Tag Archives: publishing tips

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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Anatomy of a Full Manuscript Request

I’d like to share why I requested a full manuscript from someone whose query and first 20 pages I read. It kind of went like this…

imgresThe query was addressed to me correctly (i.e. Dear Ms. Epstein). I’m happy to be addressed informally, too, just as Linda. Either way is fine.

There were three short paragraphs telling me what the story was about. Actually it was only 9 sentences, which is great (although, to be honest, some of them were run-ons). The third paragraph was kind of snarky, which clued me in that I would probably hear some of that voice in the manuscript. And I like that.

The next paragraph gave me important info: TITLE OF THE MANUSCRIPT, word count, genre, and two comparisons. What I appreciated about the comparisons were that the author said her novel would appeal to readers who like the quirky sense of humor of a particular author and the strong girl characters of another author. She didn’t suggest that her manuscript was like theirs, that she was the next best selling author of these kind of books, or that her manuscript was even better than the ones she just mentioned.

imgres-1But she showed me that she’s thought about who might read her book. So I know she knows the market. Also, the two qualities she was talking about were things that I care about. So it seems to me that this author has done her homework to see what kind of stories I’m interested in. She didn’t spit back my words to me, like cutting and pasting from my agency’s website into her query.

Then she told me that she included the materials (i.e. the 20 pages) that I request in my submission guidelines; she thanked me for my time; and signed the email. So I’m already happy now, because she’s done almost everything correctly. She didn’t write anything about herself, and I do like to know something about the authors with whom I may potentially work. But it’s not a deal breaker for me that she left this out. So, I went ahead and read the first 20 pages, because not only had she written a good query, but it sounded interesting to me. It’s YA fantasy, with a twist on a usual fantasy plot. And it’s got feminist undertones (or at least non-sexist ones), and I really like that, too.

urlThe 20 pages zipped by. I saw a couple of problems, but nothing that’s not fixable. And when I got to the end of the first 20 I was left with the best question: What happens next?! So I requested the full. And I asked the author to include a short bio when she sends the full.

And that’s what it looked like when I requested a full manuscript this week!


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Why I Passed on a Couple of This Week’s Queries

url-1I don’t know if I’ll be able to do this every week. I was very uncomfortable as I wrote the reasons why I passed, knowing I was putting them up on the blog. I don’t want folks to feel bad or embarrassed if they recognize their query. I know it’s supposed to be helpful to them and to others, but it feels kind of like airing dirty laundry, somehow. Let’s see how it goes. Perhaps I’ll switch to “Why I asked to see more.” You know, I always say I’m a ‘glass half full’ kind of girl. 

Antonio Prohías's Spy vs Spy

Antonio Prohías’s Spy vs Spy

Query 1: In the first paragraph, which should basically let me know what kind of manuscript is being pitched, the words, “espionage thriller” and “Gospel” keyed me in pretty quickly that this wasn’t for me. How many times do I need to re-state that I do NOT do thrillers and I do NOT do Christian fiction. I have nothing against these genres, I’m just the wrong agent to represent them. I’m sorry, but it didn’t make any difference that the querier stated, “The target audience is adult readers both Christian and non-Christian and Jewish.” Okaaaaay. Just for the record, isn’t Jewish “non-Christian”?

Did somebody say Elf?!Orlando Bloom as Legolas in LOTR

Did somebody say Elven?!
Orlando Bloom as Legolas in LOTR

Query 2: Fantasy, I guess, because the title of the manuscript had the word “Elf” in it. Might be YA, I couldn’t tell from the query, but the synopsis said the main character was 14, so I’m just guessing. The query itself wasn’t exactly a query. It was a paragraph that stated the author was including a 1-paragraph synopsis, a 1-paragraph bio, and the first 20 pages. Now, I know that’s what my submission guidelines say to include, but I just assume that those will be included in the query letter. That is to say, a query letter for a fiction manuscript should begin with a little intro paragraph, then move to telling a bit about the book (the synopsis I ask for) and then go on to tell a little bit about the author (the bio I ask for). Then, it usually has a closing paragraph. You know, it’s a regular old business letter. And then, of course,  I want the 20 pages. So, I was willing to overlook the weird, stilted way this first part was put together, but then the bio was strange, too. The author told me they had been writing since they were a child. Hmmm. Then it kind of listed stuff, in half sentences. And then they went on in half sentences about how they had published some articles that were specific to their particular field of study, which had nothing to do with writing fiction. When reading the synopsis, I knew it was definitely not for me. It just wasn’t original. How could I know for sure, just from reading a synopsis? Well, first of all there were a lot of cliche fantasy phrases, and if those phrases are in the synopsis, I’m almost certain the manuscript itself will be rife with cliches as well. So, even though I like fantasy, this was definitely a pass for me. I’m looking for truly original stories and absolutely excellent writing.

Ok. I really didn’t like doing this.  I’m not going to do it again. Please send me suggestions (via Twitter @LindaEpstein or Facebook) for another weekly column that might be helpful for writers. Don’t put the suggestions in the comments below. Thanks.


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