top of page
  • Sharon Dormer

Getting published the traditional way

Some wise advice from Hammond House Member, Sharon Dormer. Publishing is a business. Publishers and editors work with authors on projects to make money and gain a good return on investment. Here is some advice to help you.

Be polite and professional, this will help to endear you to commissioning editors. Your work may be rejected many times. The submission process takes dedication and persistence. This could take years. Novels and memoirs can be the most difficult to get published, as there is immense competition in these genres. Don’t be impatient and keep ringing your editor to query progress of your submission. This is a sure way to irritate and therefore lessen the chances of your work being accepted.

Don’t visit your publisher unannounced. If you have a relationship as an author already, make an appointment. With a traditional publisher, you have to give up a lot of power and control. The publisher gets to decide the cover, the title, the design, the format, the price, etc. You have to go through rounds of revisions and will likely have to change things you don’t want to change. Some publishers, however, will work with the author on cover design, formatting etc. Always listen to their advice though, they are the professionals.

Your work is more likely to be taken on if you are willing to be active in promoting your work. If you have media contacts, let them know. If you are an already established author this will also help to get your work accepted.

Non-fiction authors should be an authority in their subject in order to be qualified to write a book. Don’t write the book in order to become an authority.

When your work has been accepted, listen to your editor, they want to make the best book that they can. They are professionals, let them guide you. Don’t be defensive or argumentative. Work with your editor and your book will be more than you ever imagined.

How Long Should You Keep Trying? Some authors can be rejected many times, over a period of years, before being accepted. Don’t give up too quickly. Learn from why the work has been rejected.

Sometimes though your work may have to be put in the drawer because there is no market, or because it needs to be completely re-written. Your work will improve over time so if your first manuscript is rejected, keep writing, your second, third or fourth may be accepted.

Formatting your Word document: Make a good impression. Check spelling, grammar and punctuation. If it doesn’t look as if you have made an effort an editor or agent certainly won’t make the effort to read the work.

  • Use plain white A4 paper with a large margin all round (at least 4 cm).

  • Use Microsoft Word format (.doc) 12pt Times New Roman font. It should be double-spaced and printed on one side of the paper.

  • Indent paragraphs and include page numbers.

  • Have a cover sheet with the title and author name.

  • Pages should be loose and not stapled or bound.

  • Many publishers now accept electronic submissions.

  • Electronic versions of your manuscript should be in one file and not separate files for each chapter or section.

  • Include details such as word count, genre and target audience

If your manuscript looks good it will be viewed more favourably.

Submitting Make your contact with the editor count. The actual submission of the work is a last and important step. Use email or post as required, but make sure that the file or hard copy conforms to the publication requirement, always note the guidelines for cover page and author identification on the manuscript.

Since most submissions are now electronic, either by email or through a submission system, be sure to name the file as required. If no requirements are stated use your name as the file name. Send a concise and relevant cover letter. Include the title of your work and any details that will enhance the acceptance of your work.

When formatting your work, less is always better, do not use unnecessary returns. Use the formatting features of your computer. Bold and italics should be used sparingly and only within guidelines of the required style sheet.

When submitting cited writing, the list of references is part of the manuscript, even if separated by a page break. Be sure to include the references list as part of the submitted manuscript. Also be sure to include all proper citations in drafts and first submissions. Do not submit a piece and state you plan to add your references later; no one can adequately respond to a work requiring citations without full and proper documentation and the necessary list of references.

Take care to provide an interesting and relevant title for all writing, noting the formatting guidelines. Every publisher has unique requirements for submitting your materials. The most common materials you’ll be asked for are as follows:-

A one-page pitch letter that gives a brief description of your work.


The synopsis should include the main characters and their motivations, tell the whole story including the ending. It should also include the important parts of the plot, the significant events, how these affect the characters and be written in the present tense. Make sure you include the title, genre, word count (of Synopsis full manuscript) and author name.

Don’t make it too long, editors have a lot of reading to do and a twenty page synopsis may not fit in with their time constraints. Between one and five pages is preferable but do check any submission guidelines a publisher may have.

Spelling grammar and punctuation should be checked carefully, a badly written synopsis may indicate to the editor that the book is also badly written.

The synopsis can be written before the book, this will help with the plotting. After the book is written you can go back to the synopsis to make any changes. Alternatively, you can wait until the book is completed and you know exactly how it turns out.

The synopsis is the marketing tool for your book. Will it grab the attention of the reader and make them want to read the manuscript? Ask the opinion of family and friends. It is important to get the synopsis right, if the editor or agent doesn’t like the synopsis they are unlikely to look at any sample chapters. It is worth taking your time over

Sample Chapters

When sending sample chapters from your novel or memoir, start from the beginning of the manuscript. (Don’t select a middle chapter, even if you think it’s your best.) For nonfiction, any chapter is usually acceptable.

Covering Letter

The covering letter is the tool for writers seeking publication. It’s essentially a sales letter that attempts to persuade an editor or agent to request a full manuscript or proposal.

Important: Almost no agent or editor accepts full manuscripts on first contact. This is what “No unsolicited materials” means when you read submission guidelines. However, almost every agent or publisher will accept a one-page query letter unless their guidelines state otherwise.

After you send out queries, you’ll get a mix of responses, including no response at all, which is usually a rejection. (But re-send just to be sure.) A request for a partial manuscript and possibly a synopsis. A request for the full manuscript.

When your book is finally published, people will have lots of things to say about it. Some good, some maybe not so good. Listen to it all and learn what you can from it, this will all help you improve future work. Revision requires patience and can even be painful at times, but it’s the only way your writing will ever improve. Following these six keys to revision will help you find the path that leads to making your story as wonderful as it was always meant to be.

bottom of page