Thursday, November 15, 2012

ABC's of Writing - (S)ubmissions tell us more than simply about your book

According to the Head and Shoulders commercial, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression." When it comes to submissions to editors and agents, that couldn't be any truer! This is your chance to truly make a sale, and, when it comes down to it, there are far too many authors out there simply blowing any chance of ever making that sale.

I have heard a lot of writers make the statement that "if your book is amazing, it will sell." There is a belief that the book alone is the only selling factor. This is true at some level. In the end, the editors and the agents have to love the entire manuscript. With that said, your book has to actually get read first. This is where we look at the flaws many authors have in the submission process.

As an agent, I spend a lot of time really "listening" to what authors have to say when they either submit to me via the internet or present a project to me at a pitch. What they say and how they act tell me a lot about whether or not I want to proceed with the actual project. Unlike a lot of agents out there, I DO look at the query letters and I DO look at the synopsis. This provides additional layers that I need to know to make a true decision about the author, and eventually their projects.

For today, I simply want to talk about written submissions. If you want information on pitching, check out the other posts here on that subject.

PRESENTATION - In this case, I really do look at the over-all packaging of the project. How does the letter look, whether or not it is digital or snail mail? Does this person demonstrate professionalism with their knowledge of appropriate business correspondence? If the project doesn't, this demonstrates to me there is a VERY LARGE chance the author is still in the hobby phase of writing and is probably not prepared to move to the professional level.

Now, before some of you say, "but this is a different type of writing!" please go and look up business letter writing on the internet. You would be surprised at what you find. Personally for me, I recommend Diana Hacker's A WRITER'S REFERENCE.

GRAMMAR - Sorry to say this, but if you don't have the command of your grammar, you will be seeing a rejection letter. Look, I will over-look 1 or 2 small mistakes, but when it comes to fragments, run-on's, verb issues, paragraphing and the basics, this tells me you are far from ready. The work will simply require far too much time to just clean it up.

VOICE - If you come across as needy, you probably are. If you come across as arrogant, you probably are. Remember, we want to work WITH you on the project. If it appears as if you are going to be difficult to work with, then we will be passing on the project. I don't care how good it is, you will be passed on.

TIME - I know some agents say it doesn't matter when you send in a project, but personally, I think this is wrong, and I might even go on to say that they are being nice and not completely telling you the truth. This is a business of deadlines. If you pitch at a conference, that project better be in the mail or in that email immediately after the conference. Months later? Ummmmmm, no!

WHAT YOU SAY - Here is a big one for me. I am always stressing the need to know who you are pitching to and knowing what that person is really looking for. When I have people describe their books in a far too general fashion, I have a feeling they are not really targeting what I want. Let me put it this way. Agents and editors are very open with their blogs and their online conversations. You know what they want if you just listen. Pitching something to me that demonstrates you haven't read up on what I like and don't like will result in a huge rejection.

Here is one example of this one. I have made it very clear on this blog that I am simply not going to buy a book where the hero or heroine is having an affair. The same goes for women's fiction. I don't believe in it and I personally think that it shows a lack of credibility in the character. I know a lot of people claim there is a good reason for this, but I don't believe it to be true. If it is a bad marriage, get them out legally before they have that rebound relationship. So, if you send a project to me with this relationship, I am passing. NO EXCEPTIONS!

The point of all of this is simple. Your story may be good, but you have to get us to read the story. If your submission package is blocking the way, you might want to revisit how you are doing it and what you are saying about you as a professional writer.


  1. Interesting article. Tip on keeping readers coming back: Tighten up the writing a bit, cut out unnecessary intrusions of personal voice like "I really do look at.." Get to your points quickly an clearly, and make them a little more obvious to people who are scanning. Also not linking to a book you recommend so highly is a big mistake. The same way you want to see professionalism from writers, blog readers want to see professionalism from you :D

  2. I enjoyed seeing an agent's mind at work. It helps get my idea of query letter set in my head. Thank you for this.

  3. Although it's true you could have linked to the recommended book, I'm guessing you had a reason not to. And even if it's a lame excuse like you just didn't take the time, I forgive you.

    Because, dear Scott, I really love you just the way you are!!

    (And that includes your ever intrusive personal voice. Imagine, someone injecting personal voice into their blog! The nerve! The ignorance! OMG)

  4. Amanda,

    Thank you so much for the comments. Let me respond to these briefly.

    First of all, this blog is really meant to be a "casual discussion" so that would account for the issue you had in terms of "tightening things up."
    Secondly, I didn't link to the book for several reasons. The first is that I assumed that most authors would be able to either "Google the book" or go to their favorite online bookstore, or even walk into their favorite bookstore and find it since it is one of the #1 books being used at the collegiate level for writing. Secondly, I simply didn't take the time to click the link.
    Finally, in terms of readership, I am not out to increase my readership with this blog. This is available to those that are interested and that is all. I do know that some "professional" bloggers are eager to increase their readership. This is simply an added element to the literary agency. It is just one way of increasing communication between one agent and writers.
    Again, thank you for the comment and I wish you all the best with your writing!