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The Red Pen: Presenting your work

Publishing Director and author Moira Forsyth is back on the blog today with a short, practical epilogue to her series of blog posts featuring advice for writers. We are not currently open to unsolicited submissions, but the tips in The Red Pen blog series will help you ensure that when we do reopen on June 13th, your book will be in the best possible shape. Find out more about our submissions window on our submissions page.

You’ve finished writing, and you believe you’ve also finished editing and polishing. So is your text ready to submit to publishers? Here’s a summary checklist, followed by some tips to make sure you get it right when you press ‘send’.


  • Edit, edit and edit again. How many versions have you written? How long have you spent working on this?
  • The beginning matters – and it’s probably the part that needs most revision
  • Have you got rid of novice writers’ habits? Too many adjectives and adverbs; too much ‘stage business’ around dialogue; characters exclaiming, declaiming, suggesting, offering, declaring etc. instead of just saying?
  • Is there a single exclamation mark that isn’t fully justified by the context? In other words, best to keep it to dialogue, and even then, be sparing.
  • Have you dealt with the problem of ‘show not tell’?
  • Print the text to read and check it. Don’t rely on reading on the screen to show up errors
  • When your eye keeps catching on a word or phrase when you re-read your work, there’s a reason for that – something isn’t quite right. Look again.
  • Make sure other people have read your work and commented on it to you. Good readers are invaluable to a writer.
  • Time – leave your work alone for a while, then come back to it with a cooler, critical eye


  1. Do your research (to find suitable publishers and agents. Check websites, Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook etc.).
  2. Check the guidelines for each publisher or agent and adhere to them when submitting.
  3. Write a good covering email. This is your pitch, the first thing the publisher will see and judge you by. Keep it short and to the point – don’t include your entire life story.
  4. Write a short synopsis[*] – one side of the page only. This doesn’t have to tell the whole story in detail.
  5. Send individual emails to each publisher/agent demonstrating an awareness of their work. Cut and paste is great, but you have to be careful not to send an email to Publisher X with a sentence saying how much you admire Publisher Y’s list by mistake! (This has happened to us.)

Sometimes, unwittingly, authors get it wrong – make sure you avoid these errors.


  • Always submit your latest and best. You might think it’s worth trying a publisher with an old novel lying about in a drawer. They will judge you by it, and be unwilling to look at anything else you send if they’ve rejected that because, for example, the standard of writing wasn’t high enough.
  • Do not send multiple submissions – this just looks as if you’ve not managed to publish any of the novels you’ve written and you keep sending out the early ones along with the latest.
  • Do not send a second email several days after the first with the correct ms (Sorry, I sent you the wrong version…..)
  • Do not send your text in a strange font in 16pt, photographs inserted in the text etc. Follow the publisher’s guidelines. We prefer one and a half spacing, but some publishers specify double.
  • Editors are unlikely to be impressed by epigraphs – i.e. quotes from famous or classical writers at the beginning of your novel. If their work is still in copyright, you will need to get permission to quote, and that can be time-consuming and expensive.
  • Check and check again that there are no obvious errors in the opening pages of the text
  • Don’t worry about trying to describe your novel as being like several other (famous) writers. Whether your novel is like any other is a matter for you, the editor and publicist to discuss when it’s been accepted for publication. For now, it’s only the quality of your work that matters. It is helpful if you can indicate the genre (thriller, romance) and the readership you have in mind. (Adult, Young Adult, mainly women etc.)


You’ve done all the hard work you can – trust to that, and good luck!

[*] Writers can find writing a synopsis harder than writing the book itself. Here are a couple of helpful websites:

Moira Forsyth

Moira Forsyth