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 humility when 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?
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Chuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest Books edits theGUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and theCHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing.
His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. Chuck has also written the writing guidesFORMATTING & SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT and CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM.
Besides that, he is a freelance book & query editor, husband, sleep-deprived new father, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham.