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The Dos and Don’ts of Manuscript Submission

Selina Walker is one of Penguin Random House’s most experienced editors, and will be leading The Writers’ Academy‘s next 10-week long course, Creative Writing for Beginners.

During her career, Selina has acquired, edited and launched works such as the two phenomenons that were Before I Go To Sleep by S. J. Watson and Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, as well as brand name authors Tess Gerritsen and Mo Hayder. At Cornerstone she heads up the Century and Arrow imprints, home to a remarkable stable of authors from Kathy Reichs to Hugh Howey, James Patterson to Katie Fforde.

We had the pleasure of asking Selina about her experience as an editor and her top tips for writers.

What is the first thing you look for in a newly submitted manuscript?

A good title and a strong first chapter (I know – that’s two things). I judged a first chapter competition a few years ago, and you’d be amazed how many hadn’t considered the reading experience – and it was a competition! First impressions are important, and most editors are time-poor with deep inboxes. A strong opener is always a really good thing!

Is there anything that will put you off straight away?

Poor spelling and grammar. Asking me to look at your ‘fictional novel’ (novels are always fictional), is also a guaranteed no-no.

What advice would you give someone before submitting a manuscript to a publisher?

Make sure the publisher you’re submitting to accepts unsolicited manuscripts (many – including Random House – do not). And if you have a contact within a publishing house (a friend, family member, or someone you’ve met at a writing course, for instance), do make sure to send it to them, having spoken to them first. Personal contacts can count for a lot in publishing.

Is there anything aspiring writers can do to help get their writing noticed?

Enter competitions, go to writing courses and events, talk to other writers, join writing groups. There is way more exposure online for aspiring writers these days than there was even a few years ago. Above all, keep writing and keep looking for ways to showcase it.

Should writers approach a publisher with a complete manuscript?

No, writers should find out – generally by visiting publishers’ websites – what publishers want in the way of submissions. Mostly it’s a good submission letter, an outline and a couple of chapters – but it’s worth checking every time. The worst thing you can do is send an entire manuscript (which may have taken you several years to write) to a publisher who doesn’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, with no personal or named contact. You may never see it again!


This content was brought to you by The Writers’ Academy. The Writers’ Academy offers creative writing courses from the world’s largest publisher, Penguin Random House. Join world-class editor Selina Walker for the next online course, Creative Writing for Beginners, starting 22nd September. Receive feedback, guidance and advice from world-renowned authors and editors from Random House.

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