Literary agents and publishers reject more manuscripts today than ever before—well more than 90%.

Though they want your submissions—they really do—and are sincerely hoping they’ll discover the next successful writer, the sheer volume of submissions causes many to not even respond unless their answer is Yes.

Check the Submission Guidelines of many agents and publishers and you’ll find they tell you this upfront—some variation of “If you don’t hear from us in due time, assume we’re not interested.”

That sounds as lazy and inconsiderate to me as it does to you. How hard is it in this day of single-keystroke technology to at least let a writer know, “Sorry, we’re passing”?

I tell you all this not to discourage you but to give you a realistic picture of what you face in the marketplace.

And I have advice on how to separate yourself from much of the competition to give yourself the best chance at landing a contract.

Make a great first impression by nailing your presentation. Your query letter or proposal must look like you know what you’re doing. Avoid amateur mistakes and put your best foot forward by applying these techniques:

10 Ways to Enhance Your Queries and Proposals

1. You’ve heard the advertising slogan Just do it. Learn to Just say it. Write as if talking to a  friend or writing a letter. Good writing is not filled with adjectives and adverbs. It consists of powerful nouns and verbs. Read what sells. You’ll usually find it simple and straightforward.

2. Avoid a colored or tinted screen background as your stationery, even if you did that when we all used real paper and snail mail. Editors universally see this as the sign of a rookie. The emphasis should be on your idea, content, and writing—not a fancy look. Black type on a white background is what they’re looking for.

3. Avoid boldfacing or ALL CAPS anywhere in a letter, proposal, or manuscript, and never use more than one font (typeface). Make sure that font is a serif type (not sans serif as this blog is). That means 12 pt. Times New Roman or something very similar.

4. Your manuscript should be aligned Left not Justified—which would make the copy on the right look like a published book. Justified Right causes awkward spacing between words to make it work, and you’re submitting a manuscript to be considered and hopefully edited, not a book ready for the printer yet.

5. While your letter can and should be single spaced, a manuscript, even transmitted electronically, must be double-spaced (not single- or triple-spaced, or even some variation just because it’s your computer program’s default choice). Also, delete extra spaces between sentences. Though you may have been taught to use two, one is what you want, because that’s how sentences appear in print.

6. Set the space between paragraphs to zero, not another default. There should be one doublespace, just like the space between lines.

7. Publishers are looking for positivity, even if your subject is difficult. Title your work Winning Over Depression, not Don’t Let Depression Defeat You.

8.The word by rarely appears on the cover of a book unless it is self-published, and even then it is the sign of an amateur. Your byline should consist of only your name.

9. Another amateur error is misspelling Acknowledgments (as Acknowledgements, a British variation) or Foreword (as Forward or Foreward or Forword). Foreword means “before the text” and has nothing to do with direction.

10. If the publisher asks for a hard copy (rare these days), your manuscript should not be bound, stapled, clipped, or in a three-ring binder. Send the pages stacked, each numbered and bearing your name.

What are you planning to submit next? Tell me in the Comments below.

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How to Write Dialogue That Captivates Your Reader