Updated: Sep 1
One question that always seems to come up when writers get together to talk is the terrifying business of submissions, and how best to crack through the slush pile and wind up on an editor’s or agent’s desk. I’ve got a bit of experience in this matter, having sent out over four hundred individual query letters in the last decade, and I have a few tips that I think might help you in your own quest to break over to the other side and get that magical request for pages.
1. Always do your research. That might sound simple, but most editors and agents are seeking out very specific types of work to represent, and the vast majority of them have their wants list in Writer’s Market and on their websites. Putting in a little bit of time to see what they’re actually looking for won’t guarantee anything, but it will make the submission process easier. If agents and editors only got the stuff they were looking for, the query process would be smoother for all involved.
2. Follow the rules. This really can’t be overstated enough, but when you’re looking over your tattered copy of Writer’s Market and poring over the net for people to submit work to, take the time to look at their submission rules. I know from talking to various industry folks that when one can’t follow along with something as simple as the type of font to use or to not attach any documents, the submission process has just ended for the author, and it did not go well. Make sure to follow the rules! This can and will be the difference between your query being read, or sent to the recycle bin.
3. Don’t follow up. There are exceptions to this—like if you’re asked to—but if you’re blind querying an agent or editor, do you really need to do a six-month status check? You already know the answer. Not to mention, if they’re already bad at sending a response, do you really even want to work with them? This business is a two-way street, after all.
4. Know their name. Add this to the obvious category as well but think of it as more than just an anonymous submission. Find out who else they work with, learn if they like horror or whatever genre that you write in, or if they just represent it. You don’t want to cyberstalk them, but learning a little bit about them could definitely help in the review process—just make sure that you address them as, “Dear Ms.” or “Dear Mr.” The time for first names will come later if everything goes well, but not on the first date.
5. Be confident. No, that does not mean you need to walk into their office—or inbox—and slap a manuscript on their desktop, but don’t be afraid to tell them why your work has merit! There’s a reason you’re submitting it, after all, and it’s not because you hate it. Tell them what makes your story unique, what books it’s like, and why you think they will love it. Editors and agents like to believe in the projects they represent, and not just in a monetary way. If they truly believe they’re a part of something special, it will be reflected in the way they handle your work. Make sure they know that when you put your letter together.
In conclusion, writing a query isn’t nearly the confusing or terrifying thing that most authors make it out to be, it’s just another part of the process. Do you have any tips about querying? Anything that you’re dying to know about the process? Post below!