There is obviously no quick answer to this one! Getting published is a feat which eludes the best writers for years and some never find homes for the fruits of a lifetime of literary effort. There is a school of thought, however, that recognises that if a book is good enough it will eventually find its way onto the right desk at the right time and reap the rewards.
Therefore, with all the best intentions, all I can really do in this article is give you as much advice as possible, so that when the illusive agent or publisher is feeling generous, your manuscript isn’t passed over.
A major complaint from agents is that publishing is an industry of amateurs. It isn’t just the have-a-go-Harrys who are slapdash in their submissions; many serious writers are never even considered because of their approach and presentation. So, what should your submission package consist of?
- Covering letter. This should be a concise introduction to yourself and your project. Include only relevant information. Including information about your envisioned readership/marketability (genre/age group/similar author comparison) will demonstrate your professionalism and commitment as a writer.
- Synopsis. (see article ‘Writing the Perfect Synopsis)
Your style of writing is of paramount importance in the covering letter and synopsis. This is the first impression you will give to an agent or publisher. Take the opportunity to excel.
- Sample Chapters. Do not send sample chapters unless they comprise the very best writing you are capable of. Novice authors often wonder if they should approach an agent before they have completed their novel and the answer is generally a resounding no! Worse than this, however, is approaching an agent or publisher with the first chapters of a first draft of a novel. Again, professionalism is essential. Creative people are often not gifted with wonderful business acumen, but if someone tried to sell you a shoddy car with the promise that they would work on it, you would hopefully have the good sense to tell them to come back and show you when it is finished. Publishers are business people; they are not going to invest a penny unless they are confident in the finished article.
In terms of the specifics of the presentation (amount of sample chapters, page specs, etc.), the best advice is to check the agent/publisher’s website. Each agency has different specifications with regards to submissions. The Writer’s handbook is also a great resource for this kind of information.
The jury is out about the usefulness of agents. However, the vast majority of publishers will not accept unsolicited manuscripts; therefore, finding a good one may be the first step on the road to a successful writing career. Finding an agent, however, is often just as difficult as finding a publisher, so approach them with the same professionalism. Agents can be found in the Writer’s Handbook with lists of their current clients, so that you can find the most appropriate agent for your genre. Never give an agent money up front. Agents take a percentage of the profits from your book. If an agent expects direct payment from you, he/she is conning you.
Being in the right place at the right time has been central to the success of many talented authors. The desk may be the right place when you are writing, but when trying to get published you need to get out there and make contacts. Visit literary events and festivals and talk to as many people as you can.
Persistence and your desire to succeed will see you through those days when yet another rejection letter is dropping on the welcome mat. As stated in the beginning of this article, even the best writers had to spend years trying to get noticed, but if your book is good enough, it will find a home.
Download your free copy of Ditch the Publisher: 40 Indie Authors on Their Unique Self-Publishing Journeys, an invaluable companion for writers considering the self-publishing route.
Also available – Blood, Sweat and Ink: The Pleasure and Pain of Writing a Novel
Making Books Behave… Advice and support for writers.