Submitting Music Manuscripts for Publication

These guidelines were prepared for the Church Music Publishers Association by Dale Wood.
They cover the general procedures for submitting manuscripts to publishers
of choral and instrumental music for church and school use.

Composers or arrangers who have never submitted their work for possible publication are often uncertain about how to proceed. Most publishers welcome the opportunity to review new works and the following guidelines explain the process.

Manuscript Preparation

Every composer should fully understand the rules of music notation and be able to prepare an accurate manuscript that will command attention. Digitally typeset pages prepared on personal computers are very common today, but photocopies of neat, hand-written manuscript are also acceptable for review purposes. Only full and complete manuscripts should be submitted. Few publishers, if any, will review lead sheets.

Choral parts for mixed voices should be written on two staves whenever possible (rather than an open choral score of four staves) to reduce the number of pages. If a choral work contains an organ accompaniment, it should also be written on two staves for the same reason, with up- and down-stems employed to clearly separate left-hand and pedal parts. Every syllable in the vocal text should be correctly hyphenated. Use a dictionary or word guide to double-check. Never guess at hyphenation, and note that British publications often vary from accepted forms used of the United States.

Composers should not register the copyright their own compositions. Without actually filing for a copyright with the Library of Congress, composers can legally show that they have a vested interest in their work by adding the words "Copyright [year] [composer's name]" at the bottom of the first page of music. Leave the official copyright registration in the hands of the publisher.

It is the responsibility of the composer to secure all permissions for use of previously copyrighted materials in advance of publication. The composer must pay any associated permission fees.

Submitting Your Work

Many publishing houses have a "personality" which is evident in their catalogs. An arrangement of a gospel song has little chance of being accepted by a firm that specializes in music for liturgical settings. Select your prospective publisher wisely to ensure a careful examination of your work.

The manuscript should be sent by first-class mail with a brief covering letter stating that the work is being submitted for possible publication. Always submit a photocopy of your manuscript, not the original. It is of little value to elaborate on the merits of your composition or to cite the popularity of previous performances.

The music had better speak for itself. If your composition is extremely complex or includes involved instrumentation, a cassette recording can be helpful to reviewers. Otherwise, avoid the temptation to send demonstration recordings.

Some publishers do not acknowledge receipt of unsolicited manuscripts. Be prepared to wait a reasonable period of time for the review process to be completed.

Never submit your manuscript to more than one publisher at a time. Always remember to enclose postage for the return of your manuscript if you have not previously established yourself in the publisher's catalog.

The Review Process

An editor will initially screen your manuscript. Sometimes the editor alone determines the acceptance of a work. A review committee, however, usually makes this decision. In either case, the process may take from a few weeks to several months, depending on the publishing house.

If your work is rejected, try another publisher. Publishers have specific areas of need for catalog balance, and a rejection does not necessarily imply any lack of merit in a composition. Only after you have collected a sizable stack of rejection notices should you begin to suspect that your efforts might not be worthy of publication.

Financial Matters

When a composition is accepted, the publisher will offer one of several agreements to a composer. A standard royalty contract is probably most common. Some publishers prefer to pay a fixed amount per copy sold and in some instances, a one-time fee is proposed.

The Bottom Line

The composer's degree of success depends not only individual craftsmanship, but also the need in the marketplace. Overused texts, or those containing archaic words and phrases, should be avoided. Publishers are generally more interested in music that is accessible to average performing resources. Words and music should be memorable, conveying something that has not been said countless times before. The composer should never lose sight of the difficult art of simplicity. Above all, remember that if there is nothing to sustain interest on the first page of music, it is doubtful that anyone will bother to look further to see what the composer may have to say later.

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