How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss: submitting your manuscript successfully


Welcome to Part Thirty of this popular series. In this final part* of the series, novelist and publisher Lucy McCarraher shows you how to submit your manuscript to a publisher or literary agent in the best possible, professional way, so – with luck – it will skip over the “slush pile” straight into the hands of an interested party. (*Don’t worry, by the way – Lucy is back in September with some really exciting new series – see below.)
How to write fiction without the fuss
Your story is the best you can make it; your manuscript is clean and professional; it’s time to send your baby into the big, wide world to seek its fortune.

Submitting your manuscript to agents who can represent you to publishers, or directly to publishers, is known as a “query”. Whether you are querying or sending your story into writing competitions, websites, or to editors you would like to work on your manuscript, you will need to prepare two sales pitches: your synopsis and covering letter. Both of these one-page items need to be crafted with care and precision; they are your story’s entrée to a wider audience and if they don’t announce you as an excellent writer and pique the professional reader’s interest in your manuscript, you will have done yourself a disservice.

Many writers feel daunted at the idea of distilling the complexities of their many thousand word story, and their own authority to write it, into a couple of short summaries, but it can and must be done. There is a formula for each and, by following them closely, you will give yourself the best chance of getting your story read.

HTWB Lucy.UKFirst, a word about how to find and choose the right agents and publishers to send your work to. As well as searching online, UK writers should buy the most recent copy (it comes out annually) of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.

HTWB Lucy.USAIn the USA, the Writer’s Market is similar. There is also the Canadian Writer’s Market, the Australian Writer’s Marketplace, etc. In other countries you will need to Google “writers market” for the best local resources.

HTWB Lucy.CanRead carefully the listings of book publishers and literary agents and find those that deal with your genre and format of fiction. They are usually quite specific – especially about what they do not want sent to them.

HTWB Lucy.OzCheck their websites, where you will find the authors and books they represent/publish. Note some of these that you know and like, has influenced you or that you can say your story, writing style or subject matter is similar to. Most websites will also give the name of the person responsible for/interested in your genre of story. Call and try to talk to them – if not, their PA will do, find out their name too – and ask/tell them you are submitting your work.

Take careful note of their “submission guidelines”: most will ask for a covering letter and synopsis – and they may specific the maximum length of the latter, either in words or pages. Whatever you do, stick to their individual requirements – but a one-pager is usually the minimum, and the safest and best length to stick to.

Most agents and publishers will also tell you how much of your manuscript they want you to send as a first submission: this can range from one to three chapters, up to several (specific) thousand words or, typically, the first 50 pages. Always follow these instructions to the letter, and always send the chapters, pages or word count from the start of the book (another reason I’ve emphasised the importance of your opening and “Hooking Your Reader”). Submitting non-chronological chapters or sections that you think showcase your writing or story highlights is not a good idea. If professionals are not impressed by the opening, they know their readers won’t be either.

Covering letter

small_4558105863Your covering letter should fit on a single page and follow this simple, three-paragraph format.

Salutation: Write to the specific person you have identified – it’s your call as to whether you address them by their first name, Ms/Mr… or, safest, both names.

Paragraph 1: Introduce and summarise your story (format and genre and no more than two sentences of description). Mention why you are submitting to this agent/publisher (You represent author a and author b, whose books xxx and yyy attract a similar readership to mine/have influenced my writing/write in the same genre as I do…). If you have spoken to someone in their organisation, you can say they advised you to write to this person.

Paragraph 2: Introduce yourself as a writer. You might want to say what your current employment is, especially if relevant to the subject matter. Explain why you are “qualified” to write your book (eg personal experience of subject matter); be imaginative and persuasive. Don’t talk about aspects of your life unrelated to the book (amateur pianist, mother of three). Give details of your writing background – especially any fiction you’ve had published online or in print, received awards or won competitions for.

Paragraph 3: Thank them for reading your work, tell them you look forward to hearing from them and give contact details – phone numbers, email address – where they can reach you and, if appropriate, a website where they can learn more about you.


Your synopsis should be written in the present tense and in the same style as your novel (literary, aimed at Young Adults, suspenseful…), but always professional and not gimmicky.

Just like your story, the opening paragraph should hook the reader and subsequent paragraphs should flow in a logical order. You can include snippets of dialogue or tiny quotes, but never hype (eg, “In this gripping and brilliantly written scene, the reader will be on the edge of their seat as…”).

Your synopsis should tell the reader:

  • The title – and subtitle if you have one.
  • Where and when your story is set and what theme(s) you explore.
  • The main characters (three is usually enough), their quest and what stands in their way. The first time you mention a character, write their name in capitals.
  • The major events and conflicts and how these are resolved – ignore subplots that are not key to the main plot.
  • How the story ends. Your synopsis is not a “teaser” for a potential buyer, and should not  end on a question like, “Bill and Tracey finally meet accidentally at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom – will the tango rekindle their desire?” Agents and publishers want to see that you know how to bring your story to a satisfying conclusion, not to be left cliff-hanging.

small_4459977088If you are still not sure how to make a start, go back to your story ‘bible’ and, instead of expanding on it, try to summarise and distill it to its essence. Try this as a format, writing a brief paragraphs of approximately 100 words each under the following headings:

The Trigger:  Describe the inciting action or event as a strong visual image; include the setting and theme so you also tell the reader the genre of your story.

The Quest: Introduce the main characters, their back stories (briefly) and describe their goals. Include the antagonist.

Reversals 1 & 2: What are the first turning points created by the antagonist(s)? What conflicts occur and what action does the main character take; what decisions does s/he make that changes direction of the story?

Reversal 3: Describe where the main characters get to their lowest ebb, their black moment, and what they learn from this that changes them as people.

Climax & Resolution: What happens in the final confrontation between the protagonist and their antagonist? Give a sense of the excitement and action that takes place before… everyone lives happily ever after – or not. Who gets their just deserts? How do you tie up all the loose ends? Leave the reader with a final image portraying the hero in his/her new life and setting.

Once you have written these paragraphs, remove the headings and rewrite them so they flow as a convincing and intriguing summary of your story. If it’s running over a page (or 500 words), delete unnecessary words, tighten sentences. Treat your synopsis as you have your story: get feedback from others; rewrite, edit and polish after breaks away from it.

When perfect, send out to as many agents and publishers as suit you and your story. Start writing your next project. Don’t expect quick responses; call after a month (and monthly thereafter) and ask when you can expect to hear. Take rejection lightly and any feedback as gift; thank, then act on it and return to whoever gave it to you with appropriate revisions. Be persistent. Keep writing.

This is the last post in the series. Thanks for following. Rethink Press will be publishing the book of How To Write Fiction Without The Fuss in paperback and Kindle in October 2013. I will be back in September with a new series: “How To Write a Self Help Book”, and also in a new series of articles that Suze will be announcing soon. See you then!

For all the articles in this series check out the category “Fiction Without The Fuss.” Click on <<<— this link or go to the sidebar up a way on the right —>>>

Lucy McCarraher

Lucy McCarraher


Managing Editor, Rethink Press.


Meanwhile, let’s perfect your non-fiction, too…

“Banana Skin Words and how not to slip on them”...over 1,500 spelling and grammar tips to perfect your written English … INSTANT DOWNLOAD
“How To Write Winning Non-fiction”…all you need to know to write a good non-fiction book and get it published
…plus take a look at Lucy’s novels here

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