The time has come. Your novel or memoir or book proposal is now complete. Not only is it complete, you’ve revised it several times and incorporated the critical ideas of peers and editors to make it better. You’ve developed a list of agents to target and researched each one.
You’re ready. It’s time to start the submission process and send out your work. But before you formally e-mail your book out to agents and editors, go down this checklist of dos and don’ts to make sure you’ve giving yourself and your submission the best chance possible.
(This article excerpted from Chuck's forthcoming book, GET AN AGENT (December 2014).
Submission Tip Checklist
Be formal. Although you’ll be sending most queries electronically and there is a tendency to be less formal over e-mail, address the agent as you would in a paper letter. Remember that elements like sarcasm and self-deprecating humor do not necessarily come across well in unsolicited correspondence.
Personalize your query to each agent or market. (No mass submissions to multiple people at the same time.) Make sure that you have the agent’s name spelled correctly. If their name is “Sam Johnson” and you are not positive of their gender, use neither “Mr. Johnson” nor “Mrs. Johnson,” but rather just address them using “Dear Sam Johnson.”
Double-check the agency or publisher guidelines to make sure you’re submitting the correct materials to the correct contact. This, obviously, is a huge point—so take your time with it.
Make the e-mail’s subject line specific if the market requests it. If not, simply writing “Query: (TITLE)” is a safe bet. If you’re sending your e-mail to a specific agent at an agency, but the agency only provides a generic e-mail address (e.g., email@example.com), then use the subject line “Query for (Agent Name): (TITLE).”
Keep your emotions in check: Submission e-mails should be professional and businesslike, so resist the temptation to say something off-putting like “Although you inexplicably did not respond to my last query, I am trying you again with a new project and hope you will at least get back to me on this one.”
Do not say “I welcome your feedback or comments on my work/pitch.” It’s not an agent’s job to critique the work for you, and they will see such a comment as a red flag.
Don’t type in all caps or all lowercase. Use proper punctuation and pay attention to grammar and spelling always. (You can write your book’s title in all caps in the query letter, but not anything else.)
Double check the mailing address or e-mail inbox you’re sending to. One wrong letter in an e-mail address is enough for your query to be lost in cyberspace forever.
Respect the importance of the query. A good query will open doors, so make sure others have seen and critiqued your letter before you send it out to dozens of markets. The same goes for your synopsis or nonfiction book proposal. Don’t go into battle with questionable weapons.
If querying by e-mail, make sure all your font and type size is the same. Since you will be cutting and pasting into e-mail, different sentences can appear different sizes. Send yourself or a friend a test e-mail to check for such an issue.
Make no demands. Anything that seems like a demand (“Respond to my letter within three weeks to respect my time”) is a major turn-off.
Act with humilitywhen talking about yourself. No matter your current accomplishments, and no matter how much you think your novel is the best thing since “Breaking Bad,” you need to simply discuss the story. Even if your writing history is impressive, be sure to state your accomplishments quickly and humbly.
Unless you have a serious health concern that prevents you from using a computer, submit your own book yourself. In other words, don’t have a friend or relative submit your book for you. This kind of communication gets confusing and the agent may not know whom to address in correspondence. Plus, it can give an agent pause to wonder why the writer is not confident enough to submit his or her own work.
If you do use snail mail, don’t try to set yourself apart by using fancy stationery. Standard letterhead and envelopes are preferable. Don’t include any extraneous materials that were not requested.
Do a final check to make sure the agent (or market) in question is still open to submissions. For example, if an agent suddenly closed herself off to unsolicited queries this morning, she will usually say so on Twitter first, and also make a note of it on her official agency website. Those two online locations are good places to visit right before you hit “Send” to double-check that communication lines are still open.
And after you do send off the work, ensure that you noted the e-mail on your submissions spreadsheet, so you can effectively keep track of each agent you’ve submitted to and when.
(Hi, everyone. Chuck here chiming in for a second. I wanted to say I am now taking clients as a freelance editor. So if your query or manuscript needs some love, please check out my editing services. Thanks!)
If you missed Chuck's last post, Classifying Your Book: How to Research & Target Literary Agents, you can click here to read it.
Do you have a fun story to share about querying? Something a bit less than fun? A question about queries? a Seventeenth Tip?
Thanks so much for the post!
Saving this for future reference, thank you, 🙂
Thanks for this checklist, Chuck. As I'm getting ready to send out submissions, these are great reminders!
B. Liebling-Goldberg—Yet another great post!!
if only one choice should you blog or Tweet your prose?
Excellent list, Chuck! Thanks!
Excellent message, not just for querying but for all business interactions. Always act like a professional and treat your counterpart like a professional.
Thanks for a great checklist, Chuck!
Permanent reminder for my file. Thank you
Bookmarked this one. Thanks a lot.
[…] Before you send out your query letter or your manuscript, read this checklist. Don’t make the mistake I did and mess up your blog address or their name (yikes!). A big […]
Going in the bookmarks. This is wonderful advice for when the time comes. Thank you!
Am a writer in nigeria, would love to get an agent..just started though, but I think something cool is in those pages of mine.
Chuck: Would you approve my usage of your 16 items in my own blog? I feel it will get additional exposure, and certainly will help my writing friends.
My e-mail is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking forward to being with you at another conference soon.
James M. Copeland
Thank you for the very informative advice. Hopefully, I'll need it soon!
Much appreciated. Thank you for the advice!
Thank you for your sound advice. Makes a lot of sense!
Always like finding one of your comments, tips or articles. And besides, any friend of a dog is a friend of mine. 🙂 PS: Can't list my website on your sign-in lines. I tried to work on it myself - big mistake. My designer is on the high seas, sailing a cat from Kauai HI to the Oregon Coast. He is going to have a fit when he sees the mess I made. Be well
I hate this. This article should be titled: How To Bend Over Like A Sheep Within The World of Publishing. Do as you're told, tick all the boxes and smile when the publisher looks at you.
I say blah that.
Write what you want. Write the way you want to write. Make your story your story. Send it in to publishers and agents and let them bend to you. Agents and publishers make money off of YOUR work, remind them of that.
There are literally (using the true sense of the word) thousands of agents in the UK.
If you want to be in control of your own writing career do it your own way. Get an agent that suits YOU. If you want someone else to tell you what time to get up in the morning, follow the above rules.
[…] Submission Tip Checklist @ChuckSambuchino via @WritetoSell […]
a chuckle from mark's post... lol...
thank you chuck. some of your advice is invaluable to me... thanks again
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[…] Submission Tip Checklist: Double-Check These 16 Things Before Sending Your Book Out – Here’s a great article from Chuck Sambuchino (actually, an excerpt from one of his books) for those of you who are thinking about sending out your book or proposal. Super, super checklist. […]
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Thank you for all the useful information.