Literary agents and publishers reject more unsolicited manuscripts today than ever—up to 99%.
They are so overwhelmed with submissions that most no longer even acknowledge receipt, and their guidelines specify that if you don’t hear from them within six weeks, you may assume they’re passing.
That’s rude, of course, and frankly unconscionable in this technological age when they could easily communicate with boilerplate copy via a keystroke or two. Regardless, it’s a fact of life aspiring authors face.
Don’t make the mistake, however, of jumping to the conclusion that agents and editors are curmudgeons looking for reasons to shatter your dreams.
The fact is, they share your dream. They’re hoping against hope every day that they’ll discover the next mega-bestseller.
Meanwhile, how do you compete in such a saturated marketplace? How do you separate yourself from enough of the competition to give yourself a chance?
You must nail your presentation. Your query letter and proposal must prove you know what you’re doing. Put your best foot forward by applying these techniques:
Just say it.
Write simply and directly, as if conversing with a friend. Go easy on the adjectives and adverbs. Stick to powerful nouns and verbs.
Avoid a colored or tinted screen background, even if you did that when we submitted on paper (it was a mistake then too).
Anything other than black type on a white background screams novice. Emphasize your premise and content—not a fancy look.
Avoid boldfacing or ALL CAPS anywhere in a letter, proposal, or manuscript, and never use more than one font (typeface) or type size.
Make sure that font is a serif type (not sans serif). That means 12 pt. Times New Roman or something similar.
Your manuscript should be aligned Left, not Justified—which would make the copy on the right look like that in a published book.
Justified alignment can cause awkward spacing between words to make it work, and you’re submitting a manuscript to be considered and hopefully edited, not a book ready for the printer yet.
While your letter should be single-spaced, a manuscript should be double-spaced (not single- or triple-, or some variation just because it’s your computer program’s default).
Also, delete extra spaces between sentences. Though you may have been taught to use two, one is what you want, because that’s how sentences appear in print.
Set the space between paragraphs to zero, not another default.
There should be one double-space, just like the space between lines.
Publishers are looking for positivity, even if your subject is difficult.
Title your work Winning Over Depression, not Don’t Let Depression Defeat You.
The word by rarely appears on the cover of a book unless it’s self-published, and even then it’s the sign of an amateur.
Your byline should consist of only your name.
Another amateur error is misspelling Acknowledgments (as Acknowledgements, a British variation) or Foreword (as Forward, Foreward or Forword).
Foreword means “before the text” and has nothing to do with direction.
If the publisher asks for a hard copy (rare these days), your manuscript pages should not be bound, stapled, clipped, or in a three-ring binder.
Send them stacked, each numbered and bearing your name.
Jerry B. Jenkins is a 21-Time New York Times bestselling novelist (including The Left Behind series) and biographer (Hank Aaron, Walter Payton, Billy Graham, and many others) with sales of over 71 million copies. He teaches aspiring authors at JerryJenkins.com through in-depth guides (like this one on how to develop a story idea).