Submitting Your Manuscript

When it comes right down to it, how do we know which agents to query when we finish a manuscript? Where do we find them? Who should we pick?

After completing my last round of edits for my middle grade fantasy, I knew it was time to send it back out into the insane world of agents for representation.

I tried my hand at this last year (with a much less impressive draft, might I add), so I wasn’t going into it blind.

Here are a few tips:

  • Edit your manuscript. And when you’re done editing. Edit again. And again. And send it to editors or freelance editors or beta-readers for testing. Then edit some more. Your own opinion is not enough.
  • Make a list of agencies that accept your genre. Not all agencies accept everything. So DO YOUR HOMEWORK! I’ve read so many comments by agents and publishers that are frustrated because writers do not take the time to research each agency individually. Yes it takes extra time. But if it gets you one step closer to a contract, why take the chance at looking unprofessional?
  • Narrow down your list to favorites. I narrowed my list of 90 potentials to 30. I know it is tempting to send your baby to every living agent who accepts your genre, but resist!!! Read up on the agency. See what books they represent, what authors they love, even their agent bios. It tells a story of the agent we might not otherwise know and points us in a good direction. It may seem like we’re taking away chances at publication, but why would you want to be represented by someone who you don’t have anything in common with or who won’t do their best by you?
  • Avoid agents who charge you for printing or reading. THIS IS A SCAM!! I’ve read it over and over. This is supposed to be part of their services, not another charge to you.
  • Try for agents who are members of a national association. Especially the AAR. Association of Authors’ Representatives. If they say they’re a member, they’re obligated to follow a code of ethics as an agent and do their best for you, the writer.
  • Prep your submission package to within an inch of its life. Again, professionalism is everything here. There are certain requirements and formatting guidelines that are required when you submit, and so few people know about it. Don’t be someone who sends an unwashed draft of your story. Get informed. And tailor your submission to the agency’s demands. If you don’t, they will literally throw your submission away or delete it from their inbox. Do EVERYTHING in your power to make sure they are impressed with you.
  • Be patient. Most agencies do not appreciate it if you keep calling or e-mailing them. If you don’t hear back within two months, assume they’ve rejected you. If you keep trying to contact them, they get annoyed and might get rid of your stuff. Don’t take that chance.
  • Breathe. It’s okay to be rejected. I was rejected 12 times last year, which sent me on a massive re-writing tour through the past year and produced a novel that’s 100 times better than it was a year ago. Remember, all your favorite authors were rejected. Yes. All. (Unless self-published).

There you are! A few tips for those ready to submit your manuscript. Did I miss anything? What do you think?

My own personal field guides to agents and submissions are:

Writer’s Digest. Seriously, folks. It’s a wealth of information, and they have a zillion articles literally titled, “How I Got My Agent.” Hello?!?!!? Free advice for getting an agent! Score!

Guide to Literary Agents. Which is a book updated and published every year with contact information of hundreds of agencies, as well as tips and tricks to increase your chance of publication.

Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript, 3rd ed. This is an amazing resource for any writer. It has submission guidelines for articles, poetry, short stories, novels, screenplays, etc. I don’t know how I ever lived without it.

Good luck in your submissions!

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Guest Post: I’m going to slit my wrists if you don’t publish me…

… Well not really. Hmm, scratch that, I’m only kinda telling the truth.

The fact is I have had my moments, you know the type, the devastating (albeit occasionally histrionic) outbursts of “it’s not fair! Why me? What have I ever done to anyone? Who was I in a past life? Hitler!” Okay, so maybe that last one is just me. However, I have spoken to enough writers to know that emotions of desolate desperation at never being read (at least by enough people) or known are ones that attack many of us at some point in our turbulent creative journeys.

I have been writing from a very young age, seriously trying to get some sort of recognition for the past seven years or so (on an off and on basis in all honesty) and have given up on my attempts at many intervals during my writing “career”.

The countless knockbacks classily framed in those “sincere” rejection letters that have so obviously been meticulously crafted for me personally [come on publishing/literary agents, at least change the font and colour when you cut (and may I add creatively misspell) and paste my name assuring me there is someone out there with whom my story is going to click eventually, I just need to find that needle in the haystack] were enough for me on an individual basis to throw in the towel once and for all.

I would just stop, there would be no calm before the storm or voodoo inspired smoke signs before the eventual demise of my pen (or keyboard), I would seriously just get up one morning and that would be it. No more writing, no more creation, nothing. Nada. Blank space full stop.

When I look back on those times when my imagination would be firmly tucked away in the abyss that occupied the supposed artistic section of my cranium, I wonder if I was truly fine not writing. I have been innovating places, people, stories, worlds, everything and anything really that my brain can possibly conjure up for so long now, I don’t really know how not to do it.

It was only when my extremely insightful father asked me one day, “Why do you write?” that I truly reflected on the reason.

“Why do I write?” I asked myself aloud one day. I mean before all the drama and the hypocritically enamoured materialism set in, why was I writing at six? It wasn’t for the publishers. God knows I never really wrote anything to be read, I just wrote because I had to, because it made me happy, because it kept me sane and safe in a world I still, till this day, often struggle to comprehend.

Screw the publishers, I thought. Kick the literary agents to the kerb, I mentally screamed. I will write because I don’t know how not to. Not for the money, or the elusive and often fallible “fame” associated with compiling a bestseller, but solely because I can’t not write.

When I would open up the dam I had forcefully deployed to block all the creativity within me and commence on my imperfect path to writing heaven, my mind would seriously punish me by not allowing me to sleep for weeks, often months. It was like opening up a realm of wonder, full of untapped imagination that was just waiting impatiently to pounce, rip apart any sort of entrapping realism I was attempting to band aid on.

The reality is it is much more torturous for me not to write than it is to. Sure, the chances of being read by anyone really is meagrely slim, but those few and far between who do, make me so much more grateful. Who knows if I’ll ever be “famous”, but accepting my fate as a writer (successful or not) makes me that much more content to do what I don’t just love to do, but in unbridled reality, have to do.

Last time I checked, breathing isn’t an option, it’s survival and I don’t need the act to be recorded on television or anything. Similarly, writing for me is living.

So, what does writing mean to you? Truly?

MP Sharma