Book Proposals: Sample Chapters and Manuscripts

I submitted manuscripts to publishers. This was not so much a feeling that I should be published as a wish to escape the feared and hated drudgery of normal work.

–Tanith Lee

The moment you’ve been waiting for, right? Sending off your work to an editor or agent, the first step to becoming a published author. I suppose anyone invested in writing could talk about this part for just about forever. Well, this post is about how to format your manuscript when submitting it to agents and/or editors, so I hope that it will be a useful resource!

What to Send

Check websites or agent/house listings when you are submitting so that you know how much they want to see. Many places will ask to see only a query letter. Others would like sample chapters, and still others—the minority—will ask for the completed manuscript. Let’s go step-by-step!

Query only: Self-explanatory. See my post on query letters for some guidelines.

Sample Chapters: Sometimes agents/houses will have a specific number of chapters or pages to submit. A safe bet is the first 1-3 chapters, or 25-40 pages.

Full manuscript: Only send if the agent/house asks for the complete ms. With picture books, send the whole thing. Other than that, full length novels should only be sent if requested, especially if you’re printing them out and sending via snail mail. Keep in mind how many submissions the average agent or editor gets every day! If they ask for the whole thing, well, they asked for it. If they don’t specify what they want, send sample chapters. Editors and agents who like what they see are good about asking for more chapters in the future.

How to Format

Check to make sure that individual houses don’t have their own preferred style of submission. If there are no specifications, go with a standard submission.

As with query letters, it’s best to go standard on formatting your ms. Stick to letter size white paper, 1 in. margins, double-spaced, and a 12 pt standard font face. Good font faces (or at least similar to these): Times New Roman, Garamond, Helvetica, Courier New. Fonts you should never ever use: Comic Sans, Curlz MT, Kristin ITC, Papyrus, and anything decorative or difficult to read. Basically, use a font that you would use in a professional setting, regardless of the topic of your book. Readability is key. Italicize and bold as needed.

You should put certain information on the first page of your manuscript. In the top left-hand corner, include your full name (not your pen name), address, e-mail address, and telephone number. Word count and genre don’t hurt, either (i.e., 52,000 words/YA). Skip a line, then center your title in all caps. Skip another line and start running text. Chapter titles or numbers should either be flushed left or centered, and regular paragraphs should be indented.

Especially if you’re submitting a hard copy, have a running header with your last name, the title (or a shortened version), and the page number. That way, if the pages get mixed up at all in the office, editors or agents can find them easily.

Terra McVoy’s Pure: MCVOY/PURE/41
J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: ROWLING/HP GOBLET OF FIRE/652 or ROWLING/HARRY POTTER GOF/652

Formatting can turn up funky on different computer screens, and more houses are trying to be green as of late, so whether you’re submitting electronically or printing out, stream all the content. Don’t separate chapters onto new pages, just have an extra space between the end of one chapter and the title of the next. For breaks/spaces between scenes within chapters, put an asterisk (*) between paragraphs.

Please don’t specially format or design your ms pages. All the editors and agents are interested in is the written content. If you are an author and illustrator, send samples, not finished pages. Publishing houses have designers and often preferred illustrators that they already employ, and their part of the process is much further down the road. Focus on submitting your writing first and worry about what the pages will look like later. This is especially prevalent in picture books; don’t submit a ms comprised of full pages with one size-24-font sentence on each.

Closing Comments

Submitting your ms is exciting and terrifying all at once, but know that it’s kind of the same experience on the agent’s or editor’s side! Each submission they receive could be the next big thing, so the process of going through submissions isn’t as dry as you might think. Make sure to follow the rules of each place you’re submitting to, and keep in mind that hundreds of manuscripts and queries are mailed every day. Having a manuscript that is presented professionally and in an easy-to-read manner is much appreciated!

xo Paige

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