9.30.2006

But, but...my friends tell me!

Dear Miss Snark:

I have recently completed a manuscript that I would like to send to Harlequin. On their website, they state they want a synopsis no more than two pages, single spaced, and a query letter. Several members of my writing group have advised me to send a longer synopsis, double spaced, and the first three chapters along with the query letter. They claim they have gotten requests for full manuscripts.

My question is, do I take the chance and send the first three chapters or do I go strictly by Harlequin's guidelines and send only the query and two-page synopsis?

Thank you for your time.


Let's see if I have this right.

Option 1: do what the publisher asks
Option 2: don't do what the publisher asks

I'm sure your friends are trying to be very helpful by advising you to disregard the posted guidelines. After all, they work at Harlequin, right? They're the ones reading the submisssions right? They have experience to draw on other than their own, right?

Is it clear yet?

31 comments:

Kimber An said...

Always do exactly what the guidelines say! Exactly. They post them there for a reason. If you don't follow them, they get irritated and chuck your query straight back into the SASE, probably without even reading the first line. They probably think someone who doesn't follow the guidelines is either unintelligent or thinks he or she can do whatever the heck he or she wants. From what I've read, agents don't like to work with either kind of author.

Kim said...

Please, please, pul-eeze.... do what the publisher asks. That's why they put the guidelines up in the first place.

Of course, Harlequin probably wouldn't reject a manuscript because the synopsis is double-spaced, but why give them a reason to wonder what else you'd do your own way instead of the way they want it?

Good luck!

word ver - zykycmyy
long enough for ya?

Anonymous said...

Many months ago, a commentor on this blog advised writers to send the first 50 pages regardless of what the agent's website said, stating that he/she had received multiple requests for partials/fulls based opn that practice.

Stupid little me: I tried that approach - got 100% NO's or no response at all (unlike other query forays where I had always received several requests for material.

Bad, bad idea not to follow guidelines of agent/publisher. Don't be a toady like me.

Kim Stagliano said...

Do you have your closet organized in a certain way? Shoes here, shirts there, belts and leg warmers over on that side?

If I came to your closet, pushed the skeletons aside and rearranged everything while you were at the record store buying a copy of Frank Sinatra's "My Way," would you have a tough time getting dressed the next morning if NOTHING was where you expected it to be? Might take you a lot longer than usual right?

Maybe (says the virgin writer who knows nothing)the agents and editors have guidelines so that they can read the plethora of submissions more easily?

Why give them ANY reason to reject you before you even get started? Follow the guidelines and GOOD LUCK! Hope you get published.

KIM

Kim

Debby G. said...

And the reason no one asked to see more than your first 50 pages is that you broke the rule, right? Not that your manuscript wasn't that good or marketable, of course. No, no, it couldn't be that.

I still think one should always send at least a sample of one's manuscript. When I was preparing for a workshop I gave at SCBWI Nationals in August on breaking the rules, I asked my published author friends which rules they successfully broke when starting out. Many of them sent samples of their work with the query letter, regardless of whether this followed the "rule." or not. This was the one rule which my published friends broke the most.

I'd prepare the synopsis in the manner requested by the publisher though.

Anonymous said...

If you are worried the guidelines posted on the site might be old, you can request guidelines be sent to you.

Anonymous said...

Of course follow the rules on the website about the submission, but I'd be inclined to break them to the extent of adding in 2-3 pages of the book, just to prove I can write. I don't think that would annoy them the way 2-3 chapters might, and in the case of something literary and low-concept (is that the opposite of high-concept?) like my work, letter-plus-synopsis doesn't doesn't begin to convey what kind of creature it is.

Janet Black said...

I opt for following the guidelines.
Because that's what the publisher said. However, believe it or not, lots of publishers will answer the phone and speak to you in person (well, a hired person will). You can explain that your writer friends have had good luck sending something else, and see what that hired person advises. I'll be he/she says to follow the guidelines. Good luck with it!

Diana Peterfreund said...

Harlequin has an amazing website, complete with very through submission guidelines (more than a page) for each and every line.

I'm talking REALLY thorough. For instance, it says if you are submitting to the London office for the line called "Mills & Boone Modern Romance" you should submit "three chapters and a synopsis" and if you are submitting to the Kimani Press Arabesque Inspirational Romance line, you should do the same. And if, perchance, you are submitting to HQN books, and you are unagented, you must query first. And if you are thinking of submitting to MIRA, you can forget it, because they only take agented submissions.

Since they DO get that specific, with different guidelines from line to line, would it not behoove you to follow the directions? And, if you have any questions about the correct submission format, they have a lively and well-informed forum populated by authors, aspiring authors, moderators, and editors, and you can GO to the thread for the line you are submitting to and ASK which format that line prefers.

Kim said...

Eeek! 50 pages??? At most, if you absolutely MUST send them a sample, make it no more than five.

In my dealings with editors and agents, this is acceptable. Fifty? Wow - I can't imagine sending that clear out of the blue. And I guess you learned that as well, only the hard way. But buck up - now you know and you can always try, try again!

Anonymous said...

I am not a published author. I am not an agent. I am not a publisher. I am a know-nothing, wannabe-published-someday writer. But I sure as shit know NEVER to ask anything remotely close to "Should I disregard submission guidelines when submitting?" EVER.
Uber-nitwit doesn't even come close in this case.

Anonymous said...

Friends try to mean well...mostly they give advice just to shut you up. But the professional bottom line is, do what they state. They post their submission guidelines for a reason.

Imagine if you were in their position and due to the popularity of your publishing/agenting services, you were bombarded with 50 + submissions per day. Of those 50, 20 have not submitted an SASE--they're out. 15 have submitted entire manuscripts--they're out. Now you're down to only 15. Tough? No--realistic.

Do what they ask.

Yasmine Galenorn said...

The publishers know what they want, as do agents. FOLLOW their directions--they are the ones requesting the material, they have their reasons for requesting what they do. My agent wanted the first 100 pages of my book when I first queries her. Not the entire manuscript, not fifty pages, not the first three chapters, not 101 pages or 99...she wanted 100 pages and a brief synopsis. That is exactly what I sent. She's been my agent for four years now.

Your writing may not be good enough to get you through the second door, but you have to get in the first to have a chance at all. Editors and agents don't have time to screw around with people who don't listen.

M. Takhallus. said...

Pretty much everything we've sold has involved disregarding submission guidelines. Sold a 60 book series over the transom by sending three samples, a 40 page "series bible" complete with my own pitiful illustrations, and six or eight already published books.

But then again, every now and then someone jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge and survives. Doesn't make it a good idea. So do what the weenies at Harlequin ask you to do.

Chiron O'Keefe said...

I too suggest that you always follow the guidelines, and as Diana pointed out, check the specific guidelines for the specific department/agent you are targeting. Always.

If you double-space the synopsis, it will automatically be longer (this is straight Logic 101) which defeats the purpose, and while writing a two page synopsis is as much fun as yanking out your own teeth (without nitrous... *sigh*), it's all part of the lovely challenge of Being A Published Writer. If your goal is simply to be A Writer Who Submits And Gets Repeatedly Rejected then by all means ignore the guidelines. *tongue firmly in cheek*

Any writing group that recommends you ditch the specific guidelines needs a good poke with a sharpened pencil! If you are submitting to Harlequin, I recommend you check out RWA (Romance Writers of America), which has chapters all over the place, including on-line (RWAOnline).

Though, I will say that Miss Snark *bows and offers buckets of gin* recommends always sticking in a small sample of your writing (five pages max ).

Good luck with your submission!

lizzie26 said...

And that is why I don't like writing groups.

Anonymous said...

What kinds of friends are those? Follow the guidelines. And don't forget the SASE.

Anonymous said...

The last graf of my query letter typically says something like: "In keeping with your submission guidelines, I have enclosed a two-page synopsis in purple ink, the first ten prime-numbered pages, a French translation and an SASE."

Or whatever their guidelines call for. WHATEVER they call for. Exactly.

Anonymous said...

Dearest sarcastic little debby g.:

The fifty pages was an experiment that blew up in my face. Within weeks of sending those 50-page queries (6 of them), I also sent 8 more queries with exactly what was asked for, including sample pages when an agent requested them.

And guess what?

Of the eight queries, three asked for more material. One is currently reading a full.

No, no. It couldn't be the writing and it WASN'T!

But thank you little Debby for asking.

Little Debby said...

But that just means you have a good query letter, right? I think I recall a certain agent saying it's all about the writing.

"Little" Debby? Thank you, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Nope. The request for the full came after the agent read the first fifty pages.

The "little" does not apply to your physical size but the size of your mind. Your original comment was rude and small-minded.

The reason I shared my story about ignoring guidelines and sending 50 pages was to save other writers from making the same mistake. Most commentors on this blog come here to be helpful to other writers, not to make them feel badly for their mistakes.

Cynthia Reese said...

Diana P. has exactly the right approach here -- as a newly-contracted author with Harlequin, I can tell you that the writing guidelines are extremely thorough and specific to what each line's editors want (or don't want) to see

If a line only wants a query, do NOT send anything but a query. If a line wants a partial, send only the partial and a brief synop. And remember that a two-page single-spaced synop would be about the same as a four-page double-spaced synop, so we're not talking uber short. Uber short is when you get pubbed and they ask you to turn in a three PARAGRAPH synop.

Harlequin, one of the last major houses that routinely buys from unagented writers, gets inundated with submissions every day. Why stick out in a bad way from the get-go?

Little Debby said...

I'm sorry that sending 50 pages didn't work out for you, Little Anonymous. Good luck on your full.

It worked well for me. I sent agents my entire manuscript, I got representation, and five years later I'm still with my agent and she's sold a lot of books for me.

I do agree with Miss Snark that it's mostly about the writing. If you have a marketable manuscript, I think you should show it to agents instead of hoping they'll be intrigued by your query letter.

Little Anonymous said...

Thanks for the good wishes, Little Debby. Same to you.

Anonymous said...

I have a question that someone touched on that I would like to confirm. I read (either Miss Snark or Kristen) that it was ok (actually suggested) to ignore the guidelines to the extent of sending the first three pages to an agent. Any thoughts?
Ducking thrown bricks
Johnwrt1

jude calvert-toulmin said...

> Let's see if I have this right.

> Option 1: do what the publisher asks
Option 2: don't do what the publisher asks

Ha ha ha :) Excellent post :)

Anonymous said...

As someone who is one of those "hired people", as janet black so un-eloquently put it, don't call the publisher. Especially if the guidelines are posted on the website. That's why we posted them in the first place. So people wouldn't need to call. 'Cause when you call, I'm going to direct you to the website and hang up the 'phone as quickly as possible. Why? Because I'm busy working on books we're getting to press.

Not all publishers have a huge staff; many are just a few people doing 5 things at once, and the authors that we've already signed would really like us to pay attention to their work, not your phone call.

And as for breaking the rules, why would anyone consider it? I have a four drawer filing cabinet for submissions. That's it. The reason our submission guidelines don't ask for your whole manuscript is because we have a limited amount of space and a limited amount of time.

The rule-breaking idiots who send me entire manuscripts are returned immediately; the folks who call and pitch me over the phone are dismissed because I CAN'T TELL IF YOU'RE A GOOD WRITER BY THE SOUND OF YOUR VOICE.

I know writers think that they're doing publishers a favour by sending a literary masterpiece. But you're also asking that publisher to take on the financial responsibility (in the tens of thousands of dollars) to publish your book.

You wouldn't break the rules filling out a loan application at the bank, would you?

Sorry to be so snappish, but I just got a 400 page submission and a 'phone pitch, and I haven't had my coffee yet.

wonderer said...

johnwrt1 - According to the esteemed Miss Snark, it's okay to send the first five pages along with your letter.

Sherry Decker said...

One of my best friends works with the mother of the author (follow that?) who wrote 'Ella The Elegant Elephant' (and sequels of the same cute character). She and her husband (the illustrator) did not follow the guidelines. Most guidelines by major publishers will say DO NOT send a notebook (assembled with a cover and illustrations). In other words, do not try to make it look like a book. They did anyway. The publisher himself responded, buying the book and sent a contract for the first and the next (I think) five books. Honest.
So, if you're incredibly creative, and artistic and fabulous, go ahead and break the rules. if you're like . . normal, regular, I advise following the guidelines closely. Good luck, though.

Anonymous said...

Stop with the stories about the now-famous writer who broke the rules, got published, and made a zillion dollars.

These are the kind of examples that only fuel people's sense of entitlement to submit manuscripts that aren't in accordance with the publisher's guidelines.

I know you're mommy thinks you're the most special person in the world. But chances are you are not the exception to the rule.

Just follow the guidelines, people.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if anyone is still following this thread, but the reason some Harlequin lines ask for query and synopsis only is for the plot--not the writing. If the plot isn't what they're looking for, they'll pass. Plot lines go in and out of fashion rapidly in the romance market.