So, submissions…fun, eh? Ok, so maybe not as fun as the dude in the picture would suggest. If anyone out there is feeling the pinch of having to draft and redraft synopses, are meticulously planning out their cover letters and has just been driven bonkers by the amount of submissions they have sent off then hopefully you will find solace in knowing that I’m in the same boat. I can’t help you but I do feel the same way.
Submitting is tough. There’s no doubt about it. It’s the point at which your work over the past six months/year/five years goes out on its own. And now that it has gone to the experts, it’s time to sink or swim. Are you good enough, are you not and so on and so forth. I’m submitting this week and my mother said “good luck, hopefully you’ll get lucky” or something to that effect.
The truth…I don’t believe that luck is going to help one iota in this situation. Sure you need an agent to bite so that they will request your full manuscript and then take you on as a literary client but really it comes down to one thing: is your book good enough.
I know that mine is, or at least the premise behind it is. Whatever agents think about how I’ve laid out the story or the decisions I’ve made in it or if the writing isn’t good enough and the funny bits aren’t funny and the exciting bits aren’t exciting and perhaps you had better think of a new career because this one sure as hell ain’t for you, I am one hundred percent convinced that the overall idea for the novel works.
If agents think it’s good enough and down the line I manage to get one and the book gets published then fantastic. If I don’t then there has to be a reason. Either I didn’t work hard enough or I didn’t work well enough. Since I doubt I can work much harder than what I did, the focus is then on not working well enough. In other words, I wasn’t paying attention to my story enough. It could flounder in places. It might be repetitive and so on.
Or perhaps it is good enough in its entirety and I will still get rejected and that means there is a problem with my submission. It sounds like a simple thing, to write a letter and a synopsis talking about your book but turns out to be anything but and now I’m going to provide nine tips on how to submit properly to give yourself the best chance at attracting an agent.
Make sure your work is as good as it possibly can be
Don’t send in unfinished work. Don’t send in unedited work. I posted a few days ago on the importance of editing and it stands to reason that if an agent receives unedited material, they will just reject it without a second thought. Polish your work. Make sure it’s complete and the best you can possibly make it.
Get the names right
When sending to an agent, the least one can do is get their names right. Research who you are sending it to and be sure to spell their names right. Don’t say ‘Dear sir/madam’ because that looks horrendous. If you want someone to represent you, take the time to show them the respect that you expect them to give you and spell their names right.
Don’t send a ‘Dear agent’ email
Following on from the last topic, don’t send an email stating ‘dear agent’. It is clearly a generic email that you have sent off to dozens of agents without ever considering who the agent is or what he/she does. It’s a big red flag to be aware of.
Follow submission guidelines
Submitting can be hard. Some agents want different lengths of cover letters and even have specific requests for what is to be put into those letters. Some want a synopsis that is three paragraphs long, others three-hundred words, a page, two pages…even more and so on. Then when submitting your sample of work they might want five pages, ten pages, three chapters, thirty pages, ten thousand words.
Whatever an agent wants, give it to them. Don’t decide that because the submission guidelines are too complex or too varied that you can just submit what you like. They’re there for a reason. They’re there because agents can get up to fifty and sometimes even more submissions a day and they need to make snap judgments on the works they receive.
Don’t gush or waste words
Right, so trying to be succinct and to the point in your submission is important. In your cover letter don’t gush about how wonderful you think your book is or how your mother loves it or how the psychic octopus who predicted all those World Cup matches correctly picked your manuscript out as being the next big thing. That won’t work.
What it will do is serve to annoy the agent you are writing to. The main things that will make an agent like you are having a well-laid out letter and a solid submission. If there are any writing courses you have taken part in or anything else about your life that you think is relevant to your book and will help sway an agent then include it. You can even give a couple of lines about yourself, but don’t waste words.
Also, don’t make grandiose comments about how your book could be the next bestseller or that it will fill the Harry Potter void left in the writing world. It is always helpful to pick out one or two examples of current book in the market to draw comparisons to but leave it at that. Once you say it is similar to such a work, that is quite sufficient. No need for overkill.
Don’t prove your writing ability in the synopsis
If you write in a Cormac McCarthy-esque style with little punctuation DO NOT replicate it when writing your synopsis. Agents want clarity and simplicity. If you’re a fan of long sentences with grand, flowery speech, forget it. This is very simply saying what will happen, when and who it will happen to. They want to know where the main turning points of your manuscript are and if you have identified them correctly.
Spend time on your synopsis
Writing a synopsis is like pulling teeth and I hope that this isn’t me shooting myself in the foot here. It really is a horrible thing to do. It’s something I wrote and edited and tore up and burned and threw out the window. But it has to be done. If there was a weak part of my submission I would honestly say it is the synopsis but perhaps that is only because I dislike them so much.
Don’t send the whole book
Remember what I said about submission guidelines? Yeah? Well do not, under any circumstance, send off a full manuscript to an agent unless they have requested it. And, if you do send one off thinking, “you’ll love it so I’m going to save you the time of having to ask me for the complete version” then good luck to you because you sure as hell won’t be getting any sort of response.
Don’t send random chapters
If an agent asks you for the three chapters, don’t send ten, twelve and twenty-seven, just because you think they’re the strongest. Send one, two and three. There is no way around this. If you think that you’ll be rejected based on those chapters, then you need to fix them. Whatever number of chapters or pages an agent asks for, send sequential work from the beginning of your work.
Happy submitting! (and tearing your hair out while you’re at it)