How to Submit Your Manuscript for Publication

Written by Emily Harstone

When I finish the first draft of a novel, I always have a great surge of adrenaline. When I was younger, I would enjoy the thrill of completion for days and then start on a new project. It should surprise no one that my early efforts were not published (thank goodness). Now that I am older and wiser I know that the first draft is just that, a draft.

If you’re not sure if your work is a ready to submit, this article can be helpful. It covers the three steps you need to follow in order to make sure that your manuscript is ready to be sent out to agents or publishers.

I do really encourage writers to get feedback, either from beta readers or from a professional editor.

Once you are sure that your manuscript is ready, you can start submitting it. But realize that you still might have to make changes in order for it to be accepted by a publisher or an agent.

For a long time submitting seemed strange and mysterious to me. It seemed too overwhelming to actually do. In fact, for the most part submitting is relatively easy.

Most publishers and agents want the same two things — a query letter and a synopsis. They also expect an excerpt of your manuscript. This excerpt can be as short as 5 pages and as long as the whole manuscript, but many publishers and agents ask for the first 20 pages, which you can listen to me lecture on here.

It is good to have a basic query letter and synopsis that you modify to meet the needs of the given agent or publisher. Just make sure you send the correct version, it really annoys a publisher to receive submissions with another publisher’s name on it. The same goes for agents.

You should spend a lot of time and consideration crafting the query letter.  This is the first impression you will make on agents and publishers. This article is very helpful to read before starting your query letter.

It is important note that many publishers expect information about your author platform or marketing plan. Don’t know where to start in terms of an author platform? This article on Building an Author Platform is a great place to start.

If you meet a publisher or an agent directly at a conference, most want a pitch. A pitch can also be handy to include in your cover letter. Don’t know what a pitch is? This article talks about what it is, and more importantly, how to make a good one. This article goes into even more detail.

Not all publishers and agents require a synopsis, but many do. Most want a complete synopsis of the plot that fits on one page. By complete synopsis, I mean that they want spoilers. They also generally want information about character development. This article focuses on how to craft a synopsis.

It should go without saying, but edit and polish the query letter and synopsis. If you can afford an editor, get them to review the query letter, the synopsis, and also the first 20 pages. Twice. Or more. The first 20 pages of the novel are all that most agents and many publishers will initially see, so make sure they are compelling and error-free.

You should also make sure that your manuscript is correctly formatted; this website gives you the tips and tools to do that.

This article focuses on the common mistakes most authors make when they initially start submitting their work. If you know about these mistakes, it is much easier to avoid making them.

Once you have completed a query letter and a synopsis that you are happy with, start to research where you are going to submit your book. You can start your research earlier if you want.

One of the most important steps before submitting, for me, is to create a list of what you are looking for in a publisher. Make sure the list is realistic and take into consideration the current publishing industry. For example advances for debut fiction books are increasingly rare now, so expecting one, particularly without an agent, is not realistic.

Once you have put together this list, it’s time to start submitting to agents and/or publishers. Most agents and publishers now a days encourage simultaneous submissions, although if they prohibit simultaneous submissions, be sure to honor their expectations.

If you are focusing on finding an agent, this article on how to find, research, and evaluate literary agents is also very helpful. One of the best free reputable search engines for agents is Agent Query. So you can start looking for an agent there. Manuscript Wish List also does a good job.

If you are looking at submitting a manuscript directly to a publisher, our index of manuscript publishers is a good place to start. We always check watchdog sites before reviewing a publisher.

When examining a publisher’s website, this article will help you know what to keep an eye out for.

Remember there is no such thing as a legitimate traditional publisher that charges its writers. You should be paid by your publisher, not the other way round. Occasionally a publisher will charge a reading fee and nothing else. This is technically allowed within the confines of traditional publishing, although the fee should ideally be less than five dollars, and exist largely to cover the cost of operating their submissions portal, if they have one.

Some publishers can respond to submissions within weeks, others within a year, so keep that in mind. If you have not heard from a publisher in six months, you should email them to ask about the status of the manuscript, unless they explicitly say they will take longer on their website.

Agents generally have much quicker response times, and generally respond within two months.

Once you find agents or publishers that you feel would be a good fit, you should check and double-check their submission guidelines. This article is a great reminder of how and why following the guidelines is so important.

Most publishers accept electronic submissions through email or a submission manager, but a few still require submissions through the post. Either way, the publishers submission guidelines should walk you through the steps. The same goes for agents.

It is important not to submit to an agent or publisher if they say they are closed to unsolicited submissions. Your manuscript will not be read and in all likelihood you will annoy the person or persons who receive it, which could hurt your chances in the future.

Make sure that you track all submissions that you make so that you are not submitting the same manuscript to the same agents and/or publishers more than once.

Also if a publisher or agent says that they will respond within a certain period of time and they do not, make sure to send a follow up letter, politely inquiring about the status of your submission.

Hopefully this helps give you the courage, the motivation, and the information to start taking steps to turn your manuscript into a published books. If you have any additional questions please email me at

Emily Harstone is the author of many popular books, including The Authors Publish Guide to Manuscript SubmissionsSubmit, Publish, Repeat, and The 2021 Guide to Manuscript Publishers.

She regularly teaches three acclaimed courses on writing and publishing at The Writer’s Workshop at Authors Publish. You can follow her on Facebook here.


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