How To Package a Submission

We’re getting to the really picky, picky, picky stuff now. I’ll talk paper, envelopes, and even email. EXCITING!

I’ll cover paper submissions first, then electronic submissions.

Paper Submissions

When guidelines don’t specify the method of sending the package, assume your submission will go on paper and be delivered by a postman. This is the typical way submissions are carted around when you’re submitting things yourself. So let’s talk about the kind of paper you’ll want to use.

In general, if the paper you have is BLANK (before your print your manuscript), white, flat, 8.5”x11″, and you can’t see through it, look no more! This sort of paper is perfect. It’s also known as laser jet paper, inkjet paper, multi-purpose paper, or copier paper. The weight is 20 lbs. The brightness 87 or higher. If you want to step it up a notch, you can, but I’d go no higher than 24 lb. Any heavier and your manuscript will feel like cardboard. And your awesome paper might be upstaging the writing that’s on it.


  • For 5 to 7 pages or less, you may use a #10 business envelope. Self-stick, licky-kind, whatever.
  • For 5 to 7 pages or more (you be the judge for how hard it is to slip your submission in and out), consider bumping your envelope size to a 9×12 white or manila clasp envelope.
  • If your manuscript is so freaking huge it won’t fit into a 9×12, REVISE YOUR MANUSCRIPT and make it shorter. Ha! I was kidding. You’ll need a 10×13 white or manila clasp envelope. I assume you’ve already done the research about word-counts and revised your manuscript to the hilt already.
  • For self-addressed-stamped-envelopes (SASEs), use another #10 or #9 envelope. The #9 lets you slip the SASE in without having to fold the envelope. If you wish to have your entire manuscript returned to you, enclose an appropriately sized envelope for your manuscript’s return.

Here’s The Type of Packaging That I’ve Heard Is Frowned Upon

  • Boxes
  • Crazy padded, bubbly, tissue-y paper stuff
  • Plastic bags
  • Ummm…suitcases?

How To Put It All Together

  1. Print out the documents you want to mail (query letter, ms, synopsis, whatever). Read the post, How To Interpret Kludgy Submission Guidelines if you’re not sure what you’re supposed to be including.
  2. Double-check or have a friend check for you. Make sure all the pages are there and you’ve nabbed misspellings and missing words, etc.,
  3. Order the papers in a logical fashion (cover or query letter first, then the rest in whatever order makes sense to you.)
  4. RESIST THE URGE TO USE PAPER CLIPS, BINDER CLIPS, RUBBER BANDS, etc., unless you’ve heard the agent or editor state a preference. I’ve always taken the – if I don’t know, I don’t do it – stance on this.
  5. If your submissions are small enough for a regular envelope, fold in thirds. Otherwise, leave flat.
  6. Slip your SASE in front of your cover or query letter. I put it in front because I don’t want the agent or editor to wrongly assume I’ve forgotten the really important stuff. Which is the SASE. Ha! I kid, but not really.
  7. Finally, address the outside of the envelope in black or blue ink like you learned in school. Your return address in the upper left. Their address in the middle. Optional: print your address labels – always recommended, for delivery accuracy and especially if you’re handwriting is shameful. If you don’t know how to print address labels, I’m not going to go into that here. But there are instructions on the products you purchase. With your printer if it has that feature. And in your word processor if you search Help.

Postage/Mail Carriers

  • Remember this: unless you receive explicit instructions that are contrary, DO NOT FEDEX, UPS, DHL your submissions. 1) It’s costly 2) Your manuscript won’t get read any faster and 3) Dome agents or editors think you’re thinking #2, and they’d like to prove you wrong. But an equally strong argument against it is 4) If the agent or editor isn’t “present” when the package must be signed, they’re going to be maddened by all those notices to sign for your lame-o slush package.
  • So think United States Postal Service, first-class mail. NO SIGNATURE REQUIRED or any of that funny business.
  • It’s always handy to have a postage scale so you can properly weigh and stamp your submissions without having to run to the post office BUT…
  • …If your package is a 1 lb or more, you’re going to have to go to the post office and/or hand-deliver it to your mail carrier.
  • I’m not going to post the rates for domestic U.S. mail because…let’s face it, the rate changes every two seconds. So be sure you know what the rate is and if you are aware there will be a hike in six months, your SASE should cover the postage back. This will save you SASE-trauma later. Visit the USPS website for rate information.
  • OPTION: These days, if your submission is over 1 lb, it can be cheaper to use U.S. Priority mail. I personally don’t think an editor or agent should penalize a struggling-writer for using the most economical way to mail a submission. Especially since we know full well it won’t be read for an eternity. But I leave that decision up to you. Do you use the ugly envelope? Or not? I’ve done it before and I report I have received positive responses from both editors and agents despite the Priority “flat letter” envelope.
  • Stamps or Metered? It’s a matter of personal taste. Line up your stamps neatly. If metered, try not to frown if the post-lady slaps on the stamp like it didn’t matter if it even landed on the envelope.

Email Submissions

In some cases, agents or publishers will allow email submissions. The majority of publishers don’t allow it if you’re submitting things yourself. BUT there are quite a few established agents who will. In either case, remember these principles:

  • Don’t spam—don’t send the same query to different people at the same time by simply adding a bunch of email address in the To, CC, or BCC fields. Not too bright. Your idea is to target your submissions, remember? If you’ve forgotten all about this, read my post, Anatomy of a Query Letter.
  • Be professional. Writing an email doesn’t mean the relationship suddenly goes casual. Like you’re emailing your best pal or your mom. Follow the same level of formality as you would if you were contacting the person by mail.
  • Do make some logical adjustments for email – for example, you don’t have to type in the date or the agent’s mailing address if you’re contacting them by email. You can start with…Dear Mr. Last Name:
  • For the subject header, please type something specific. Not Hi, Not Query. Something more like: “Query for Fantasy YA Novel: MS TITLE”. Hopefully your title is catchy or at least interesting.

To Paste or To Attach?—That Is The Question…

  • If the agent accepts email queries, all that means is type your query in the body of your email.
  • Don’t spend time trying to format your email exactly like you see it in your word processor program. Chances are, no matter what you do, it’ll look crazy on their end. You can’t help that. Fighting it will only make it look worse. Type in your query, paste in any other materials requested, and you’re done.
  • If an agent responds favorably to your query and asks for more by email (but doesn’t specify “paste” or “attach”), attach the stuff. At that point, the agent shouldn’t be paranoid about some vendetta to infect the world with computer viruses. Again, these are general guidelines. Look up the agent’s guidelines if you’re unsure! And if you find yourself pasting your entire 200-page novel into an email…um….what are you doing?!
  • When in doubt about pasting or attaching, ask someone who has submitted successfully to the person recently and see what she did. OR…DON’T PASTE OR ATTACH. Type in your query letter and hope they ask for more.
  • Many people are afraid to attach things and rightly so. But the C LIU take? If the agent asks for something in addition to the query and doesn’t specify how they want it done, I will attach it. Yes, I’m CUH-RAZY! If they delete me forever because I can’t read their minds, then OH WELL. Read my story, I Dared To Email an Attachment To an Agent, if you want to know how this worked out for me.

If you’re taking the crash course, you may advance to Step Eight – Pray.

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