How to Prepare a Book Submission for Literary Agents – Part 1

Most agents and publishers advise against trying to sell an idea for a book or a manuscript that is just partially written. With so many writers sprouting everywhere, you should not only have a full manuscript but have it thoroughly checked and edited in advance.

This is what I am writing here about, this post is on preparing a submission for a fully-written-manuscript , not a concept, or a partial product. You should look for other advice if that is your case.

Part 1 – Who to Submit to

I have finished a book that gives me this deep weird sensation in my body. It warms up my gut. I am interpreting this warmth as meaning that the work is good, making me decide to send it to the publishing world.

I enjoy the writing process immensely; the re-writing, editing, proofreading, not as much, but I can find strategies to make myself do it. What I cannot find time to do, is to promote myself and my writing, and I find little inspiration in social media, it requires endurance.

I work full time, giving me limited spare time, that is why I like to concentrate on the actual writing which gives me pleasure and is my core strength. That is how I got to the conclusion that I should get either an agent or a publisher, who are professionals dedicated to do what I don’t do well: selling and promoting the writing.

I will still have to sell the writing to them, but writing a book proposal is still writing. At least more than the daily marketing the self-publishing approach requires.

It has taken me seven months to get my book proposal ready, even I didn’t know why so long until I looked at all I actually did to get there. Here are the steps I have gone through to prepare my book for submission:

1) Get it ready

I read in many agents and publishers websites: get the book ready. Read, proof-read and edit it, ask someone you trust to give you feedback. But at a certain point, declare it ready. You can’t keep working on it forever, you need to put a stop to the reworking. You may also want to not over workshop it, too many external opinions can drown your own voice.

A good tip is that when people start discussing their views on the content of the writing rather than helping with the structure, it is time to stop showing your writing to others. Opinions about the colour of your character’s hat are not important, only precise feedback on how to make what you are writing clearer and better is.

2) First question: agent or publisher?

I knew that I didn’t want to self-publish this book straight away. I wanted it to have a good chance at an agent or publisher first.

I started my research defining if it was worth having an agent or not. I concluded that it was a good place to start. I read in may sites that if you first try sending your work to publishers and they reject it extensively, no agents will want to evaluate it because it already has been rejected by the publishers they would send it to. Therefore, between the two, the strategy is clear: start with an agent.

A best seller writer gave me his opinion that agents can do little for you and it is worth going to publishers directly. He may be right and when receiving the offer of an agent, I’ll make sure to do another research and ask all the questions and negotiate the contract to both of our advantages.

Meanwhile, I have decided to send to agents, I’m sure that having a champion with straight lines of communication to publishers and extensive knowhow of the industry can only help. Lower margins of profit but with much higher possibility of success still attracts me. If none of the agents I have chosen decide to choose my work, I will make another decision, but I’ll cross that bridge when and if it appears.

3) Research and choice of agents

I defined that I didn’t want to submit to angry agents. During my research I found many websites with an angry tone, a dictatorial and impatient discourse, repeating instructions in capital letters, and I chose to stay away from these. I cannot believe that people that are constantly irritated at the submissions they receive will give me the best of their analytical skills.

What I have looked for (to create my agents shortlist):

  • A current website
  • A cordial and professional tone
  • Agents open to receive queries or submissions
    • (double check at the time of submission, things change quickly and agents open and close from time to time)
  • Clear instructions of how they want to receive submissions
  • Open to receive submissions by email
  • Open to receive my style/genre’s submissions – VERY IMPORTANT
  • The agent’s name inside the agency, if applicable
  • The agent’s preference and link to my project
  • Agents that accept multiple submissions

 

Electronic submissions

My book isn’t limited to one market and will possibly be sold world-wide. There aren’t many agents accepting my genre’s submission in Australia and I’ll submit to a few agents overseas. All this make it important that my agent be electronically enabled.

 

Style / Genre

Agents and agencies have preferences, specialties, styles they work with or not, for example, some don’t take screenwriting, some exclude poetry, others define genres they don’t want to see, for example fantasy or  young adults stories.

You must find the agency that is open to accept your book and if they have more than one agent, choose the person best suited to receive your material.

Don’t worry, there is always someone who not only accepts your type of project, some are specialised and prefer it, if not in this one agency, in another company. I read everything, from agents who are about Christian writing, others who only read children’s stories, some that love LGBTQ books, others specify they only work with fiction, or non-fiction. In conclusion, there are agents for almost every combination.

 

Agents preferences

I chose the number 6 randomly, as the number of agents I’ll send my project to. It means I am being selective, I can keep track of them and it shouldn’t scary them off to know I’m submitting to six people in total.

Because my style/genre is more or less well accepted I was able to choose my agents (who fulfilled all the items in my list above) by the ones who seemed more inclined to be open to my project.

I researched what other books their agencies had, what where their personal preferences, if they were likely to take the risk of accepting my work. Then, I created specific letters to each of the agents using the information of what my project and their declared preferences have in common.

 

Multiple submissions

I rejected, in the first instance, agents that did not want me to submit to others at the same time as them. It can take months for them to reply. Some state they won’t even send any reply if they don’t like the material. The usual stated time is between 4-8 weeks. I don’t find it very efficient to submit to one agent at a time. If I need to make another decision in the future, so be it, for now, this is my strategy; you must choose yours knowingly.

 

It is like job seeking

From my life’s experience in looking for jobs, I think you are better off choosing a few, very specific people to send your application and doing specific cover letters and preparing the submission exactly like they are asking for, than sending it to everyone without second thought.

In reality it is much more time consuming to adapt your project to each agent than to send to everyone but it may increase your chances exponentially.


Keep reading:

See how to list the contents you will need in part 2

See how to get the material ready in part 3

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