I get emails like this one all the time:
I can’t publish this as […] do to the fact that I cite Mormon scriptures. So I would like to copyright in with you. my work is far from done but I would like to see what you thinks. [document was attached]
At least once a week, someone asks me to publish their manuscript, or look at it and give free feedback. (I don’t do that here.) And many of the questions I get have typos or incorrect vocabulary and grammar. (I almost always clean those up before posting, unless I want to make a point.)
(Today, I’m making several points.)
I am using this particular email as an example—not to poke fun or belittle, but because it contains examples of several common errors that I often see. This is a teaching moment. I don’t judge you here—just point out how to do things differently and correctly, so you’ll present yourself and your manuscript in a way that will give you the most mileage for your efforts.
As an unpublished author, your job is to make a good impression on the agent, editor, or publisher whom you want to have consider your work for publication.
1. Do your homework.
— Make sure the person you’re contacting actually IS an agent, editor or publisher.
— Make sure they are looking for your type of manuscript. You don’t want to send a religious work to a fantasy publisher, or a mystery to a company that specializes in romance.
— You can usually find these details on the company website under the About tab or in their Submissions Guidelines.
2. Understand the industry and vocabulary.
— Do some reading up on basic terminology and how things work in the publishing industry. You will need to be able to discuss terms and topics. Go to your library and look for books on publishing and self-publishing. Some of them will be pie in the sky nonsense, and some will be deep, dark depression. But amid those, you’ll find some very helpful jewels.
— I recommend this book The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing by Marilyn Ross (Not because I think you should self-publish—although you may choose that route—but because it gives a good overview of the business of publishing.)
— You do not copyright your work with a publisher. Sometimes your publisher will officially register the copyright of your work with the U.S. Copyright Office but the copyright remains with you.
3. Write a good query.
— A query is the initial contact you have with an agent or publisher. The email above is essentially a query.
— A good query has enough information to allow the agent or publisher to determine if it’s a topic they’d be interested in.
— A good query highlights a writer’s basic writing skills. (See #4 below.)
— If I were an agent or publisher (and at this website, I’m not), the only thing I know about this manuscript is that it cites Mormon scriptures.
— Some agents and publishers will put sample queries or query guidelines on their websites. Follow those carefully.
— Or Google “how to write a good query“. (Click the link. Seriously. It will make you smile.)
4. Check and double check your query.
— Check for misspelled words.
— Check for typos or auto-corrects that corrected wrong.
— Check for grammar errors, punctuation, capitalization.
— Once it’s perfect, set it aside for a day. Then check it again.
— Have someone else read through it.
— Email it to yourself and read through it again.
— Check it one last time before clicking the Send button.
5. Do not attach a document.
— Unless their website specifically says to do so, do not attach a document to your query email. Most agents and publishers will delete those unopened. Like I did.
— If your query piques their interest, the agent/publisher will then request a document and will send you instructions on how to deliver it.