There’s nothing like finally getting to write down those two magical words; The End. If you’re a writer, then you’ll know. Between the unexpected arrival of The Idea and the relief of those two little words is an agonising and at times back-breaking journey (I desperately need to get a new desk chair, ouch!). I’m not really “of this world” when I’m in the middle of writing a book; I’m locked in my own head with my body stuck on auto allowing the sink to overflow and the oven to burn whatever I thought would be an easy meal (fishfingers and left over pasta, that’ll do). It’s exhausting, no more so than for my husband who has to deal with the grumpy writer’s block days as well as the I’monaroll!Can’tstop!Goaway!ThisisamazingI’msuchageniusI’mgoingtowinapulitzer! days (and then the inevitable hangover that follows…). So when you tie off all the loose ends, edit and finally reach that last page and get to write those two amazing words it can feel like all the hard work is done and dusted. And it is, if you’re not planning on submitting it. But if you are? The hard work isn’t over, in fact, it’s only just beginning…
The submissions process is nerve-wracking and exciting; you’re sending your “baby” out into the world to be judged and deemed worthy by a list of names that know what they’re talking about when it comes to books. It’s a lot of hard work; writing a page long synopsis shouldn’t be tougher than writing a 150,000 word novel, but guess what? It is! And those first few rejections are like a light bruise compared to the head on collision your ego takes when the fiftieth rejection lands in your inbox. Believe me.
So, here are my tips for surviving the submissions process (which I haven’t actually technically survived yet, but I live in hope…!).
When I was a kid my Mum and Dad decided that they wanted to get rid of a load of old stuff that was hanging around the house and thought a car boot sale would be a good idea. Out on the stall went some old books and ornaments and the usual sort of brick-a-brack, but also a few of my old toys. In truth, they were bits and bobs that I hadn’t played with or thought of in years, but as soon as they were right there, laid out on the slab I couldn’t bear to let go of them! They were mine! And when my old pink play pram was dragged away in one hand by a mother dragging along her daughter in the other I sobbed and sobbed.
This is not the way to treat submitting your novel. Stop thinking of it as your baby, no matter how painful bringing it into being was and how much of your blood and soul it holds. You are attempting to sell it at the end of the day. You need to be willing to part with it and allow lots of strangers to rip it apart. If you’re not willing to part with it, don’t put it out there.
Remember when you were a kid and your Mum told you to pack your bag the night before school so you didn’t forget anything? This is as true of the submissions process as it is of making sure you don’t forget your PE kit or Maths homework. To query Literary Agents and Publishers (of which only a handful allow unsolicited submissions) you’re going to need a few things in your back pack:
- A FINISHED MANUSCRIPT, duh!: No agent is going to want to look at your full manuscript at the query stage (if they do, be suspicious), but you should have at least finished writing it, have edited it and be happy enough with it to send it out. Most agents will ask for the three chapters (usually the first three), while I’ve found that American agents like to deal in pages (anything from the first five to the first fifty). I have a saved document with the first three chapters titled and formatted and ready to attached to an email when I need it.
- A Query/Cover Letter: This is just a short letter where you address the agent/publisher you’re submitting to (by name, preferably) and briefly explain what your book is about, the genre, the word count and the target audience. It’s also a good idea to tell them a little bit about yourself; your experience in writing and whether you’ve ever been published before. While it’s good to tailor each letter to each agent you send to, creating a standard copy that you can tweek here and there will save you time.
- Synopsis: Not all agents ask for them, but annoyingly they’re good to have saved in a file somewhere ready to use. A synopsis is usually a page-long description of your novel’s plot from start to finish so whoever you’re sending it to can get a feel for how the story pans out. Try to steer clear of the back of the book blurb style spiel – a synopsis should be more clinical. They are a total ball-ache to write, but definitely worth doing – if only for when people ask you what your book’s about you’ll know exactly what to say! 🙂
- A list of Agents/Agencies: This is probably the most time consuming part. Who are you submitting to? You’ll need to research a list of potential agents. You can either look online and gather a list of agencies, or you can use the Writers and Artists Yearbook (above). Be aware that an Agent’s Submission Preference is as varied as a person’s sandwich order – they all ask for different things and in different ways. British Agencies like attachments, American Agencies hate them and refuse to open them. Not to mention that they all prefer to review different genres. Always, always, always find the name of the person you’re submitting to and check their guidelines.
- Prepare your Inbox: If you get a reply you’re going to want to make sure it doesn’t slip into your junk folder. Creating a specific Novel Submissions Folder in your email inbox is a good idea.
Once you start sending out submissions it’s kind of hard to keep track of them. You shouldn’t ever just send one and wait, you need to get that thing out there and spread it like the clap. Some agencies respond quicker than others and some don’t even respond at all! And once you’ve sent out a fair few it’s hard to remember exactly who you’ve submitted to. I try to manage the mess by keeping a spreadsheet of all the agents and publishers I’ve sent my work to. I write down the name of the agency, the specific agent and their email address and the date I sent it off. Some agencies only respond to queries if you’ve been successful and so making a note of the date allows you to cross them off when a significant amount of time has passed and you haven’t heard anything. Keeping a note of names and emails allows you to easily chase up agents if you need to. When I get a rejection I highlight the whole row in red. I highlight vanity publishers in yellow (fallen foul of a fair of those…), and when I get asked for the full manuscript I highlight the row in a very hopeful and optimistic green. 🙂
It’s going to hurt the first time a rejection falls into your submissions folder. Sometimes it’ll be polite and optimistic, sometimes it’ll be a soulless auto-response and sometimes it’ll be heartbreakingly blunt. Receiving rejection after rejection never stops being soul-destroying but you do get used to them. The only way I’ve found to deal with them is to see them in a positive way – every single rejection is proof positive that you’re pursuing your dream. When I get one, I respond by sending five more out – batting them back with a groan like I’m struggling through that final game at Wimbledon. Right now I’m perpetually stuck at deuce, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before I gain the advantage and get that match point. 🙂