Continuing with my miniseries on what I took away from my Room to Write workshop, all this talk of revising a manuscript ultimately culminates in the submission of the gol’ dern thing. Now, we admittedly did not have a tremendous amount of time left to discuss this, and I wasn’t expecting a sure-fire formula to cracking the query code, but I did at least receive some reinforcement of guidance I’ve seen elsewhere and will likewise provide these tidbits to you.
Naturally, they addressed that critical, make-or-break first chapter. They reminded us that in our initial drafts, our first chapters are usually about us finding our way into the story and not necessarily where the reader should begin. There’s no fault in doing this; it almost seems inevitable if not necessary when drafting, yet it’s an issue that should be revised away through our macro-editing. Very important to be sure before submitting that your story is starting in the right place, as we all know the first chapter or two might be all the agent/publisher ever sees, if they even request that much. (and on this topic, the workshop authors prefer sending the first 40 pages versus a # of chapters, as chapter lengths vary)
As for the query letter, keep it to one page. Be succinct and professional, yet find a way to incorporate your unique writer’s voice. Important elements about the manuscript to include: title, word count, genre, setting, one main character, three-line cameo of the story line, and intended audience (might consider naming a comparable published author, e.g., “Readers who enjoy ___ may enjoy this.”—they claimed it isn’t vain to do so, though I’m still a little shy about it). Open with a brief hook, then follow up in your second paragraph with the three-line cameo. Also include a sentence about yourself after this, including any relevant published work or background.
Now, I see where agents and publishers are very specific about what they want you sending them in the initial query, so I don’t know how often we could get the chance to do this, but Wendy recommended including a separate page with a brief bio and photo. Has anyone tried this (successfully)? I’m omitting it for now…
The synopsis, then, expands on what’s said in the pitching letter to summarize the entire plot and ending. But rather than approach it on a chapter-by-chapter “and then…and then…and then” basis, it should be a vivid expression of the novel that suggests the shape of it and reflects your writing style. In attacking mine (still a work-in-progress), it follows the general chronology of the story line, yet some paragraphs are more so grouped by topic than chapter. But whatever, I’m not the published one, so those of you who are further in this process, please advise on your approach!
Now for the manuscript. Specific submission requirements will vary, but typically:
– NO single-spacing. Double-space unless requested otherwise (no less than 1.5).
– One-sided (if hardcopy)
– 1-inch margins
– Begin each new chapter on a new page and start the chapter a third of the way down the page.
– Begin the first line of each chapter/section on the left margin and indent subsequent first lines 0.5″.
– NO spaces between paragraphs (that’s what indents are for) unless it’s a section break, in which case use a double-return.
– Times New Roman and Arial are acceptable fonts, unless requested otherwise. And use one consistently—NO changing it up with fancy fonts.
When it comes to actually submitting, they advise sending out in 3s. Be systematic.
All right, I’m going to have to squeeze ONE more post into this series…