Manuscript Submission Guidelines: How To Write A Publishing Proposal For Your Book

Posted at 18:55pm on 8th January 2009

It must be nearly twenty years, or so, since many of the major book publishing houses underwent a huge reshuffle. Secretaries suddenly found themselves elevated to the status of editors and, among certain authors, an aura of gloom and doom descended. Accompanying this sense of Last Times, was the advent of the (then un-named) hand-held digital devices which, it was said, were certain to spell The End for books.


Yet evidence shows that there are now more books published than ever before. Whether this is a Good Thing or not is debatable. Just as the internet has seen a proliferation in information and exchange of ideas, plus an accompanying increase in misinformation and drivel so, too, this has been reflected in an over-production of books, many of which fail to sell, and end up being pulped. In the real world, there has been a rise in celebrity books, both non-fiction and fiction, combined with Quit-your-day-job advances. I suspect I am not alone in thinking that this will not last, in today’s economic climate.

But one thing is certain: readers will always want stories – fact or fiction. Story-telling is probably as old as the human race. So by one means or another, writers will always be in demand. Whether they will make a living or not is another matter.


Assuming that you have a manuscript which is ready to submit (and I hope you’ve checked it against my earlier post: Manuscript Formatting) what should you now do to bring it to the attention of a book publishing agent, or editor? First let me say that it is widely believed that no publisher will be interested in your book unless you first have an agent. Secondly, it is widely held, that it is more difficult to secure the services of an agent than those of a publisher.

Rubbish! Every one of my earliest books was published as a result of my approaching a publisher direct. What’s more, my Bestseller, which reached No. 4 in The Sunday Times, was the result of a major publisher approaching me and offering me a commission. And with this behind me, I was then taken on by Curtis Brown, the Regent Street agency who also represented Mary Wesley, whose first novel was published when she was seventy years of age.

I hope that will encourage you. So – back to business with the following book proposal guidelines . . .


  • It should not be necessary, I hope, to say that you should first study your market to ascertain which book publishing houses are likely to be interested in the sort of book you have written. See my article, Writing & Publishing A Book: Ten Tips Before You Begin. For the English speaking world, The Writers And Artists’ Yearbook , The Writers Handbook, or The Writers’ Market are essential.
  • Neither, I’m sure, do you need to be told that your letter of proposal should be typed on good quality 100g paper (A4 in UK; 8.5 ins x 11 ins in USA) and that you should keep at least one hard copy.
  • Try to find out the name of the Agent or Editor you are writing to. A personal letter will carry far more weight than a Dear Sir or Madam . . .
  • Carry out an online search for the Agent’s / Publishers’ website if that information is not available in print. Either way, ensure that you are au fait with the submissions procedures for that particular company. They do vary.
  • That said, at some point – either to accompany your proposal letter or to follow it if invited to do so – you will need to produce a synopsis. We’ll deal with this next time.
  • For now, your letter should be short – no more than a page – and informative. It should contain the following details:


  1. Genre – Biography, Historical Novel, Self-help book on debt etc.
  2. Title.
  3. Word count.
  4. Brief (two/three lines) account of the story through the eyes of the main character.
  5. Theme.
  6. Market.
  7. Your current situation
  8. Your past publications, if any.
  9. A request to send the manuscript.
  10. A stamped, self-addressed envelope.



Dear Mr Malaprop,

I have just completed a 105,000 word novel, titled A Painful Post Mortem, and believe, from your website, that this is the sort of book in which you may be interested. Inspired by my own experience, it is the story of Claire, and her search for the truth when she learns that her once wayward daughter, Kat, has died suddenly, in suspicious circumstances. Unable to convince the authorities of her doubts, she is forced to overcome her feelings of deep distrust following her divorce from Kat’s father years earlier, and enlist his help. As the two begin to unravel the mystery surrounding their daughter’s death, they embark on a painful post mortem of their marriage during Kat’s adolesence.

My book, which comes into the category of Inspirational Fiction, includes a poem which I wrote, titled Death is but a Door. This has already created a good deal of interest on my website, and I think my novel would appeal to all parents who have lost children to drugs, as well as to those who are bereaved.

For the past ten years I have been working for a music publishing company but, prior to that, I had a number of books published, one of which reached No. 4 in The Sunday Times Bestseller list. I can send a curriculum vitae detailing radio and TV appearances if you are interested.

May I send you a synopsis of the novel, together with either the first three chapters, or the entire manuscript? I am enclosing a stamped addressed envelope, and would be delighted to hear from you as soon as you are able to respond.

Yours sincerely,

Mel Menzies

Finally, you may well have to wait six to ten weeks for a reply. It is now permissible to ring the publishing company after a couple of months to ask if your letter arrived safely. And it is, also, now permissible to make multiple submissions to publishing houses, providing this does not contravene the submissions policy of any one company.

What are you waiting for? Good luck! And don’t forget to let me know how you got on – or if I’ve forgotten anything.

Next Time: We'll look at How to compose a Synopsis

Author of a number of books, one a Sunday Times No. 4 Bestseller, Mel Menzies is also an experienced Speaker at live events, as well as on Radio and TV.

All proceeds from Mel's latest novel, A Painful Post Mortem, are for charities benefiting children worldwide. Buy a copy here and help raise cash for children like Rachel who, at 13 is mother to 6 kids orphaned by AIDS; or this project, drug-proofing teenagers in the UK.

Photograph courtesty of: zombie boogie photo at photobucket

Your Comments:

19th February 2009
at 1:58pm

Thanks for the info


6th March 2009
at 4:58pm

interesting site it really learns me a lot.


Christine Alt Parry
8th March 2009
at 4:50pm

Thank you for this wealth of information...I am new at
publishing and your site has helped me tremendously. I hope your
mother is recovering. :) Christine

8th March 2009
at 9:24pm

I'm so glad you've found it helpful reading my blogs and
wish you every success with your writing. Thanks, too, for your
best wishes for my mother. She's recovering - but slowly.

17th January 2013
at 12:29am
Thank you Mel Menzies,
The information you provided was exactly what I was searching for on Google and your website was the first in the search results. I've completed a book to help aspiring voice actors get started in professional voice over market, and I think it's time for me to send my manuscript to some publishers here in India.

I appreciate the way you described everything.

Thanks again!
Mel Menzies
17th January 2013
at 5:23am
I do hope your book proposal is successful Avdhessh; it sounds like an interesting proposition. It's encouraging to know that my blog post has helped you with your submission. Thanks for letting me know. I wish you well.
7th December 2014
at 9:30am
i was just asked to ghostwrite an autobiography (my first) and really didn't know where or how to start. This site really helped a lot in putting things into perspective.. Thank you!!!
Mel Menzies
9th January 2015
at 10:06am
Thank you, Marie. It's always gratifying to know that your efforts have helped others. I see you've commented on my article titled, Manuscript Submission Guidelines but I have, actually, written an article about ghost-writing. It should be under the category 'Resources for Authors' bottom left on my Home page. I'll try and find the title for you. Meantime, all the best with your endeavours.

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