Submission Protocol

Nancy J. Cohen

Last week, I sent a submission via snail mail. “What’s that?” you ask. It’s almost a forgotten art. I hadn’t sent out a physical manuscript in so long that I’d forgotten the specifics. I think it’s been at least five years, likely longer, since I last had to send anything from the post office. This submission went to a niche market and was another of my father’s travel journals.

So what was involved? After reading the online submission guidelines, I reviewed my manuscript. Oops, I’d forgotten all about headers and footers with the book title, author name, and page number. Having formatted for ebook requirements, I added those back in.


Since this book is nonfiction, I had to include a Table of Contents. No problem. I know how to do this in Word. Oh, wait. I forgot to write a Foreword like I did with my father’s other journal, Thumbs Up, that I’d indie published. So I added the TOC. Then I deleted some of the book buy hyperlinks in the back. I shouldn’t include those for this type of submission.

A query letter topped it all off. I polished mine once more before adding it to the pile of papers. It’s also been ages since I’d had to write one of these things. It’s never easy, is it?

Now what? I printed out the whole work, since it is short and about equivalent to a normal book proposal in page count. Next came the SASE. How do you do this again? If you want the manuscript back, you have to put actual postage stamps on a suitably sized manila envelope. This means you have to weigh the envelope for return postage with the manuscript inside, affix the stamps, remove the pages and stuff them into the outer envelope along with the folded SASE. A complicated business, isn’t it? Or you can just include a stamped and self-addressed #10 business envelope for the form rejection letter you’re sure to get.


And then comes the great sigh of relief when you send your baby off at the post office. This generates a more visceral response than sending a book into cyberspace. Somehow the physical manuscript seems more a part of you.

Weeks pass and then months. You watch the mail for the return envelope. Once you see it, gloom sets in. You’ve been rejected. And you start the process all over again.

At least that’s how it used to be done in the old days. Do you remember those times? Do you miss them?

The One-Page Synopsis

Nancy J. Cohen

My mystery publisher requires a one-page double-spaced synopsis along with a manuscript submission. That’s probably harder for me to write than the book. My normal synopsis runs about fifteen pages on average. I write this guideline before starting the story, and later I attach it to my art department’s request for a full synopsis. In the meantime, how does one condense this bulk of material into a single page? Here’s my method for a traditional mystery.


First I’ll give the book title, my name, and the series title a few lines down from the top and centered. Then I’ll offer a tag line that sums up the plot. We’ll use Shear Murder as an example.

A wedding turns deadly when hairstylist Marla Shore discovers a dead body under the cake table.

The Setup
This initial paragraph presents the setup for the story.

Hairstylist Marla Shore is playing bridesmaid at her friend Jill’s wedding when she discovers the bride’s sister stabbed to death under the cake table. Torrie had plenty of people who might have wanted her dead, including her own sister who threatened her just before the ceremony.

The Personal Motive
Why does your sleuth get involved?

At Jill’s request, Marla agrees to help solve the case. With her own wedding four weeks away, her salon expanding into day spa services, and her relatives bickering over nuptial details, she has enough to do. When Jill is arrested for Torrie’s murder, though, Marla has no choice but to unmask the killer.

The Suspects
Here’s where I give a brief profile and possible motive for each of the main suspects.

Jill and Torrie owned a piece of commercial property. Their cousin Kevin, a Realtor, was trying to find them a new tenant. Meanwhile, Jill’s uncle Eddy, a shady attorney, has been urging them to sell. Now Torrie’s husband Scott has inherited his wife’s share. Scott has another motive besides greed. Torrie had announced her plan to leave him for another man, Griff Beasley. Griff was a photographer at Jill’s wedding and Torrie’s colleague. Griff implicates Hally, another coworker. Hally and Torrie were competing for a promotion. [Somebody else ends up dead here, but that’s a spoiler.]

clip_image003The Big Reveal
The final paragraph, which I won’t share with you in the hopes you’ll read the book, is where the clues lead to the killer, and the protagonist has her insight about what she’s learned. This last is important for emotional resonance, not only with your readers but also with your editor.

Further Tips: Leave out character names except for your main players, and don’t include subplots. If you’re writing romance, the mid-section would include major plot twists along with the resultant emotional turning points. So now share your tips. What else would you include or not include in your one page synopsis?


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Formatting Your Submission

Submitting a manuscript used to be easier. We all knew the format: 1 inch margins, Courier 12 pt font in WordPerfect, 25 lines per page, 5 spaces indent each paragraph. But woe upon us, computers and printers kept getting upgraded. Suddenly Courier didn’t produce dark print anymore. We had to download a font called Dark Courier to print our pages in a readable type. Some people diverged to Times New Roman, but stalwart writer that I was, I stuck with the old ways.

Then editors starting sending edits in Track Changes. We had no choice but to convert to Word. Computers got upgraded again. Now a font called New Courier produced dark enough print so that I could delete Dark Courier font from my machine. Soon printouts were no longer an issue at all. Online submissions became the norm. Instead of copying a manuscript and mailing a heavy box at the post office, we could attach a file on our computer and hit the send button. This was better, right?

Not necessarily, because now each publishing house had different formatting requirements. Witness the two houses for which I’m now writing. Let’s call them House A for my romances and House B for my mysteries. Both agree on .5 inch indent for each paragraph, em-dashes instead of hyphens or en-dashes, and one inch margins. But here’s where they differ:

House A: New Courier 12 pt.
House B: Times New Roman 12 pt.
House A: 25 lines per page
House B: Double spacing
House A: six lines down the page; capitalize first letter of each word
House B: one space down the page is blank, then the chapter heading comes on the next line. Then this is followed by another empty space before the text. Chapter heading should be bold and centered. First line of every chapter should begin flush left.
House A: No specific instructions
House B: Page number bottom center with .5 inch footer and .5 inch header. Header should have centered Author’s last nameBook Title
House A: Four asterisks centered
House B: Five asterisks centered
House A: Three periods with no spacing before, between or after.
House B: Three periods with a space before, between and after.

You get the idea? Plus the front material, meaning the title page, dedication and acknowledgements, as well as the back end info, might be different, too. You have to carefully examine the submission requirements to give your work its best chance.

The more you configure your work, the more often you’ll remember the next time. And if you’re just working with one publisher, you’ll have no problem…at least until you try to format for Kindle, Smashwords, and Nook.

How do you deal with this confusion?