Dear Writers and Agents,

The Poisoned Pencil uses an online submissions manager to review materials from both authors and agents. Please do not query or submit your MS by email or snail mail. No simultaneous submissions; one submission per author at a time. You will be able to check the status of your MS using the submissions manager. Response time is currently 4-6 weeks. If we decline your MS, we will not consider it again, even if it has undergone extensive revision.

Please read the guidelines that follow before submitting your work, as our needs are quite specific.

The Poisoned Pencil publishes young adult mystery in trade paperback and ebook editions. We have full distribution to the trade through IPS. Our advance is $1000.

Thank you and we look forward to seeing your work!

The Editorial Staff


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What We Are Looking For

We publish only young adult mystery novels, 45,000 to 80,000 words in length, in trade paperback and ebooks editions. For our purposes, a young adult book is a book with a protagonist between the ages of 13 and 18.

We are looking for both traditional and cross-genre young adult mysteries (see below for exceptions). We encourage off-beat approaches and narrative choices that reflect the complexity and ambiguity of today's world. Submissions from teens are very welcome.

What we do not consider:

  • Nonfiction, including true crime and autobiography.
  • Authors who live outside the USA or Canada (because of the difficulties of marketing and promotion).
  • Short stories or collections.
  • Middle Grade fiction.
  • Authors who have previously published young adult mysteries.

What to avoid:

  • Serial killers.
  • Excessive gore or horror.
  • Vampires or other heavy supernatural, SF, or fantasy content. A minor supernatural or fantasy element is possible, but keep it nuanced.

Miscellaneous but important notes:

  • Avoid coincidence in plotting. Avoid having your sleuth leap to conclusions rather than discover and deduce.
  • Pay attention to the resonance between character and plot; between plot and theme; between theme and character.
  • We are looking for clean style, fluid storytelling, and solid structure. Unrealistic dialog is a real turn-off.

Submission Procedures

When you click on the SUBMIT button on this page, you will enter the submissions manager. The first time you access the front page of the submissions manager you will find further details on the process and you will be asked to create an account. After   you create your account you will have access to the submissions page.

Take a moment to review the submissions page and gather your materials. Though there are three components—a cover letter, your full MS, and a synopsis—to your submission, you will provide only two actual documents. That is because we want the synopsis included in the same file as the MS (at the beginning). So paste your synopsis into the front of your MS, then draft your cover letter. You are now ready to send us your materials. First, paste your cover letter into the appropriate text box on the submission form. Second, upload your MS/synopsis. That’s it!

  • You must include a cover letter and  synopsis.
  • Please include your word count in your cover letter.
  • Do not include your name on any part of the MS or synopsis, including page headings.
  • The title of the submission must match the title of the MS exactly.

1. COVER LETTER: Write a short cover letter (fewer than 500 words) that consists of a paragraph introducing your book and another that includes your bio, publication history, and other relevant information, including word count. Be sure to include your full name, email, and physical address. Let us know if the book is part of a proposed series, but understand that we are only interested in reviewing one MS at a time. The cover letter is the first thing we will see.

Your cover letter must contain an exclusivity statement saying that this manuscript is not under consideration elsewhere and will not be submitted elsewhere until our review process is completed. We do not consider exclusivity statements with expiration dates.

2. SYNOPSIS: The synopsis, which summarizes the plot of your book, is the second thing we will look at. In 900 words or less, give us a complete, concise summary of the action that takes place in your story. Address all of the major plot points, including the ending.

  • Do not make your synopsis mysterious. The synopsis is not a blurb that tries to hook us into wanting more. Example: Instead of saying “the story ends with an exciting twist,” describe the elements of the twist. The synopsis is a rendering of your ability to plot and will be judged as such.
  • Do not include an outline, use outline form, or a series of short chapter summaries. Paragraph as needed for clarity in terms of presenting the plot.
  • Do not include a list of principal characters. Introduce them as needed relative to the plot in the body of the synopsis. Yes, we like bolded text for first use of character names.
  • Yes, we will like it if you present your story with clarity and pizzazz.

Make sure that your grammar, spelling, punctuation, and page layout are professional and error-free. If your synopsis is poorly written or riddled with grammatical or formatting errors, we will assume your MS is too and will not review it. When in doubt, consult a standard style guide. We use the Chicago Manual of Style.

3. FULL MANUSCRIPT: Yes, command of English grammar and usage as well as proper formatting are nearly as important to the review process as quality of writing and story. Please take the time to follow these simple requirements, which represent the basic standards of the industry we work in:

  • Accepted formats: .doc (preferred), rtf. Do not send a .pdf.
  • The entire manuscript must be double-spaced using Times New Roman 12-point font, one-inch margins on all sides.
  • Tab each paragraph and do not include extra spaces between paragraphs.
  • Each page must have a header with the title of the manuscript and page number. Example: Rue Morgue 62.   Go to “View” the “Header and Footer” to access the header field and insert text).
  • Each new chapter must begin on a new page (learn to insert a page break and do so at the end of each chapter). Make it clear that this is a new chapter with a bolded chapter number or similar chapter header.

***Note that if you do not follow the bolded "musts" and "do nots" in these guidelines, you run the risk of having your MS tossed or lost.***


What’s Next?

After you successfully upload your MS/synopsis, you will receive an e-mail confirming that we have received your materials.

  • Submissions that are missing the cover letter (with exclusivity statement), synopsis, or MS will not be considered.
  • Submissions that are not formatted to basic industry standard, as described above, will not be considered.
  • Submissions that are outside the submissions guidelines described above will not be considered.

Important note: The title of the submission is the title of the manuscript. If the submission title doesn't match the manuscript title exactly, with no extra qualifiers or names (don't add author's name), we cannot be responsible for keeping track of the submission.