By Nichole Giles
Here I am, with a finished novel. And I know—in my gut and with the help of feedback from other authors—this one is better than anything I’ve ever written. So, I’m researching and considering, and getting ready to submit.
But it occurs to me that not everyone understands what that means. My neighbor asked about my book yesterday, and I boldly admitted I’m looking into agents and editors to whom I can submit now. And she said, “Wow, that’s so exciting.”
But I thought, “No, how terrifying!”
I don’t know about the rest of you, but for me, it’s more than sending my baby out into the world. It’s me sending a part of my physical self. Part of my actual heart. And it’s really hard to know that, yes, it will get rejected before it’s accepted. But I understand why, and how it all works, and I WILL get submitting. (Though I have already warned my family to expect tears when those rejections come in.)
My good friend and fellow blogger, Ali, asked me last week what I do when I finish a book. And since I know she has a few books finished, I thought I’d do a blog about that very subject.
Once I finish editing, polishing, and cleaning up the last word on the last page (and here I’ll throw in that you can polish a manuscript to death—literally—so don’t spend forever on it.) It’s time to do some research. Where are you submitting? Most LDS publishers accept full manuscripts for fiction. So, write a nice, short cover letter (instructions follow in a minute) package, and send the whole thing.
If you’re submitting to national editors and / or agents, you’ll probably need to write a synopsis. I could go into big details here, but in this area I’m no expert. Instead, I’m going to refer you to Heather Moore and Josi Kilpack, who ARE experts in this field. They’ve posted some articles at Writing on the Wall explaining in detail the art and technicalities of writing synopses. Listen to these ladies; they know what they’re talking about!
Once your synopsis (or possibly synopses, since every agent or editor wants something different) is ready, it’s time to put to use all that research you’ve (hopefully) done during your writing journey. Have you been to a conference or two where you’ve met an agent or editor with whom you feel you could work well? Did you have a specific agency in mind? If not, maybe you should. A good way to figure out where to look is by going to the library and reading the names of agents and editors in the acknowledgement section of your favorite books—especially those similar to yours. I suggest investigating those first, and then branching out from there.
A tip I’ve heard several times: query junior agents. They’re often looking for the “Next Big Thing” to boost them up the ladder, and may be more open to new authors than the senior editors or agents in the firm.
Once you’ve decided to whom and where you’re going to submit, it’s time to write the query. And yes, there’s a reason I left this for last. A query should be personalized to whomever you’re sending it. If you’ve met this person before, mention it. If not, mention other books they’ve edited or represented, and why you liked them. Add a line about why you think your book would fit in with other things they edit or represent. Then give a ONE PARAGRAPH pitch for your book. (Some editors don’t read these until after they’ve read the first chapter, but it still has to be sparkling clean and catchy.) Throw in a paragraph about yourself, including your training, any writing credits, awards, and things of that nature—but don’t go too overboard. Make sure you keep this letter to ONE PAGE.
Now, depending on the person, they may ask for a certain number of submitted pages. Or they’ll ask for the first chapter, or two, or even three and a synopsis. Read their submission instructions carefully and follow directions exactly. If you’re submitting by snail mail, you should use mid-high quality paper, make sure everything is printed legibly and without ink smears, and never, ever staple anything together. Paperclips are acceptable, but never staples.
I’m not sure there’s a right or wrong way to put your package together, but I generally put the synopsis on the bottom, the chapters or pages on top of that, and the letter front and center. In the past, I’ve inserted a business card, but mine are now way outdated, so until I get more printed, I’ll leave that out. Slide the entire shebang into an envelope—or box—and print your labels on the computer, so you can make sure no postal carrier has any excuse to deliver it to the wrong address. (A note as mentioned by a national market editor at a conference: Never tape your submission envelope so well that they have to get out a sword to hack through it. They may decide it isn’t worth the effort. And also, ONE envelope or box will do, do not separate your chapters.)
Now, march your tail over to the post office and mail that thing. (Or things, if you’re submitting simultaneously.) Then, go home, mark it on your calendar or submission chart, and get right to work on a new project so you don’t drive yourself crazy with waiting to hear back.
And my friends, the inevitable truth is, we will all get rejections. All real writers do. So, make yourself a list and be prepared so that when that first rejection comes, you know exactly what to do and where to submit next. And then follow through. And follow through again. And keep following through because eventually, someone will see that your manuscript is a diamond in the rough and snatch it up.
Don’t let rejections break you from your writing desire. Keep going, no matter how many rejections you get. Keep writing, like your life—your very breath—depends on it. And keep submitting, because you’ll never get accepted if you don’t.