To Submit a Manuscript

I’ve done a fair bit of submitting in my time, (nothing to do with BDSM, btw) and it occurs to me there are several methods, each of which has its advantages and problems.

Edgar Degas Portrait of Duranty

The first and most obvious way, is by recommendation: “Yes, I spoke to so-and-so and they say just send it in and they’ll be happy to take a peek”. How would you feel about such an opportunity? Ecstatic, uncertain, cynical? Such openings are rare, but valuable, so long as (a) this is not our first ever attempt at sending in a manuscript, and (b) we take the chance to research the agent/publisher’s requirements and (c) we write to the person by name, mention the referral and thank them profusely for their time. Chances are, it will take at least six months before any submission looks the part (though this is not a hard-and-fast rule). In any case, I would always suggest that you leave your best shot – best idea, best fit with publisher/agent – until last, and use some of your less promising shots as warm-ups. I can’t count the number of times I’ve thought a submission was perfect, only to spot a typo in the top line after I’ve pressed ‘send’.

Another way to submit might be called the ‘scattergun’ which, as the name implies, is probably the least reliable method to use. Basically, open the ‘Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’ at approximately the right page, scroll down and pick one agency that looks likely. The obvious disadvantages are that it is very ‘hit and miss’, and it also reinforces the notion that you are looking for a needle in a haystack, when, in fact, a careful trawl of your best options will show that the number of suitable agencies and publishers you might submit to is actually quite small. I would not recommend this method.

There is also the ‘cluster’ technique, based on a bit more research of the likely candidates. You might start out with a bit of the ol’ scattergun, but you narrow the field on any one day, to about three or four, and send them in a morning or afternoon. Having three or four to do at one time makes it clear that each submission is different, and that each publisher/agent has their own requirements. Clustering also allows you to tailor each approach more carefully, and because you send out three or four at one time, there is a sense of optimism about your chances. Not a bad technique, as long as you keep a note of everyone you submit to, and the outcome.

The last method I mention is probably the most organised. I used to hate being organised, thinking it somehow compromises artistic leanings. But here’s the thing: organisation actually saves time, repetition and tedium, so this is now my favoured method. Using the yearbook, I list every agency/publisher who is (a) accepting submissions, and (b) mentions my specialism in their listing. Then I look through my list, deleting those which, on reflection, are unlikely candidates. For example, your first list might include all agencies that look at film or theatre scripts, but on a second run-through, it becomes clearer that what you really want is an agency that mentions or specialises in radio scripts.

Then I gather contact names, addresses and website details for each entry, as well as preferred requirements for submission (email only, short synopsis, CV, cover letter?) and research every single agency/publisher listed and delete any which seem unlikely. I can keep the list, add to it, and submit when I feel like it. It’s much easier to learn from what we have already done and get a feel for what will work, though at the end of the day there are no hard-and-fast rules.

Thanks for reading.

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