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Tips for writers 8

Magazine

Submission to publishers and agents

The eighth and final set of our new pages of tips for writers deals with submitting to publishers and agents

  1. Get your work into the best possible shape before you start submitting it, see Tips for Writers 1.
  2. Make sure there is a market for your writing and think clearly about how you should present it, researching what else is being publishing in that area so you really understand what publishers will be looking for.
  3. Do your research on publishers and their lists. Make sure any submission is going to a publishing house which publishes in that area, so for instance don’t submit a crime novel to publishers without a crime list. Look at publishers’ websites and consider phoning up to ask for a catalogue to be sent to you. See also the reference books listed in 40).
  4. Do your research on agents and their clients. Many agents specify what they don’t represent (scripts, children’s and science fiction are often excluded), but try to gauge from their client lists what they might actually be looking for. This information is available in the WritersServices agents’ listings, or you could look at reference books such as the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook, The Writer’s Handbook or Publishers’ Marketplace. See also Finding an Agent.
  5. Look for agents who are trying to build up their lists, rather than those with established client lists. It may be wonderful to think of being represented by the agents who act for Stephen King or Ian Rankin’s, but you’re much more likely to get taken on by someone who’s just set up, or a hungry young agent in a bigger agency.
  6. Your research into publishers and agencies should encompass what they say about submissions. Even if you think it makes no sense for them to bar you in this way, there’s no point in sending your manuscript to a publisher which does not read its slush-pile or an agent who specifies that no unsolicited material should be submitted.
  7. Do your homework and put together a good submission package. See our page on this. Usually this should consist of a letter, synopsis or outline and the first three chapters, as outlined in Your submission package, but check exactly what is required and send that. Many American agents ask for a query letter first but British agents often specify the submission package you should send.
  8. Unless the publisher or agent is specific about accepting email submissions, always send your submission by post. It’s just too tempting for an agent not to print out your submission and why, in fact, should they have to?
  9. Make sure you’ve followed all the requirements of Making submissions. Manuscripts should be double-spaced in a clear font such as 12 point Times Roman. Send a clean copy of your material, to make sure it doesn’t look as if it has already done the rounds.
  10. Use any connection you have when you are submitting material. Try to send it to a named person at the publishing house or agency, and do mention that such and such an author or contact suggested you should do so, if you can. There’s nothing fair about this, but it may help and you need to do anything you can (in a good way) to draw attention to your submission.
  11. Don’t give up too easily, as submissions are pretty tough at present, but if you do find in the end that you are not successful, consider self-publishing as a serious possibility (see Tips for Writers 4. Our WritersPrintShop offers 90 pages of information on how to go about this.


Chris HolifieldManaging director of WritersServices; spent working life in publishing,employed by everything from global corporations to start-ups; track record includes: editorial director of Sphere Books, publishing director of The Bodley Head, publishing director for start-up of upmarket book club, The Softback Preview, editorial director of Britain’s biggest book club group, BCA, and, most recently, deputy MD and publisher of Cassell & Co. She is also currently the Director of the Poetry Book Society; During all of this time aware of problems faced by writers, as publishing changed from idiosyncratic cottage industry, 'occupation for gentlemen', into corporate business of today. Writers encountered increasing difficulty in getting books edited or published. Authors create the books which are the raw material for the whole business. She believes it is time to bring them back to centre stage.

 

Tips for Writers 1: Improving your writing
Tips for Writers 2: Learn on the job
Tips for Writers 3: New technology and the Internet
Tips for Writers 4: Self-publishing - is it for you?
Tips for Writers 5: Promoting your writing (and yourself)
Tips for Writers 6: Other kinds of writing
Tips for Writers 7: Keep up to date
Tips for Writers 8: Submission to publishers and agents

© Chris Holifield 2008-9

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