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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Submitting MSS - An Overview

Rob Parnell

It's weird to me that I still get asked, probably three or four times a week, how does a writer get published?

My suspicion is that, given the Internet age, young writers especially assume there is some quick and easy solution out there - some secret that need only be discovered - and that the answer can't be so obvious.

Because the answer is obvious - and it's the same as it was ten years ago, fifty, one hundred, two hundred years ago.

You have to submit your manuscripts to publishers.

That's it. No secret. No magic formula. No way around it. And still the most preferred method of submission is off line - snail mail, real world paper, envelopes and stamps.

There's a reason for this: namely copyright.

Publishers prefer a paper trail and the trouble with email submissions is that a) they tend to get lost, deleted and / or overlooked and b) having a writer's manuscript on their hard drive can expose a publisher to accusations of plagiarism if the writer can prove the publisher owned a digital copy of their MS on, for instance, a particular date before a similar work was written.

I think the other reason writers don't want to be told they must serially submit their MSS to have any hope of publication is that, well, it all seems too hard.

But that's actually the point I think.

What better way to avoid receiving hundreds of new manuscripts than to make the process as difficult and time consuming - and fraught with disappointment - as possible.

Plus, of course, many publishers are traditionalists. It's the way it's always been done - and despite it being a cumbersome, slow and involved process, it has worked for a couple hundred years, so why, they ask, would they change it?

Indeed, recent attempts by Random House and other companies to compile on line repositories of submitted MSS have failed dismally to find any books worth publishing.

A couple of years back an inventive TV production company tried a writerly version of "Idol" that involved writers submitting potential blockbusters to a competition. The result? The show was canceled due to the lack of good manuscripts submitted.

Real writers with talent it seemed, weren't going to get involved with anything so crass as a reality show, even when instant fame would normally be enough of a carrot for anyone, right?

Apparently not for us, camera shy, writers.

No, the serious writer must abide by the rules.

And the rules state that you must send your paper manuscripts in to editors, publishers, agents and anyone else who may be interested in your writing. I guess it's the care and attention to the process that ultimately shows how seriously you take yourself.

And of course by limiting the means of access, you curb the masses who might clutter the system if you made it any easier!

So what's the answer?

Firstly, you need to ensure you have the time and inclination to submit your work. And here arises the first hurdle. In reality the confidence to submit your work comes from self belief - an all too rare commodity in the emerging writer.

How long have you spent agonizing over whether you believe your manuscripts are strong enough to show anyone?

It's a dilemma. Because, if you think too hard about the question, you'll end up never sending out anything. But then, if you ignore the nagging doubts about your ability, are you really going to be sending out work that's good, effective and commercial?

Assuming you have work that you believe, at the very least, is ready for professional eyes - and maybe deserves a shot - what's the next step?

Finding a suitable audience.

Again, not as easy as it sounds.

A casual search through publishers' guidelines - a process that I personally still find distressing - and you would be forgiven for thinking that no-one is really interested in manuscripts of your type.

New writers can feel unwanted. It's clear that agents and publishers, on the whole, already have all the writers and manuscripts that they could ever want or need - and more besides.

But we must take comfort in the knowledge that this is how it has always been - and that every writer must go through this experience to progress.

And beyond, there is one very simple premise that we need to embrace: that if you haven't had your work published yet, you simply haven't sent it out to enough people - or you haven't sufficiently pursued all the angles and directions you might need to take to get your work into the public arena.

You need an almost maniacal need to be published in order to achieve your aim. You need to be hopelessly resilient and be able to adapt with chameleonic tenaciousness to be continually in the running.

In short, you need a strategy - one that is flexible - but more importantly, is consistent.

Create a spreadsheet containing all the publishers and agents you might want to submit to. Add more as you find them. Research and find more. Then systematically submit ALL of your best work to ALL of them ALL of the time.

Make thinking about your submissions a daily activity. And make one submission at least once a week, whether it's a short story or an article or a pitch for a novel or non fiction work, or whatever.

As the saying goes, You Have To Be In It, To Win It.

So, here's my best advice (to myself too!):


1. Banish self doubt.

2. Summon your courage.

3. Commit to improving.

4. Be flexible and patient.

5. And submit, submit, submit.

Keep Writing!


rob@easywaytowrite.com
Your Success is My Concern
The Easy Way to Write
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