My Tips for the Submissions Process

Last night, I spoke to a group of highly motivated and switched-on writers about the manuscript submissions process. I made the point that you should think of it as a separate part of the process to writing (just as marketing and publicising your book is a separate process). Here are some of the points we discussed. Hope they’re useful to some of you.

Finish your book. (If it’s fiction – if you’re writing non-fiction, it’s fine to submit a detailed proposal and chapters.) You’ll be much more confident writing your pitch and synopsis if you know what happens at the end. You’ll know what you’re offering. (And, let’s face it, a half-baked cake isn’t an appetising proposition to many people.) If your sample chapters are liked, but you can’t immediately follow up, don’t expect an agent or editor to sit back cooling their heels to wait for you.

Wrestle with your synopsis. Keep it to two pages. Revise it to one. Make it half a page. Does it all make sense? Is it logical? (If it’s not, then perhaps your story isn’t, either.) Then distil it into a sentence that will be your elevator pitch. (Not just yours: your agent’s, your publisher’s, their sales force, the trade – you’ll be amazed at how consistently a good elevator pitch is passed on. It’s good marketing.)

Treat the submissions process like a job interview – albeit for someone who will be working for you. Be professional and accurate. Multiple submissions are OK: you don’t wait to hear if you’ve been accepted or rejected for a job before you apply for another. Try a handful of agents then, if you aren’t successful, try another handful. If there are positive developments, you are in a good position to nudge the others into responding.

Tailor your pitch. Respect each agent’s submission guidelines – or, ignore them at your peril. You’re trying to establish a personal rapport so don’t expect everyone to get excited by the same thing. Remember this: sometimes in-house editors need to take books back to acquisitions meetings; presenting books differently; bringing some aspects to the forefront while letting others recede.

If you’ve attended any literary festivals or writing workshops; if you’ve published short stories or run a successful blog, or won a competition, mention these things in your covering letter. It shows you’re serious about the business of becoming a writer.

Don’t get hung up on rejection. If you’re lucky enough to get feedback, it won’t always guide you to your next destination. Busy editors and agents can’t engage in correspondence so they might let you go kindly, but nebulously. Move on.

Can you add anything to this, based on your experience? I’d love to hear what you think.


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