Manuscripts, where do they end up?

Christine Borra

Ever wonder what happens to your manuscript when you send it to a publisher?

Your Books consultant Christine Anne Borra talks to publisher Mary McCallum from Makaro Press

“… writers are best to check out a publisher’s website and then follow the submission protocols to the letter.” – Mary McCallum

Mary McCallum talks about manuscript submissions.

Mary McCallum founded Mākaro Press in Wellington over four years ago. She runs the business with her son Paul Stewart, publishing mainly New Zealand fiction, poetry and children’s books, and some literary memoir.

Christine Anne Borra: As a publisher do you receive a lot of MS (manuscript) submissions?

Mary McCallum: Yes we do. We ask the authors to send an enquiry email first with a cover letter, synopsis and extracts, subject: ‘submission proposal’. We have been receiving 2-3 submission proposals a week from 1 March to 31 October, which is our submission window. Although every month it seems to increase a little, so who knows how many we’ll end up with! Of those proposals, we probably ask one in every five authors for a full manuscript.

Christine Anne Borra: Is there an industry standard way to submit a Manuscript to a publisher?

Mary McCallum: No there isn’t, writers are best to check out a publisher’s website and then follow the submission protocols to the letter. Some publishers don’t accept manuscripts unless they come through an agent, others want inquiries first, some have specific days of the week or times of the year to submit. It’s vital writers do what publishers say. Most can’t be bothered with people who haven’t bothered to find out what is expected of them.

In terms of the manuscripts themselves most publishers want them formatted as Word documents, in Times New Roman or Garamond, 12 pt and double-spaced with a good margin and page numbers included.  But do check first.

Christine Anne Borra: If you could advise authors prior to submitting their MSS of let’s say a checklist, what would be on that list?

Mary McCallum: Here is a checklist to help with the sometimes daunting task of Manuscript submission.

  • Pay for a manuscript assessment from a good assessor or editor, and follow-up any revisions recommended. You don’t have to accept them all, but at least consider what the assessor is saying. This is a big picture assessment that doesn’t look at grammar etc. (The NZ Society of Authors has a good list of assessors, publishers etc).
  • Read through your manuscript one last time before sending. Be honest with yourself. Is your opening chapter the best it can be? Your ending? (To think about: most first-time MSS don’t get going until chapter 2 or 3, and many endings come too quickly … just saying … )
  • Double-check real names of people, places, events, TV shows, shops etc. Double-check character names by running likely errors through a global search e.g. search for Chrissy if she’s called Chrissie. (These sorts of mistakes look sloppy).
  • Double-check formatting: dialogue, paragraphing, line breaks, page numbers, double spacing, good margins. (NZ publishers prefer single quote marks for speech and quotes. )
  • When you’re ready to roll, pay someone to proofread your book for formatting spelling and grammar mistakes (Again, these sorts of mistakes look sloppy).
  • Check the publishers you are thinking of submitting to – do they publish books like yours? If not, don’t bother. (Just a waste of time.)
  • Check out published books like yours – who published them? Why not see if they accept submissions? (Now you’re cooking).
  • If you need an agent – check out books like yours, who was the agent? If it’s not in the book, Google. (Like publishers, follow their rules of engagement.)
  • Follow submission protocols to the letter. If a publisher’s website is not clear about these, then email to ask. (If you don’t follow the protocols, you’re wasting your time.)
  • If the publisher asks for you to provide something you’re not sure about e.g. a proposal for how you’d help with marketing the book (this is happening!) get advice from someone who knows. (Don’t overdo it – a short paragraph is enough to answer these sorts of questions.)
  • Send off your submissions one at a time – publishers don’t generally appreciate authors submitting to two or three at once. Once the publisher has received your full manuscript, allow three months before emailing to ask when you might receive a decision, unless the publisher has already told you it will be longer.
  • If you get a rejection then reply to thank the publisher for considering your manuscript, asking for feedback if you haven’t received this. Many authors don’t respond to a rejection, and you never know if you may need to submit to this publisher again. Just because they didn’t want MS #1 doesn’t mean they don’t want MS #2.

Christine Anne Borra: I know how busy you are preparing books for publication, can you tell me how long it should take for a publisher to get back to an author, and should an author expect a reply at all?

Mary McCallum: We try to get back to authors within two weeks about a submission proposal, but haven’t always been good about this as we can get very busy. We have just changed our procedures, so should be able to reply within the week. For the full manuscript, we try to get back within two months, but it’s often more like three.

Christine Anne Borra: Does the presentation of the Manuscript matter? I have heard of authors send their MS wrapped up like a present or including fun supporting material, does this have an impact? 

Mary McCallum: No, I wouldn’t do anything gimmicky. In the end, it’s the material that counts and gimmicky stuff can get in the way or, worse, be annoying. You don’t want to annoy a busy publisher! Send it as the publisher has requested. Although if you have to choose between a cheap manilla folder and a smart plastic folder that snaps shut around the manuscript, I’d go with the latter as it keeps the paper under control!

Christine Anne Borra: If you could give advice to new authors prior to submitting their Manuscript what would be the top 3 must do’s?

Mary McCallum: Here is a quick checklist.

  • Submit to a publisher who publishes your sort of book.
  • Stick to the submission protocols to the letter.
  • Send off a clean and tidy manuscript.

Christine Anne Borra: What type of Manuscripts are Mākaro Press accepting at present and what is the best way for an author to get in touch with you?

Mary McCallum: We are looking for literary fiction (novels), poetry and children’s books – mainly junior and YA fiction, and we accept some literary memoir. We like work that is grounded in New Zealand and New Zealanders.

BIO: Mary McCallum founded Mākaro Press in Wellington over four years ago. She runs the business with her son Paul Stewart, publishing mainly New Zealand fiction, poetry and children’s books, and some literary memoir. She is an award-winning poet and novelist, and has worked as a radio reviewer, bookseller, creative writing tutor and broadcast journalist.



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