Submission Guidelines and Querying Literary Agents

imgresYou are not a snowflake. You are not special or unique or even much of an individual. Well, perhaps you are, but not when it comes to following submission guidelines. Here’s the thing: submission guidelines aren’t really guidelines in the sense of a recommendation, suggestion, or a bit of advice. They’re rules. You may say to yourself, “I’m a rebel, a pirate, a rule-breaker. I need to shine! To be ME! If I’m going to work with an agent, they need to know the true me!” That’s fine, snowflake. But if you don’t follow an agent’s submission guidelines (rules), you’re probably not going to get them to even look at your work. Then you’ll get to be YOU, the rebel, pirate, rule-breaker and also NOT get your work published. So when you’ve done your research and have a list of appropriate agents for your work, and you’ve read their submission guidelines, remind yourself: “these are hard and fast rules for submitting to this person. And I, a perfect, unique snowflake, will follow these rules.”
Some common things agents put in their guidelines are:
NO attachments. Most agents don’t want to open attachments or have to follow a link to a website in order to read your writing sample. We are busy. Really, really, really busy. We are fielding a gazillion queries on top of all our other work. Make it easy for us to see your work. If an agent asks for your writing sample in the body of the email, PUT THE WRITING SAMPLE IN THE BODY OF THE EMAIL. Of course, there are always agents who want something different, so make sure that’s what they are requesting in their guidelines.
First 10 pages, or 20 pages, or first 3 chapters, or whatever. When you’re submitting to multiple agents, make sure you pay attention to who wants what. Sending the first 3 chapters when an agent only wants 10 pages will get you an annoyed person reading your work. Or your query deleted. You don’t want that.
Synopsis. Some agents want them. Some don’t. I don’t really want one. I want a short description (1 paragraph) of your work, with no spoilers.
A query letter. I’d venture to guess that most agents want a real query letter when you are submitting your work to them. That doesn’t mean, “Attached please find my manuscript.” That means a query letter. If you’re unclear about what that actually means… snowflake, you’d better get your act together. Read the rest of my blog posts (from the past few years) and go to a writing conference or twelve.
Ok. any questions?


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6 responses to “Submission Guidelines and Querying Literary Agents

  1. Kevin A. Lewis

    OK, message received. we’ll skip it. Hear my train a’comin…

  2. Great post thanks! I have a question: if an agent asks for “first five pages of your manuscript” (this is a nonfiction query) will they expect the first five pages from the start of the Introduction, or skip the Introduction and start from Chapter 1?

  3. Oh, I LIKE you. Thanks for laying it out straight. Easier to follow a path when you can see all the paving stones.

  4. In my opinion, the query letter is similar to chess. Easy to learn, difficult to master. I’m attending my first conference next weekend and perhaps what I look forward to most is the query workshop. Yes, networking and pitching are important too, but it’s one thing to win someone over with your personality, but another to do it solely on paper. Your blog was very helpful while crafting my draft for this weekend. Look forward to more!