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Technical and follow-up advice for sending submissions

This post is the fourth and last part in a series about submitting unagented proposals to publishers. Start reading here!

In this part I will share a few tips for getting the technical specs of your email right. In the grand scheme of your submission, this is not as important as some of the other things I’ve talked about before, but still worth mastering. For one thing, consider that the editorial assistant who will first receive your submission is likely to be a millennial – one of those frightful creatures who learn to use an iPad before they can speak. So creating the impression that you are someone who knows their way around a computer can help distinguish yourself (most hopeful authors come across to these millennials as terminal Luddites).

Technical advice

This section only applies to submissions that are emailed.

Keep the subject line short. The subject line is not the place for introductions or sales pitches. Depending on the size of the recipient’s screen, most of your subject will be cut off, anyway, and look like this:

Long email subject lines

Make sure the total size of your email doesn’t exceed 5MB. If the email with all of its attachments is too large, your recipient’s email client may simply refuse to receive it. Maximum size limits may vary but you should be safe aiming for 5MB. If this seems too little, think about whether all the attachments are really necessary.

Send attachment files as pdfs. Most people send Word files, but there’s several benefits to making your document into a pdf instead:

  • none of your custom formatting will be lost. Pdf files are like a snapshot of your document taken the way you intended it, while the appearance of Word files can vary between computers, software versions and operating systems, causing text to be misaligned, fonts to change and all kinds of other havoc.
  • no one will be able to see your revision history. You can manually remove this from a Word file, but pdf’ing will save you the trouble.
  • smaller size. Depending on what you include in your document, turning it into a pdf can significantly reduce the file size, and make it easier for you to send and for your recipient to receive.
  • more professional. Opinion varies on this point, but to me a pdf always gives a better impression. A Word file can seem very unfinished with the little cursor still blinking at the end of the line and unless you’re versed in styles and page breaks,  your file may well arrive with the contents all jumbled up.

There’s one exception to this: if you are sending a long text-only document, many editors would prefer to get that as a Word file, so it can be read on a Kindle more easily.

Give files informative names. Short, sweet and informative is best, for example, ‘John Smith novel’.

Don’t share files, just attach them. Sharing a file in your Dropbox, Evernote or other service where the recipient needs to download it from a third-party site should be unnecessary. It can be time-consuming and sometimes their corporate network won’t let them download strange files from unsupported websites. If your file is too big to attach, make it smaller.

Use read-receipts judiciously. You can set up your email so that when it arrives, the recipient will be asked if they would like to send a ‘read-receipt’ – meaning, letting you know that they have received your message. In my experience, this always feels passive-aggressive. Using it with your first email sends the message that you think your submission is the most important thing to land in your recipient’s inbox today, which doesn’t bode well for the future. Your recipient will read things into it – particularly that you are probably the kind of person who is going to be chasing for a reply often. Don’t unnecessarily antagonise them before they’ve even seen your book idea! Consider only using the read receipt as a follow-up technique, if you have not received a reply in, say, a month.

Send the email to yourself first. When you think you’ve crossed all your t’s and dotted your i’s, send the email to yourself first. This way you’ll make sure it will travel well and what it will look like in your recipient’s inbox. Often your email will have a setting for how you want your name displayed, but because you probably don’t email yourself very often, you may not think about it. This is common with email addresses that aren’t your name – the sender field may say ‘londonwriter’ because that’s your email handle, but you might want it to display your actual name instead. You’ll be able to see this when you receive your email, among other things.

Follow-up advice

Be nice when following up to your submission. Consider that editorial assistants have their hands full with their existing titles, and they should rightfully take precedence over potential ones. Also, less altruistically, you’ll get better service if you’re nice. Remember that you’re fellow underappreciated geniuses and tell them you understand they’re busy. This works wonders, because they often feel like no one understands just exactly how busy they are, and then a particularly grateful editorial assistant may be more likely to aid your cause and perhaps move you to the top of the queue.

Keep calls short. If you have your recipient’s phone number, it’s okay to call them when you feel it’s been too long. But be wary of trapping them into a long phone call by reiterating everything you said in your email/letter or informing them of personal situations you may be going through. Like all busy people, editorial assistants will resent anyone who takes up their time unnecessarily. Just identify yourself and remind them which submission was yours, and politely ask whether they have got around to reading it yet.

Being a right nightmare works too. Awful but true – if nothing else seems to work, be so difficult that all any editorial assistant will want to do is get you off their back, aid your cause and move you to the top of the queue. Calling at least once a week is fantastic for this. (Not really advisable, all things considered.)


That’s it! That’s every piece of useful information I can think of from my experience of reading submissions emails and letters. I hope this has been useful – good luck!

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