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Six Steps for Submitting Your Work to Agents

An easy and professional game plan for finding literary representation

1) Do your research. Agents specialize, which means they have more experience and publishing connections in specific areas of fiction. Researching agents, before you submit to them, will significantly increase your chances of finding the right agent for your novel. Start by making a list of agents who represent and are looking for your genre of writing. There is a wealth of information on literary agents both on the Internet and in print. You’ll find some of these sites under my resources list. In future postings I’ll cover the agent research process in more depth and review several of these sites and resources.

2) Polish your query letter. Have a friend or someone in your critique group proof your query letter, synopsis, first pages or anything else you are submitting to an agent. Don’t let a typo blow your opportunity.

See previous posts for how to write an attention-getting query letter that will stand out from the pile.

3) Follow the agent’s submission guidelines. This should be a no brainer, but I often hear agents cite this as one of their major pet peeves. Would you want to work with someone who doesn’t listen to your needs and can’t follow basic instructions? Most agents’ websites tell you exactly what they want to see for an initial query. It’s important to know, for example, if they want only a query letter, or a synopsis or the first five pages of the manuscript. Many agents accept only email queries. Some will delete your email if it contains attachments. So follow those guidelines to the letter.

4) Submit in multiples. You can send your query letter to one agent at a time and wait to hear back from each agent. But you may be 106 before your book is published. Writing a novel can take years. Publishing a book takes a year and a half to two. So when you have your manuscript polished and ready to send out to the world, I suspect you’re ready to find an agent and get your book published now.

Set a reasonable goal for yourself. Maybe you want to send 10 queries a month. Personally, I like to send out seven queries on each new moon. Some agents like to know if they are receiving a multiple submission. If an agent states this in her guidelines, then tell her you are submitting to other agents. However, agents can assume they are not the only one receiving your query, so why waste precious space in your letter or email telling them something they already know?

5) Keep track of your submissions. There are great online tools, like for keeping a record of your submissions, or you can build your own database in a program like Excel. The main information you want to keep track of includes: agent name, date queried, email or snail mail, manuscript name (if you are querying more than one manuscript), any attachments or enclosures, agent’s stated turnaround time, and other pertinent information about the agent.

When you receive an agent’s request to see pages or the entire manuscript, note this in your database. After you send the material, pencil a follow-up date in your calendar. Agents typically note their turnaround time on their website, anywhere from three weeks to three months. If you haven’t heard from the agent in this time, send a reminder via email. If you submitted the pages/manuscript by email, simply forward your original email with the attachments and state that you are following up on the agent’s request. This way the agent doesn’t have to search for your original email. I’ve found that agents appreciate the reminder. But don’t call. Most agents are too busy to accept calls and without your manuscript and query in front of them, there won’t be much to talk about.

6) Don’t sit around waiting. Follow up and keep querying. Accept the fact that you’ll never hear from some agents and focus on the others. Keep track of rejections and requests for pages in your database. Hang the encouraging, positive rejections by your computer. Dust off your query letter each month, keep researching agents and keep submitting. The next agent you query could be the one!

Coming soon: “How to Find the Right Agent for Your book – and Your Career”

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