Finding an agent or editor: the submission process

One of my blog readers asked me to go back a step from my previous blog, and talk about how to find an agent or editor.  I responded in the comments, but thought perhaps I should post it as a separate blog entry so more interested parties might read it.  Below is a quick overview of what’s required to submit your masterpiece to an agent or editor.

1) Finish the book. Revise it. Proofread it. Polish it to diamond brilliance with not a typo in sight. It’s a highly competitive market out there, and your book needs to stand out as professional.

2) Do a lot of research. Publishers Marketplace is a wonderful resource (for $20/month) where you can look up what agent/editor has bought what book (genre, etc.) both recently and historically. Find the ones who have bought your kind of book and make a long list of names, email addys, etc. There is NO point in querying an agent/editor who doesn’t represent/acquire the kind of book you’ve written.

Attending writers’ conferences is a great way to get a feel for acquiring editors and agents.  They often participate in panels you can attend, and you might even be lucky enough to sit beside one at a meal or in the bar.  Do NOT hand them your manuscript at the conference!  Ask for a business card, and email your submission to them afterward.  Editors tell horror stories of writers tracking them down in the rest room and sliding manuscripts under the stall door.  This will not endear you to the person you want to read your book.

3) Check the agents’ websites for what they want you to submit. Ditto the publishers. Note: it is very hard to get your manuscript read by a publisher at one of the big New York houses without having an agent.

4) Write a professional, businesslike query letter which has at least one paragraph tailored to the person you are querying. Otherwise they will know you didn’t do your homework and reject your book before they even read your partial.

5) Submit in the fashion the agent/editor requests, always including a query letter.  By this I mean, if the agent/editor wants a two-page synopsis and fifteen pages of your manuscript, that’s what you send.  If they want a ten-page synopsis and fifty pages of your manuscript, send that.  Many will not accept attachments, so don’t send those if they tell you not to.  Read the instructions carefully, and follow them!  Don’t give the agent/editor an easy excuse to reject your submission.

The only deviation from these rules that I allow myself is this: At the bottom of my query email, below my signature, I will paste in the first three or so pages of my manuscript.  I do this because several agents and editors have unofficially stated they will read that to get a taste of your writing style.  Also, it’s more interesting than reading nothing but query letters all day long.

6) If you are fortunate enough to get a rejection with specific suggestions for improving your work, consider revising with those in mind.

7) Submit often and simultaneously. As soon as you get a rejection, submit to someone else.

8) If you give up after one or two or even a dozen rejections, you’re probably not going to get published. This business requires tremendous persistence.

9) OTOH, you always have the option of self-publishing, a wonderful new avenue for writers. Many multi-published authors self-publish at least some of their books.

I wish you the best of luck in your quest!

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