Five Simple Rules for Submitting Your Manuscript
The submission process: oy vey. That pretty much sums it up. You send out your tome to an agent, a manuscript that has witnessed your blood, sweat, and tears, only to hear back finally (if you’re lucky) after months and months with, “Thanks, but no thanks.” Ouch. Punch to the gut. Of course, the whole process is totally subjective—one agent’s lemons are another’s lemonade.
So how can you guarantee 100 percent that your submission won’t be rejected? Well, I’m sorry to say you can’t. However, you can make sure that the process goes as smoothly as possible by taking the following five steps:
1. Do your research. Double down on the legwork – make sure that the agent you’re submitting to is interested in your genre and is accepting submissions. Obviously, you don’t want to send your sci-fi YA novel to an agent who reps erotica, especially one who isn’t considering new authors. And please, know whether the agent is a man or woman, and properly spell their name when you address them in the query letter. Ah, the query . . .
2. Write a kick-arse query letter. This one is obvious, but the query is what will get your foot in the door. No one will read your manuscript unless you sell yourself and the manuscript in the query. Think of it as an advertisement, teasing the book. Personalize the letter to the agent, tailoring it to their likes and what/whom they represent; write a unique hook line; summarize the plot while reflecting the tone of the book; include an author bio; and a thank you. Easy, right? If you aren’t feeling comfortable with your query, hire a professional to edit it. It’s worth it – as both my father, an Episcopalian minister and deer hunter, and Eminem said, “You only get one shot.”
3. Visit the agency website: Follow the website submission guidelines to the letter. If the agent doesn’t want any attachments, then cut and paste your query and/or pages into the email; if the agent wants only a query, don’t send the first three chapters as well (yes, even though your writing is just amazing). If the agent wants your first-born child, take little Billy down to the Fed-Ex office. Okay, let’s not get extreme, but you get the idea.
4. Do not follow up with phone calls: You will be branded a nuisance and a psycho. Sorry, but this is true. Agents (and editors) want to work with someone who’s not annoying and out to bug them during their already busy days. Trust me, they’re getting through submissions as quickly as possible. They receive a ton. Usually, the agency website will detail an agent’s response time and procedure. If you don’t hear back within this time frame, feel free to send a very kind email, politely asking, “What’s up?”
5. Cast a wide net: Send out those queries! Nothing says you have to send out queries to one person at a time. Sure, down the line, someone might request a full manuscript for themselves, but in the beginning, shoot out those emails. Get your queries into the hands of all of your favorite agents. And don’t forget, smaller agencies can be amazing—with more time and energy to focus on more exclusive lists. Oooh, you, too, can be exclusive.
So there you have it. Five Simple Rules for Submitting Your Manuscript. Easy-to-follow suggestions that will almost guarantee a response . . . okay, if your writing is also intriguing, inspiring, fresh, engaging, you submit during the autumnal new moon, and your manuscript is blessed by Zeus. Maybe you don’t need all that, but following these steps will definitely not piss anyone off, which is what we’re really striving for, after all. Right? Godspeed and remember that “no” is part of the writing process. Chin up and keep moving forward even if you get some rejections. If you start hearing the same feedback, consider addressing the consistent issue and rewriting. If they are subjective responses – “eh, it’s just not for me” – simply buy a voodoo doll and keep on keepin’ on. Your manuscript will eventually find its home. And if not, set it aside for a bit and get to work on another project. Keep those creative juices flowing!
Erin Brown worked as an editor for almost a decade at two major New York publishing houses, William Morrow, a division of HarperCollins, and Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin’s Press. She’s had her dream job for ten years now, as a freelance editor working directly with writers in order to improve their work (and hopefully find representation and publication!). You can contact her at www.erinedits.com.