Writing a novel isn’t easy, and once you’re done, you find yourself up against another challenge; querying. The act of sending your manuscript to an agent or publisher in the hope of representation is far from simple. However, there is a lot of information out there that can help, including these common query queries answered below.
Which agent is right for me?
Reaching the monumental moment when you feel ready to send your manuscript to a literary agent is huge! Likely, it’s taken you a great deal of time, determination and emotion to reach this point. As such, it can be tempting to fire your work out to as many agents as you can, but truth is, you need to take some time to research agents first. While most literary agents have a very eclectic taste in books, they usually have a more refined idea of the types of story they want to sell. There is no use sending a thriller to an agent only looking to publish romance.
Fortunately, you can find a lot of information on agency websites. Take some time to read through agents’ interests and browse their lists of current authors. Do they publish authors in your genre? Would you fit in with their tastes? You can also search for interviews or public social media profiles to get an idea of what they like, what they are looking for, and whether they are accepting submissions at that time.
When should I send my submission?
As with most things, timing is crucial. The main timing mistake to avoid is submitting to an agent who is not actually open for submissions. What with their busy schedules and other commitments, it’s not uncommon for agents to close their list for a while. This means any submissions that land in their inbox are likely to be ignored or deleted. Again, check the agency website as this is where they are most likely to display this information.
There are other timing scenarios to consider too. Keep an eye out on major literary events happening not just in your own country, but around the world. Agents will use these events to network, meet industry professionals, promote their authors, and perhaps find new clients. As such, they’re likely to be even busier around these times, meaning it can take much longer to reach your submission. There’s no rule to say you can’t submit during such events, especially if their lists are open, but you should expect longer wait times.
What should I do while I wait for a response?
The wait for a response? Yeah, it’s killer. When you send your first submission you can’t help but check your inbox several times a day, every day. Don’t worry; this persistent need to peek at your mail does die down! Still, it can be a long time. Most agents ask for at least 12 weeks to get in touch if they are interested in your work. Their heavy workload also means that if they aren’t interested, they may not get back to you at all. So, how do you fill the time?
The best thing to do, is keep doing what you do. Write another book. With the long wait times, and the harsh reality that your manuscript might not get picked up, it’s worth writing another. This way, you have another book to send out when you’re happy with it. It can be refreshing, starting something new after dedicating so much time to your previous project. You can also use your wait time to re-do your cover letter and synopsis. If the first ones you tried don’t yield results, it’s worth re-hashing before you send to another round of agents.
How terrible is rejection?
All people fear rejection, but none more so than writers. And there is no denying that the first time you get that hard and fast ‘no’ it’s like a punch in the gut. You have every right to feel sorry for yourself! Put on a sad song, ugly cry, and eat ten bars of chocolate. It is, undoubtedly, a terrible feeling. However, there is yet to be an author who was accepted on their first ever submission, so it’s an inevitability you have to get comfortable with.
That said…it’s not as terrible as you might expect. Personally, I took it much better than I expected. (And this was with the ugly crying and scoffing too much chocolate!) There’s something of a victory about it, in an odd way. Because that first no is your first evidence that you reached this point. You started writing a book, you finished it, edited it, edited it fifty more times, sweated over a synopsis and slaved over a covering letter. You sent your precious work out into the world despite the fear and the protectiveness. And it’s vital to remember that every no just brings you one step closer to your perfect yes.
Does my submission have to be perfect?
Good news; no! Perfection does not exist, in any work, published or unpublished. The more you thrive for it, the longer you will put off making submissions, which can be counterproductive when you are dedicating so much time to polishing it. There are, of course, important things your manuscript does need to be. It needs to be finished. It needs to be edited. Ideally, it should have been read by somebody else who has given you feedback and checked for typos. And of course, it should be at the best possible standard you feel you can achieve on your own.
There are lots of things your manuscript doesn’t need to be as well. It doesn’t need to have been edited by a paid or professional editor. (That’s not to say you can’t do this if you wish to, but if money is tight it is by no means necessary.) It doesn’t need to be of an outstanding literary quality that will rival the classics and win huge awards. Agents are looking for well told, compelling stories with a distinct voice and interesting characters. Your work, if taken on, will then be worked on by an editor, and often the agent themselves. The polishing comes later, so don’t put off submitting just because you’re striving for the impossible.
M.L. Davis is a fiction writer from the U.K., with a passion for mystery and suspense. Alongside seeking representation for her writing, she works as a discharge co-ordinator for the NHS and loves it. Finding inspiration in people, music, long train journeys, and big cities M.L. Davis looks out for stories wherever she goes. She also blogs over at www.uninspiredwriters.com sharing tips and advice on writing, editing and querying. You can find her at www.twitter.com/mldaviswriter and www.instagram.com/uninspiredwriters to talk all things books.