How do I approach an editor, agent or publisher?

I was asked to give a talk at the Robina Library some time ago and part of the presentation was on how to present a proposal to an editor, agent or publisher. There’s actually no one correct way, but if you follow the guidelines below you probably won’t go far wrong.

  • Use an easy-to-read font such as Times New Roman or Courier New. Many publishers want Courier New so maybe check their guidelines. This definitely applies to screenplays.
  • Increasingly, submissions are done online, but if the publisher wants a hard-copy submission, then print on one side of the paper only.
  • Use wide margins, that is, 3cm rather than the standard 2.54cm.
  • Check the publisher guidelines to see if your submission should be fully justified, that is, have even margins, or left justified, that is, the right margin will be jagged. If in doubt, use left justified.
  • Preferably don’t indent anything in your covering letter, and don’t use bold, italics or underline.
  • Make liberal use of bullet points in the covering letter rather than huge blocks of text.
  • Insert a header for each page with your name, the year and title of your MS.
  • Insert page numbers at the bottom of each page.
  • Start each element of your proposal on a new page and label each sector clearly.
  • Use a bulldog clip, a strong elastic band or string, or a simple document folder in a bright colour to hold it all together. Don’t use plastic covers or bind it in any way.
  • If possible, keep your presentation as professional as possible. Use a letterhead even if it’s one you make up on your own computer. 
  • Write your covering letter in the third person.
  • Use strong nouns and verbs.
  • Avoid pronouns, adverbs and adjectives.
  • Use simple language, but don’t be condescending.
  • Avoid long sentences.
  • Be professional and don’t try to be ‘clever’.
  • Make sure your covering letter is free of errors. This seems obvious, but it’s really important. If your spelling and grammar is not that good, you may employed an editor to polish your MS and then fall down because you didn’t get anyone to vet your covering letter and proposal.
  • Don’t send in your ideas for the cover art. Leave this to the professionals.
  • Take time over your proposal. Much as you wouldn’t send in the first draft of your completed MS (would you?), don’t send in a half-baked proposal. Give it time and go over it a number of times to make sure it’s right. Get feedback from other people who have your best interests at heart.

Are you an editor, agent or publisher? Any comments or feedback would be welcome.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Writers

Leave a Reply