Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 13

Submitting your work is something new writers tend to obsess over – it was one of the most requested topics for Practical Meerkat, in fact.  But while more experienced writers focus most of our thinking – as it should be – on the writing end of things, the truth is that, we too have to undergo the submissions process.

Even the most experienced writer with a track record has to submit a proposal to sell a project– and in today’s market, that proposal has to be as strong and tight as humanly possible.

We’ve already discussed how to stop worrying and love your synopsis.  But the very idea of putting your Best Shot in front of an editor can make even a jaded pro break into a cold sweat.

In a best case scenario, you know your editor well enough, and she knows you, that the “how” isn’t a question: you can focus on selling the sizzle, as marketing folk say.  But if you’re new, or working to an unfamiliar editor?  Oh, the panic that can set in…..

And this is where everyone starts looking for the Perfect Guide to Creating the Killer Submission.

The problem is, there isn’t one.  Because there is no One Perfect Submission Format.

We know how many ways there are to trip up in this process, so we want at least one thing to be simple, to be easy, to be clear-cut.  Surely, “how long should a query letter be?” is an easy enough thing.  Or “how long/detailed should the synopsis be?”

But then the answers come back, and each one is just slightly different from the other – enough to make us break into a panic of second-guessing and revising, until the submission takes on a greater weight than the project itself.

Stop. Breathe. Keep breathing.

Yes, there are basic rules.  If you’ve done your research you know them already.

More, each outlet, be it magazine or book publisher or agent, tells you specifically what they want to see.  Look at their guidelines, and pay attention.  Don’t make any stupid mistakes – send the right material, don’t print it in green ink, use the proper format, be it print or electronic, make sure you spell names correctly.

If you’re still worried, ask a brutally honest friend (or a total stranger) if they’d pick the book up to read, off your pitch.  Keep revising until they would.  Remember that less is more, in this instance – you want the editor to want to read the manuscript, not decide off the synopsis.

It all sounds impossible, but you’ve already done the really impossible part – you’ve written — started and finished and polished — an entire book!  That’s the thing 90% of would-be writers stumble on.

Even if your submission letter or synopsis isn’t perfect, if you intrigue the editor into taking a closer look, you did it right.

So relax.  Double-check your submission for typos and obvious errors (the wrong name on the letterhead is the most common; ‘merge letter’ is not always your friend.).  Make sure that you have the right postage on the SASE, if requested.  Be sure you’re sending everything asked for, and nothing more.  Then have someone else double-check it for you.

Then hand it to the postal worker/hit send.  And pour yourself a drink.


Coming up in Week 13:    A comfort zone is nice, but I’d hate to write there [aka “why writers drink, reason #3”]

Laura Anne Gilman is a former editor with Penguin/Putnam, and the author of more than a dozen novels, most recently the urban fantasy PACK OF LIES, and WEIGHT OF STONE, Book 2 of the Nebula-nominated Vineart War trilogy.  Her SF collection, DRAGON VIRUS, will be published by Fairwood Press in June 2011.  For more info check her website, her BookView Cafe bookshelf, or follow her on Twitter (@LAGilman)  And yes, her nickname really is meerkat.


About Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne is a recovering editor-turned-novelist, with an Endeavor Award, a Nebula nomination, another Endeavor award nomination and a Washington State Book Award nomination under her belt. Her most recent series is the award-winning "Devil's West" trilogy, starting with SILVER ON THE ROAD, and her same-universe story collection, WEST WINDS' FOOL, AND OTHER STORIES OF THE DEVIL'S WEST. The novella GABRIEL'S ROAD was published by Book View Cafe on April 30th, 2019. Her Patreon, featuring original fiction, writing advice, and original Rants, is at Learn more at, where you can sign up for her quarterly newsletter.


Practical Meerkat’s 52 Bits of Useful Info for Young (and Old) Writers, week 13 — 7 Comments

  1. The only rule I have with submissions is to keep them as short and straightforward as possible. That may be a legacy of all the non-fiction I wrote, as that is often a much more narrowly targeted market.

  2. @Paul – that’s exactly what it is. “Look, I can do the job better than anyone else, give me the slot.” You go in with your material ready, your suit pressed, your eyes bright, and wow ’em best you can…