If you’re serious about being traditionally published you will need an agent. The majority of publishers don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts, so finding someone to represent you and your work is essential for getting that elusive book deal. I’ve been down the submission path myself (and have the pile of rejection letters to prove it). As it turned out, I wasn’t ready at the time, and neither was my book, but I didn’t let it get me down (too much). Instead, I went online, joined a writing forum, read as much as I could, attended a seminar and gave my book to several more people to read. And I learnt a lot, both about the type of book I was writing and about how to submit to agents. So I thought I’d share it with you.
- Stick to the guidelines. Now, this may seem pretty basic stuff, but it is so important to give an agent exactly what they specify in their submission guidelines. Usually they ask for a synopsis (try to keep it to one page or less), a cover letter, and the first 50 pages or three chapters of your work. Don’t send extra because you think they might like it, don’t write a synopsis that’s longer than your first chapter and make sure you format the document exactly as requested. Double space or one and a half space is standard. Don’t give them any reason to dismiss your submission before looking at it.
- Presentation. Check your spelling, check your grammar, check your line spacing and paragraphs, then check them again. Number the pages on your manuscript and add your name and book title as a header or footer – that way if pages get misplaced or mixed up they can be put back in the right place. And no sparkly bows or complex folders or novelty paper clips – this is a professional document and should be presented as such if you want to be taken seriously.
- Sell yourself. This is very important. Your cover letter should give the agent some idea of your writing experience, summarise your book and position it in the market. It should also be concise and the tone professional. You probably won’t get too far with ‘Well, I showed it to my mum and she seemed to like it, so I thought I’d send it to you.’ Though at the same time, you also should probably also avoid being all ‘Hey b*tches, I’ve just written the next Harry Potter! Bow down and let the bidding war begin!’
- Research your agents. Don’t adopt a shotgun approach and send your work to all and sundry. It’s a waste of time for you and everyone else. Instead look for agents who represent work in your genre, maybe read some of the authors on their list (a visit to the local library is the best way to do this) and target your cover letter individually for each agent, rather than doing the old cut and paste. A visit to most literary agency websites will give you an idea of the best person to whom to direct your submission, or a quick phone call can also be helpful.
- Make sure your work is ready. Don’t submit if you haven’t finished your work. Imagine if an agent calls you wanting the full manuscript and all you can say is ‘it’s not done.’ Believe me, they will move onto the next thing. The exception would be certain types of non-fiction books whereby you submit a proposal before starting the work.
- Do not harass. Most agents will state on their websites that a certain period of time is needed to look at your work. When you consider that they receive up to fifty submissions per week on top of managing their existing clients, you can see that ringing them up every day to see if they’ve read your work is not the best way to stand out. Observe the waiting period – most will get back to you, some won’t, but all you can do it wait. Learn to meditate, start a hobby, write a blog (ha!) or mark the days with a big ‘x’ on your calendar.
So there it is. All that I’ve learnt so far about the submission process. It probably isn’t everything you need to know, but I hope it helps, and remember, there are exceptions to every rule. And now I’m getting ready to start the process again with a new book and a new list of agents. Fingers crossed!
Helen Jones is a writer and blogger whose first novel, Oak and Mist, is now available on Amazon. Her second book, No Quarter, is due out in August 2015. She blogs at journeytoambeth.com, is on Facebook and tweets very occasionally HERE.