Friday, July 11, 2014

Do You Really Know Who You Are Submitting To?

I have been seeing a lot of blogs and articles lately about the power of social networking and getting your manuscript in front of editors and agents. While I do believe most of these articles have great intentions, what I find all of them truly missing is a key element to long term success as a writer. These articles never tap into the crucial question of "knowing" who the person is you are submitting your project to.

Several years ago at the RWA Conference in Florida, I, along with several other fantastic agents ran a session called query fest. Not only did we have a chance to talk about writing query letters and discuss what we like or hate in queries, we also had a chance to do a lot of cold reads to let you into our minds. At the end of the session, one writer came over to me to thank me for the session but then she followed it up with an interesting comment. She had been submitting to one of us for some time with projects she truly thought were right. As she listened to us talk, she had now realized why the story was never going to work. It wasn't the query. It wasn't the story. It was the simple fact that she had now had a better understanding of the agent after two hours of listening to us. This was a relationship that would never work.

She had gotten to know the agent better.

I do believe that moving into the digital age like we have, while it does seem to speed things up a bit, creates a huge sense of not knowing the person on the other end of the Internet. We can look up a lot of different pieces of information out there but we never really get to know the person. Think about it. If I get on LinkedIn, Query Tracker, Publishers Marketplace or any number of other sites that have lists of editors and agents, I can quickly search anyone who might be "acquiring" my genre. It doesn't take much. I can get their email, I can get mailing addresses and so forth. The one thing I can't get is learning who this person is.

If you are someone reading to take that plunge and start sending projects out to editors and agents, slow down. Take the time to learn a few things first:

  • What is this person's personality?
  • How "aggressive" are they when they promote books?
  • Where do they like to send projects? Where do they avoid?
  • What is their approach to "marketing"?
  • Do they like certain genres over other?
  • Do they have pet peeves?
  • How do they interact with their authors?
  • etc.
Following that conversation with that author at Query Fest did get me thinking about something that I have said to numerous authors after that. There are a ton of editors and agents I respect highly. I think they do great work! But, if I had a project to send them of my own, that list would be much shorter. Although I respect and admire the work of some of the agents out there, a working relationship with them would simply not work out. Their approach and my approach wouldn't mesh.

Look, I don't care how "connected" you get out there with your social media and your networking, to truly be successful, you have to take it that additional step and get to know those editors and agents first!


  1. After meeting an agent at a writers' group meeting yesterday, I'm in complete agreement about the importance of making a personal connection. But aside from the occasional salon or speed dating at a conference, how would you propose an author attempting to make that type of connection go about it? I've already compiled a well-researched list of 35 agents, reviewed their recent acquisitions and the tendencies of their agencies as well as read any statements they've made when being profiled. But I don't think that can really be construed as personal. How would you recommend I make more meaningful connections...without appearing to be a stalker?

  2. Keith,

    You are doing the right thing. The key is that you are getting to know who the agent is and hopefully as a person. The fact that you have taken it beyond simply looking at the acquisitions is important. When you do query, making a reference to those comments will help a lot. Just make sure to "demonstrate" how your story is doing just what that person wants and likes.