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Presentation advice for submission letters

This post is part 3 in a series of posts about submitting an unagented book proposal directly to a publisher. Start reading here!

This part is about presentation: giving your submission the best possible chance by making sure it’s straightforwardly presented and easy on the eyes. It would be nice if everyone reading submissions was able to see directly into the soul of a book just by quickly scanning your letter, but in reality they will need help in understanding why your submission is The One. You want to try and make the essential information leap at the reader with minimal effort on their part. Here are some ways to do that.

Short is better than long. The text that goes into the body of your email is the most important one (or, if you’re sending a physical letter, the first piece of paper the recipient will see). You may attach a synopsis, a sample chapter or any other material you want, but in order to get anyone to open attachments, the email needs to read interestingly. It should also be succinct. Aim to write an email that doesn’t require the reader to scroll down to see all of it. Lay out the following things about your book:

  • a short outline of the plot, if novel / a short description of the subject and your take on it, if non-fiction. A little piece of originality in a mostly informative, open-ended summary works well (as opposed to little information said very creatively). For example: My novel is about 16-year-old Hannah accidentally travelling to the future and finding out that she never grew up.
  • a short biography. Mention things that lend credibility to you as the author, if your book is non-fiction – any relevant education, past employers, published articles, television appearances or recognition you’ve won. If you have a novel, you can mention things that attest to your being an experienced writer, or anything that is interesting or unexpected about you as an author. For example, if you used to be a broker in the City, but quit to write this romance saga, mention it!
  • a short sales pitch, ie, why you think a publishing company should take a risk on it. Try to see your book from a pure business perspective and give concrete proof of what makes it a good prospect, if you can. Remember that while uniqueness can be a selling point, so can tying into an existing trend. If you’re feeling confident, you can admit that your book is a bit of a risk. Publishers can have a gambler’s addiction to taking on bets.

Don’t go overboard with HTML formatting in the body of your email. There’s better ways to stand out than using every HTML tag there is. Publishing companies enforce email policies for incoming emails, and email clients are often set to automatically strip out any HTML formatting, and your hard work will be in vain. Even supposing that that doesn’t happen, try to keep your email professional. Many guidelines that apply to sending job applications apply here too. Stick to the white background, black text approach – it’s clear and doesn’t draw undue attention to the surface (as opposed to the content) of what you have to say. One highlighter colour is enough, if you must have it. Special formatting can work wonders if used sparingly and strategically.

Don’t put any images into the body of the email. Email clients often also block images from previously unknown senders and your email will be left with a blank box with a big red ‘X’ in it. There’s no reason you couldn’t attach one, however, if it’s relevant.

Don’t send handwritten letters. Unless you’re a master of calligraphy and that’s the subject of your book, type your letter out, or get someone to do it for you if you can’t. Writing by hand is a wonderful touch in personal letters, but it’s not an appropriate form of business correspondence anymore.


Next: Technical and follow-up advice

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