Every writer dreams of the fateful day when a publisher will say, “Yes! I want your book!”
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen very often if you don’t have an agent, especially with bigger publishers. But to get an agent, you need to impress one. And to impress one, you need a killer submission.
And, unfortunately again, a lot of people aren’t sure how to write a good submission. So, as a junior agent, let me tell you the eight most common mistakes I see in submissions.
- Not reading the instructions
Agents have instructions for a reason. It expedites the process and helps you provide them with the information they need. The guidelines are usually prominent on an agent’s website. It will only take you a few minutes, but it shows that you have taken the time to check the agent out and that you care what the agent wants.
- Not taking time to edit
I don’t just mean your manuscript. I get emails riddled with typos, grammar errors, run-on sentences… if your email is a mess, it doesn’t give agents much confidence for your writing. Think of your email as the outfit for your manuscript’s job interview.
- Not giving enough information
Yes, your writing is important. But other things are important too. Agents need to know your platform, a synopsis of your story, and who you are.
The amount of emails I get proclaiming that the writer’s work will be the next bestseller is astounding. Apparently I’ve received the next Harry Potter a few times. I’ve also received manuscripts that will “amaze” me with their “depth and brilliance.” I’m sure these writers are just trying to employ marketing techniques, but it comes off as arrogant. Let your work do the talking.
- Being a creep
Please don’t be a creep. Some emails almost seem like love letters, and it’s awkward. Please don’t compliment anything that doesn’t have to do with an agent’s professional work. (For example, comments on personal appearance are just… uncomfortable.) Flattery comes off as fake (and creepy.) Be polite, but just pitch your work.
- Sending in an unfinished work
The agent doesn’t know you. You’re only a name on a screen. It doesn’t matter if your manuscript is fifteen percent done or eighty percent done. If it isn’t finished, how does an agent know you’ll really finish it? How do they know you’re capable of finishing well, or even in a timely fashion? I understand that you might not want to waste your time on a manuscript that doesn’t have a contract, but agents take a lot of risks representing clients with little or no publishing background. Taking on an unfinished manuscript is even more risky. There’s more wiggle room if your manuscript is nonfiction or if you’re an established author with books that have sold well, but even then, it’s best to finish your manuscript.
- Sending dozens of follow-up emails… two days later
Being tenacious is good. Being impatient is bad. The publishing industry is ridiculously slow. We wait months to hear back from publishers. If a week has passed after submitting and no one has responded, that’s normal. Sending follow-up emails just clogs the inbox and makes it take longer to get to submissions. Agents are very busy with the clients we already have, and they take precedence. My personal submissions response rate is usually within a month, but that’s relatively fast. Wait at least a couple of months before sending an inquiry.
- The worst mistake: not submitting at all
You’ll never get a contract if you don’t submit. The worst thing an agent can say is no. And the best thing they can say is yes! There is no reason to be embarrassed or nervous; chances are, you won’t meet the agent in person after a rejection, and even if you do, they won’t mock you. We all start somewhere. Half the time, a no doesn’t mean I thought it wasn’t a good manuscript. It often just means that it didn’t fit what I’m looking for. So keep going!
Keep writing. Keep editing. Keep submitting. And at the end of the day, remember that we’re human too, and we really do want you to succeed.