Thursday, July 30, 2009

Submissions 101

Almost daily new readers are discovering the blog and many of these new readers are also new to the submission process and have lots of questions about where to even begin. Because of that today’s post is really going to be a rudimentary look at how to begin and what to do next. I’m also going to ask many of our more veteran readers to weigh in and give any tips or tricks, so don’t forget to take a look at the comments section.

Before getting started, before even writing a query, you need to make sure your book has been written, rewritten, edited and polished, and, as you have heard from me before, I even suggest you’ve already started writing your next book so you have something to focus on besides just the query process. Fiction and narrative nonfiction (i.e., memoir) writers will need to have completed the full manuscript. Self-help writers can start submitting on proposal.

Once it’s time to sit down and write your query I suggest you spend time on it, and a search on this blog for "query" or "blurb" will give you hundreds of tips and posts on writing a strong query. I’m not going to go into that here; however, I am going to remind you that a query is not typically something that can be thrown together in 15 minutes. Remember, a lot of pressure is placed on this poor query, so I always suggest you spend time really working on it and, if you can, find a group to help you make sure it will sing to agents. I know that online groups like Absolutewrite, WritersNet and Backspace will definitely help hone queries. You also can’t go wrong, as a fiction writer, by joining groups and local chapters of Romance Writers of America, Mystery Writers of America, or Science Fiction, Fantasy Writers of America.

Research is essential to finding an agent, but I think research also needs to be done in moderation. There are a number of fabulous web sites and books available that will guide an author through the agent maze and list hundreds of agents and what they are acquiring. There are three places that I recommend you definitely look. The first is Preditors & Editors; this amazing author advocacy group vets agents to make sure you are submitting to only those that are reputable. Do not submit to any agent until you’ve checked this site. The second are agent web sites themselves; this is the best place to find the most up-to-date information on what agents are looking for and an agent’s guidelines. Granted, not all agents have web sites, but it’s important to check. And finally, if you don’t become a subscriber to Publishers Marketplace, you should, at the very least, sign up for their free deal notifications so you can keep up on the news of some (not all) of the publishing deals that are being made. After you’ve checked those sites, sending out queries is a bit of an act of faith. Do enough research to know that the agent you are submitting to represents (or is at least listed as having represented) books in the genre or area you’re writing in. There’s no need to double- and triple-check this with every single listing ever written. One reliable source should be enough. Remember, when querying it’s really easy to get bogged down in things like research or editing your book and at some point you just have to decide that it’s time to make that next step.

Now that you’ve written your query and done your research it’s time to take that leap and send the query out. This is where I’m hoping veteran readers will pop in with their own advice. I think it’s probably best to send a few out (maybe ten) at a time to some agents on your A list, some on your B list, and some on your C list. Get a feel for if the query is working, and a few weeks later (whether you’ve received responses or not) send out ten more queries. Whether or not you get a response will depend on the agent and her guidelines. This is one of those issues that stresses submitting writers out more than anything and, as we learned in Agentfail, causes more than a little anger and frustration. My advice is that if the agency has a “no response means no" policy, note that on your query-tracking sheet and move on the minute the query goes out. If an agency does post that they respond to all queries, note that on your tracking sheet and also when you should check in (I think 4 to 6 weeks is more than reasonable).

Hopefully you’ve written a strong enough query that you’ll immediately start receiving requests for proposals. If not, you might discover that you need to go back to the drawing board and revamp that query before making any new submissions. I believe there’s an evolutionary process to rejection and almost every writer goes through it. If you have revamped the query, are you allowed to requery those same agents who might have already rejected the work? I don’t necessarily advocate you do this. On the other hand, I don’t see a lot wrong with doing it. I don’t love the idea and I suspect most other agents feel the same way. Ultimately, it’s a decision you need to make on your own based on your own feelings about your query and passion for a particular agent. To read more of my thoughts on how to make that decision, I suggest you read Resubmissions and ReQueries from early last year.

Once proposals are being requested I can’t promise anything on timing. Again, it’s up to each individual agent how she responds. You might receive constructive feedback, you might receive little more than a form. Some agents might respond within days, others months. My best advice at this point is to stay the course. Continue querying, continue sending out proposals and hopefully full manuscripts, and, when that offer does come in, please, please use it to your advantage to make sure you are getting the best offer with the best agent for you, because not every agent is right for every author.

Jessica

Please note: In an effort to catch up on the numerous submissions and queries that she's received—and to improve her future response time—Kim will be closed to submissions from August 1st to September 30th. Any queries received during that time will be automatically deleted.

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