Tag Archives: manuscript submission

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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Checklist to See if Your Manuscript is Ready for Submission

Check_Mark

1.  Can you confidently say what your story is about, in 3 sentences or less?

2.  Have you let your manuscript sit undisturbed for at least a few weeks, and then read it again?

3.  Are you finished sending it out to critique partners, beta readers, or helpful friends, with an “input welcome” sticky note attached?

4.  Is it the best work you are currently capable of?

If you have 4 check marks, you are ready. Now, write a kick-ass query letter, research the best literary agents for your work, and send your baby out into the world!

But wait! How do you know if you’ve written a kick-ass query letter? How do you know if the agents you’re sending it to are the best agents for your work? Well, you can read this to check in about your query and look at this about researching agents. Good luck!

 

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How I Create a Submission List

jackpotI’ve read my client’s manuscript; gone back and forth with them a number of times, making sure it’s in the best shape I can help them get it into; and crafted a submission letter (which is the agent version of a query letter). I open up a new, empty Excel spreadsheet. I’m ready to populate it with names, imprints, publishing houses, email addresses and phone numbers. How do I know who to put in that spreadsheet?

The process of putting together a submission list for my clients’ work is not dissimilar to what authors should be doing when they are querying agents. Here’s where I look to find the right people to whom I submit my clients’ work.

1. What editors have I met at a conference, over coffee or lunch, who might like this manuscript?

2. What books have I recently read that are similar in theme or tone to my client’s work? Who edited them?

3. What manuscripts have recently sold that are similar in theme or tone to my client’s work? Who did they sell to?

4. Poking around on Publisher’s Marketplace, what other manuscripts or authors’ work is similar in theme or tone to my client’s work? Or what have I recently read about in my daily Publisher’s Lunch email that feels similar? What imprint published them or who edited them?

5. What have I read about in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker, Shelf Awareness or the many blogs I read, that feels similar? Who was the publisher? Who was the editor?

6. Who is on my agency database that I may not have submitted to yet, that my agency-mates have indicated works with the kind of manuscript I’m about to send out?

7. What editors have my fellow agents (who I’ve hung out with at conferences or socially) mentioned to me who are looking for something like my client’s work?

8. What have I seen on Twitter, posted by an editor, agent, author, (or anyone!) that might give me a hint at someone I haven’t yet thought of?

9. Who is on my client’s wish list of editors, or who my client has had some kind of interaction with, who might be appropriate for this manuscript?

10. What can I find out by Googling? After diving down the rabbit hole of the interwebs, is there someone else out there who would be perfect for this manuscript?

Oftentimes, while still in the midst of working on a manuscript with my client, I think of editors I know who would like the material we’re working with. Sometimes I’ve even mentioned the manuscript to an editor before it’s ready, gauging interest or getting ideas from them about editors with whom they work who might be best suited to the manuscript. Sometimes I start from scratch when I face that empty Excel spreadsheet. But what I always do is make sure that the editors to whom I’m submitting seem somehow appropriate to the work. When I send my clients’ work out on submission I don’t just send out blind emails to editors, crossing my fingers, hoping I’ll hit the jackpot with an editor who seems really cool, or is high profile, or has edited lots of books I like (but aren’t similar to my clients’ work).

As I fill in my spreadsheet, I make sure  for each round that I’m not sending the manuscript to more than one imprint at a house at the same time. So if I want to send something to Farrar, Straus Children’s I don’t also send something to Feiwel & Friends or Roaring Brook Press. They are all imprints of Macmillan. I send it to my first choice and save the others for another round of submissions.

This is the basic process I go through when sending my clients’ work out. Of course this changes after they’ve published something, because oftentimes their editor has a first-look option in their contract. That means that whatever manuscript my client writes next, usually in the same genre (i.e. adult, YA, MG or picture book), their editor gets first dibs on it.

So. Any questions?

 

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