This month columnist Donna Alward is back with her Getting Down To Business column - and a checklist for each writer to follow before hitting send on any submission!
Last month I held my Perfect Pitch contest again over at Harlequin's community. For one week I accepted pitches for stories geared towards Harlequin series books. I chose four pitches from that, asked for first chapters, critiqued those and picked one winner. That winner gets to pick my brain for the rest of 2013. I'll critique for her, offer advice, whatever she needs.
At the beginning I set out a few ground rules. Books had to be geared towards HQ lines, you couldn't be already published with Harlequin, and I offered a few links to resources on pitching and previous contests. All told, in that five day stretch I received over 100 pitches.
It's a lot of work, going through that many potential stories. After I did this for the first time a few years ago, I gained a whole new appreciation for editors and agents who see pitches, queries, and manuscripts all the time. I can honestly say that getting a pitch that was clear, concise, followed directions and showed me that the writer had done their research was an absolute joy. Because it's not just your 8 or 9 lines of story that get my attention. It's other things too. And when you don't take due care and attention it shows. Editors are human. They can be biased. I'm pretty sure they're looking for cracking stories but also authors who are going to make their job easier, not harder.
Truly, this is a no-brainer. I'm not even going to talk about STORY today but the simple act of HOW TO SUBMIT and to make a good impression before the editor or agent even looks at your blurb, synopsis, or manuscript pages. You wouldn't go to a job interview in ratty sweatpants and a ketchup stain down the middle of your shirt and with your teeth not brushed. Neither should your manuscript! So here's the shortlist of how to show that editor or agent that you've done your homework.
1) DO YOUR RESEARCH. Check the publisher's or agent's website for their requirements and then give them what they ask for. If it's a query and synopsis - do that. If it's sample chapters, do that. In the body of the e-mail or as attachments? Is there one submission e-mail address or form or individual editors? Preferred font and format? Truly. You would think everyone would do this, but they don't.
Here's a perfect example of a pitch that did the opening paragraph exceptionally well:
Please find below my pitch for Modern Love, a fake fiance/forced proximity contemporary category romance of approximately 85,000 words, set in Austin, Texas and targeted to Harlequin Superromance. (Amy Woods)
Granted, she probably could have split that into 2 sentences but it gave me exactly what I'd asked for in my guidelines.
2) KNOW YOUR GENRE/LINE. Speaking in category/series romance terms, there are certain reader expectations and line requirements that make a manuscript fit. If your submission is for a certain line but you're 20 000 words too long, that's an issue in 2 ways. It tells me you aren't aware of the requirements and didn't do your research, and it also tells me that to make this story work it's going to take a lot of elbow grease. Same thing if you're 20k short. Or if you've written something smokin' hot with an eye to submitting it to, say, Harlequin Romance or the TEEN line, or perhaps a small town family story to Presents. There's nothing nicer than reading a pitch and nodding and saying "Yes, that's exactly what the line is looking for."
3) PROOF READ. Please. I beg you. Personally speaking this is one thing that drives me bananas because it's completely preventable. An editor is not your bff that you're texting, so for the love of God, capitalize "I" and use proper apostrophes. If you have copied and pasted something into the body of your email, do a quick "select all" and ensure it's all the same font. Check your spelling. Check your punctuation. A submission riddled with errors tells me one of two things: either you don't have a good grasp of spelling and punctuation and basic formatting, or you slapped the submission together in a hurry without a lot of thought and care. Neither scenario does you any favours.
4) BE POLITE AND PROFESSIONAL. Have a nice polite greeting, keep a professional tone and say thank you at the end. You can still be friendly and conversational. But this isn't the time to get overly familiar or chatty.
And that really is it. Your story idea in whatever form will speak for itself. But I guarantee if you take the time to really polish your submission and give the editor or agent what they're looking for, they'll read your story an open mind because you've made a good first impression. And that already puts you a few steps ahead of the rest of the slush pile.
And just in case you think I'm crazy and overly nitpicky? Check out this post about Impressing the Gatekeepers.
It's all about putting together the strongest submission possible and giving your manuscript the best chance!
Donna's latest book is LITTLE COWGIRL ON HIS DOORSTEP, from Harlequin Romance in March. You can find out more about her and her latest releases at her website at www.donnaalward.com .