Finishing a manuscript is a wonderful feeling.  A first step toward the ultimate goal of publication.  But that's what it is.  A FIRST step.  The next step (after revisions, of course) is to send your "baby" out into the world.  Here is a checklist for those of you who are preparing to send your work out for the first time:

1. What should I send? 

PART ONE:  Well, that depends on who you want to send to!  First, you need to determine what kind of book you've written.  What is your target audience?  Here are some hints:

  • There are several categories of romance and many sub-categories.  Here are the main ones:

    • Historical -- Any romance with a setting before the turn of the century.  If you are setting your novel after the turn of the century, but before modern times (like WWII), you're probably going to have trouble.  You might try a smaller house or maybe an epublisher for your story.  Otherwise there are Victorian stories, Regency, Americana, Civil War, Medieval... etc.

    • Contemporary -- Anything set in modern times.  This can be a humorous story, a suspenseful novel, a serious issues romance, etc.

    • Time Travel -- A story where one of the main characters (hero or heroine) is thrown forward to modern times or back to historical times and falls in love with a character from that time period.

    • Paranormal -- Werewolves and Vampires and Shapeshifters, oh my!

    • Category -- Mostly set in modern times, the category romance is generally shorter, and each book fits a very specific set of guidelines.  Often there isn't as much space for secondary plot lines or characters

  • OK, so now you know what kind of book you've written.  Harlequin/Silhouette are the main producers of category, so if you've written a book like that, check out the Harlequin pages (link from my publishing resources page).  If you've written a book that doesn't fit the category romance genre, then you'll probably want to go with a big publisher or a well-known smaller pub.  Either way read the guidelines they lay out and follow them.  You're on your way!

PART TWO:  What's with all these terms in the guidelines?  HELP!  This is another common question.  Let me give you a layman's dictionary.

  • query letter -- A letter (generally one page) that introduces your story to the editor or agent in the most basic way.  You don't want to give any details, just a bit of flavor.  Here you want to tell the following:

    • The word length of your story (100,000; 75,000; etc)

    • The genre your story falls in to (Romantic Suspense, Historical, Romantic Comedy)

    • A little about the hero and the heroine.  Example: Lanie is an independent and strong woman, who only wants to prove to herself, and to her father, that she’s worthy of love and respect.  Colin is an intriguing and sensual man who wants to protect Lanie from his lifestyle, and his past.  At the same time he feels drawn to her in ways so powerful he can’t deny them.

    • A bit about the storyline itself.

    • Any information about yourself that the editor/agent might find useful.  This means publishing credits, not that your Mom loves your novel. 

  • synopsis -- A detailed account of what happens in your novel.  OK, that's vague, right.  The synopsis is always told in present tense, it NEVER contains dialogue or character point of view, and it shouldn't go chapter by chapter.  Think of it this way.  If someone asked you to tell them what your story was about, that would be your synopsis.  Not too much detail, but enough that they understand where you're coming from.  The length varies.  Double check the guidelines for the publisher you are targeting.  If there are none, then about a page for every 10,000 words is a good guideline.

  • proposal -- "Send a proposal", what does that mean?  It means a query letter, a synopsis, and the first three chapters.  ALWAYS.

  • partial -- Different from a proposal.  Often it's what an editor/agent asks for after they've read your query letter, but haven't gotten any other material.  They will generally specify what they want, whether it be a chapter, three chapters, 50 pages, 100 pages, whatever.  If they don't specify, just do three chapters.  And toss in a synopsis for good measure.

  • slush pile -- the place you don't want to be.  The graveyard of unwanted manuscripts.  Editors will read them, but it takes time.

Heard a term you don't understand?  Contact me, maybe I can help (maybe not, but I can try)!

2.  To whom do I send it?

  • Here's the tricky part.  Send it to a person.  Don't send it to "The Bob Smith Agency, Romance Agent" or to "Acquiring Romance Editor, XYZ Publishers".  That's like marking it "slush pile".  You want to find out who acquires for the publisher you are querying.  If you are a member of RWA, check out your January RWR or May RWR, the editors are generally listed there.  If you aren't, read the submissions guidelines pages carefully, sometimes the editors names are listed.  If you can't find them, you can contact me.  I can't promise to know, but I can look around.  I can't stress this more: WRITE TO A PERSON!!!

3.  How do I send it?

  • Make sure you include a SASE (Self Addressed Stamped Envelope) with enough postage.  At least send one for a return letter, and if you want your manuscript back make sure its big enough to hold it.  If you don't, just let the editorial staff shred it.

  • Priority Mail is best, and try to get a Tyvek envelope.  Tyvek is some kind of secret material that can't rip or burn or soak through.  It's sent from the writing gods themselves.  Priority mail envelopes are Tyvek and you can get them free when you mail priority.  Otherwise, they are very inexpensive and can be found at drug stores and mailing stations everywhere.

  • Also, if you have had material requested, write REQUESTED MATERIAL on the envelope in indelible marker.  You will stay out of the slush pile.  If it has not been requested... NEVER write REQUESTED MATERIAL on it.  You will get caught, and I'd bet you will be rejected, even if you ARE the next Nora Roberts.

Have more questions about submitting?  Contact me!