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teal 12


Now you’ve rewritten your manuscript several times and it’s super awesome, you’re going to send it away to find a publisher!

In this fortnight’s lesson you will learn how to submit your manuscript to a publisher. Through a series of audios, lessons and exercises we’ll walk through how much presentation matters, the basic rules all writers need to follow when pulling together a proposal and how to get into an editor’s good graces.


TOPIC ONE: Your Submission Package – An Audio From Kim

Listen or download the audio for this section here!


TOPIC TWO: Follow Submission Guidelines

Presentation is everything in a submission, and by following the guidelines you automatically place yourself above writers who ignore instructions in favour of fitting more words on a page. Why does it matter, you may ask? It creates goodwill in time-poor editors who look at manuscripts all day, in their spare time and on their weekends.  The ‘slush-pile’ gets massive, the editor reads manuscripts all day, and as soon as they get annoyed they won’t take time to continue through it.

Editors can tell if someone has not followed their submission guidelines as changes in formatting affect their ease of reading. It is within your interests, and also a testament to your eye for detail, to be consistent and approach things professionally. Your ability to follow instructions is one of the ways an editor knows they can work with you. It also ensures your submission is neutral, meaning your submission only says what you want it to say and nothing more.

Below are some unspoken, yet typical, industry standards for manuscript submissions.

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TOPIC THREE: Common Mistakes That Editors Hate

There are several formatting errors that authors make which will raise the hackles on an editor within seconds. The most common are:


Double Hard Returns Between Paragraphs

This looks okay on page one, but on page two it starts going downhill, particularly if you have short dialogue lines. Double hard returns are for scene breaks only; don’t use them between regular paragraphs.



Only the first paragraph should be flush to the left margin, all others – even dialogue – are to be indented on the first line. Look at how a book does it and do same thing but make sure the manuscript lines are double spaced rather than use the single spacing you’ll find in a novel. This is easier on the editor’s eyes and allows them to make notes.


Reducing Line Spacing

Reducing the line spacing to fit more words on a page is one of the most common mistakes.  Industry standard is double spaced. If an editor wants to write comments on the manuscript and you’ve only given them 1.5 spacing, they have to write very small or in the margins.  This is annoying for them.  Double spacing may look too big and like a waste of paper to you, but to an editor, it’s perfect.


Margin Settings

Be careful with margin settings. It’s surprising how many people believe not knowing how to adjust the margins on their word processor absolves them of the responsibility of getting it right. However, if you are felled by something as small as being unable to set margins correctly on your word processor, then the editor isn’t going to be all that confident you will handle being rigorously edited.

Industry standard is typically 2.5cm (preferably 3cm) margin all round.  Editors use margins for note-making, so give them some space.



Times and Courier are the industry standard. It is claimed, with much contested research, that serif fonts are more legible to read. However, the most probable reason serif fonts are more ‘legible’ is just because we are used to seeing them this way.  Plus, 99% of fiction is printed in serif fonts, which are less decorative and easier to read than other fonts.

You must also use the right sized font, 12 point usually.  Long lines of text are very difficult to read below ten point font.  An editor will be able to spot ten point or eleven point font immediately so it’s best not to try anything sneaky.


Don’t Go Fancy

Be careful not to do anything fancy.

Don’t change font sizes, don’t change font styles, don’t use graphics, and don’t experiment with colours.  Don’t ever bind the manuscript, or draw it a cover. It will just irritate the editor who has eight hours in a day to read two thousand pages of manuscripts.  Just put it out there clean, elegant and with no frills.

If you must do a heading, use bold or italics (or maybe underline), but never together!


Avoid Numerals

Avoid numerals in fiction.  This destroys the reader’s ability to scan. The only place you would use numerals is for a date.



Learn how to set out dialogue!  Punctuation goes within the quotation marks.  Know when to put full stops or commas.  Always keep dialogue with its speaker.

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Remember, the look of your submission says the most important thing an editor needs to know: “I am not a lunatic. I’m someone who can follow instructions, be professional and I’m not trying to sneak something past you and I don’t think I’m better than you.”

Do the right thing by your potential editors and hopefully, you’ll be elevated from the slush-pile and into the bookstore.


teal avatar 5ACTIVITY: Cover Letters

The key to submitting is following a publisher’s guidelines.  It creates goodwill in time-poor editors who look at manuscripts all day.  Part of your submission package is your cover letter. This is the start of thinking about your story as a marketable object.

In this exercise you will learn:

  • How to analyse your novel as a marketable work,
  • How to articulate what is unique about your manuscript and,
  • The essential elements of a cover letter.



Let’s start thinking about what you might put in your cover letter. Have a go at answering these questions. Share your answers with your peers on the Cover Letter Forum and help them with their own answers. Often it’s easier to identify what is worth spruiking about somebody else’s work rather than your own.

  1. Is there anything interesting about you or about your connection to the story that you can highlight?
  2. Can you describe your story in a one-line pitch that sounds exciting enough to make the publisher turn the page?
  3. Is the story topical (e.g. connected to an important historical commemoration) or suitable for a particular kind of audience (e.g. women who have gone through divorce)?


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Additional Information:

If you would like more in depth information on how to prepare your proposal for submission to a publisher, consider joining our online course, ‘Sally Colling’s Pitching To Publishers’.

Is ‘Pitching To Publishers’ for you? See the course description below:


You’ve written your manuscript (or the beginnings of one), now you need a publisher. This course will show you how to push all the right buttons to attract a publisher’s eye. Discover what commissioning editors love and what they loathe. From writing a captivating synopsis to deciding where to send it, participants will work through all facets of the proposal process with tutor support so you can show off your work to its best advantage.


You can book into ‘Pitching to Publishers’ here.



We’d love to get some feedback from you on the course: what you thought of working on your writing in an online environment, the course materials, tutor contact etc.

Once you have completed the course, if you could please answer the questions in this survey we would be most grateful! Help us serve you better.

Take the survey by clicking here.

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