have the next best YA book if the editor will just give you a chance, mostly because your statement can't be tested. Categorize your work. What genre do you write? Where will the bookseller shelve your book? Is it a mystery, science fiction story, a fantasy, romance, a historical novel, a western, a thriller/espionage/spy novel, horror, a crime or detective story? Some of these categories overlap, and most have sub-categories, like "Amish" fiction or "prairie" romance or westerns. In this category, what does your work most resemble and why? Write something like: "Readers who like (a particular author) might like my book because…" See also the genre lists in Lesson one if you need help defining your genre. Do your homework. Go back to the bookstore and lurk – who buys what; ask readers why they pick what they do and see what they call the genre.

This is the toughest part of the proposal, most puzzling for new writers, and most important part for publishers. Publishers may look at this page before they will read your synopsis. Think like a businessperson. You have a great product. Now, how are you going to move it?*
What is your platform?** How many books can you sell? Who are you and why will people buy your book? Are there side products that go along your books? If you have a theme, for example a beach theme, are there products that you can sell with that theme? Is your character a chef? Include recipes, etc. These are the questions you need to answer. Your marketing plan should include numbers. Do you speak? To whom? Do you blog? Where and how big is your audience? How many people do you reach on the online social networking sites? Are you considered an expert or professional in your field? List at least a dozen or more ways you're willing to promote your work, including writing and delivering press releases to your local news media, creating speaking and teaching opportunities, signings, blogs and blog tours, visiting book stores, being a part of book festivals, gathering or seeking reviews and interviews both in person and online, using a book trailer, using the book forums, keeping up your website, using your social media network to make announcements, offering contests, using blog and local radio and or television (local cable station?), asking your local bookstores to stock the book, providing copies to your library or church library, creating articles or short stories based on your book, making use of current relevant news that relates to your book, seek personal recommendations and endorsements from recognized authors or reviewers, whatever you can do to get your name and the product recognized, the more outside the box the better. Think about and possibly seek professional endorsers before you sell the manuscript.

*This part deserves a longer talk. Although you're going to be succinct in your proposal, you need to make it count – help yourself out by letting your marketing or business plan pack a punch. Think like an inventor. You've just developed this fantastic product that will make someone's life bright. Now how do you let them know? Oh…right, most inventors (even the guys who invented Velcro was going for a better bra strap) actually have a readymade niche market. Not everyone can invent the mousetrap (hit the NYT Best Seller list and stay on it forever). But anyone can invent a better spoon (get a royalty-paying publishing contract and even make a little money). Now – how are you going to let people know about your spoon? Will it help people who have arthritis hold onto it better? Then we target retirement communities and AARP. Will your spoon be able to stir extremely hot liquids without melting? Then you target commercial kitchens, gourmet stores, maybe even chemical labs. You find out who's having a Pampered Chef party or a Tupperware party and you sneak in and surreptitiously pass your card around. You get the idea. This is why we talked about who is going to read your book. If you're targeting moms, go where those readers are – libraries with story hour, rec centers, yahoo reading groups who read like material. Writing a thriller? Who reads them – leave flyers and a sample copy at the fire stations. Those guys and gals don’t mind having something to do on their down time. Writing about kids or others with desperate medical problems? Speak to your Lions International group. Kiwanis and other groups are often looking for speakers. Find all the book clubs you can in your community and send the leader a flyer. Offer a free book to the host if he or she can get ten people to buy your book and have you come for a visit. Join the local chamber of commerce as a business. It might be well worth the investment and you'll make lots of connections.

Not all of us are shooting for that timeless classic (literature); we're content with popular fiction that will eventually go out of print. But what makes that classic last? Why are those books called "classic"…well, Classic? Those stories explore issues that people like to talk about and contemplate, mistakes everyone makes, redemption, victory over impossible odds in bigger than life settings. They remain popular because people keep talking about them; they continue to be used in school curriculum, and…people keep talking about them and thinking they have to read it because it's been critically acclaimed, and...people keep talking about them. So – what keeps books in print? 
1. Bigger than life issues that 
2. People identify with and talk about partly because 
3. They've received better than average acclaim by big-time influencers (see What an Influencer Does: http://authorculture.blogspot.com/2013/10/what-influencer-does.html). 

And notice: the actual writing is important, but not tantamount. Even Mark Twain published himself. (http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/railton/huckfinn/hucadshp.html) and John Grisham finally got someone to listen to him with his first novel, though it was a tiny independent press that put out a small first run, then went bankrupt: http://www.usatoday.com/life/books/news/2009-06-21-john-grisham-a-time-to-kill_N.htm and http://www.slushpile.net/index.php/2006/03/01/interview-john-grisham-author/

I'll bet you all can come up with a dozen more ways to promote I'll never think of. 

**Platform: that lovely word we hears lots, but don’t always have a good handle on. It is what it reads: a foundation, something to hold your authorial weight. Who are the readers who are your bedrock? Who will come back and hold you up with your next book? Here’s a great article from Writer’s Digest explaining it: http://www.writersdigest.com/article/get-known-excerpt

Other material I’ve been asked to provide in proposals include supporting scripture, theme, hook, back cover blurb. How to fulfill the request for each:
Supporting scripture is that verse that represents what your book is about. Use a good concordance for your theme if you're stumped.
The theme should be stated in one word such as grace, forgiveness, family, love, redemption, etc.
The hook is the sentence that makes me want to read this book – it’s not a summary, a ramble or a confusing jumble of theme and how many character’s names you can reference, it's that line that may be a question or an enticing statement that leaves the reader wanting more; usually less than 30 words. Sometimes this is called a LOG LINE; however "log line" is a movie term. I was just at a conference where the presenter, who writes plays, did a whole presentation on making a treatment for your novel. "Treatment" is also a movie term – basically the chapter synopsis. I am not a huge fan of interchanging terms.
The back cover blurb is usually five to eight sentences (or 100-200 words) expanding on the hook; en enticement. Read a few from books you have around you to get the essence. Here're a good artcile on technique and what to include: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2010/11/16/how-to-write-back-blurb-for-your-book/
Elevator pitch: either the thirty-second or up to one minute spiel on what your book is about and why I should care (am I representing it – tell me why I should and how it’s different than any other (eg Amish fiction); answer the unspoken editor or agent's question: if am I going to publish it tell me why I should risk thousands of dollars on you and how wide of an audience are you bringing me….)

And, believe it or not, there's now an App for that! Award-winning author and writing coach Linda Rohrbough has developed one. “Pitch Your Book” became available from Study By App in the Apple iTunes store  for $3.99. For more details, see her website: http://www.lindarohrbough.us.