Response to Josi from the comments trail:
I’ve heard the same thing from up and coming writers–just sure that they need to stand out to the publishers and that submitting is just a formality anyway. Maybe you could blog about what a publisher expects to receive. I know there are details that vary between publishers but there are some general standards and maybe knowing those things would give submitting writers something to build on as they research specific publishers.
1. Finish your manuscript. Have it reviewed and critiqued by readers who know something about books and grammar and plot, etc. Make changes.
2. Research publishers and make a list of those that publish the type of book you’ve written. Prioritize them according to which you’d most like to publish your book.
3. Do in-depth research on each of the publishers on your list. Go to their websites and carefully read their submission guidelines.
4. Divide your list according to who takes simultaneous submissions and who requires exclusives.
5. Decide if you want to send out multiple submissions first (to all those who accept them) or if you’re going to submit one at a time.
6. Prepare your submission according to the publisher’s guidelines. Most of them will be similar with only slight customization needed.
7. If they ask for query only, send only a one page query letter. If they ask for query plus partial, send your query and however many pages they ask for. If they don’t say, send 10 to 40 pages/1 to 3 chapters. If they ask for entire manuscripts, send your query letter and the entire manuscript. If they don’t specify what they want, I suggest the middle of the road–a query and pages. That will give them a taste of your writing ability, but won’t cost you as much.
8. I also really appreciate a brief summary outline that gives me a one or two sentence description of what happens in each chapter. Briefly describe the plot twists and give away the ending. Most publishers won’t mind if you include this, even if they ask for query only. (This will save us both time if it’s not something I’m looking for. If the concept is good, but the first chapters are slow or need work, I may ask you to fix it and resubmit. If I don’t have an outline, I’ll quit reading and just reject. I won’t read through to the end of a mss that needs work just to see how it ends.)
9. Query: One page, white paper, standard business style, 10 or 12 point type, standard font (Times), single spaced. Read up on this online or at the library. Try to find some samples of successful queries. (Kristen Nelson posted some a while back.)
10. Pages and/or full manuscript: White paper, single-sided, 10 or 12 point standard font, double spaced. Center the title and your full name, address, phone and e-mail on the title page. Also include the word count. On the rest of the pages, put your last name, abbreviated title in the top left; page numbers in the top right margin. Read up on this too.
11.Unless they specifically say they accept electronic submissions, submit on paper via snail mail. If they accept queries by e-mail, they will usually ask for them to be included in the body of the e-mail, not as attachments.
12. If they ask for a SASE, include one. If they don’t ask for a SASE, include one. This is standard protocol. A SASE is a self-addressed, stamped, #10 envelope.
13. If you want you manuscript back, send a larger SASE with enough postage for the return trip instead of the #10 envelope. However, most of the time it is not worth the expense to have it returned. It will usually not have notes and it will be beat up and unable to be sent to another publisher.
14. Be polite. Be professional. Spell check everything before printing. Check to be sure your personal information is correct. Check it again. Make sure the editor’s name and company name is spelled correctly.
15. Be patient. The process takes some time.