Dos and Don’ts when submitting to agents and publishers

So, you’ve written the book and are ready to take the literary world by storm. All you need now is an agent and/or publisher to get the ball rolling. Simple.

Believe it or not, when you come to the query letter – the letter you address to the agent/publisher when you send them your work – writing the book will suddenly seem like the easy part. It’s a bit like giving birth then realising the hard work hasn’t even begun.

I’ve written my fair share of query letters (and still do!), so I’ve picked up a few tips over the years. Hopefully some of these might help you to write the letter that leads to publication…

DO – Keep it succinct. No-one likes a rambler. Any more than a single page and you’re rambling.

DO – Take the time to find out the name of the person you’re writing to. Dear Sir / Madam is lazy, and there’s no need for it now we have so much information at our fingertips. Even worse – Dear Sir – assuming everyone is male. Don’t do that unless you want your submission to go straight in the shredder.

DO – Include a short section on yourself: have you had any work published previously? If so, give details. Is your day job relevant? Even if you write business reports, it’s still writing, and if this is the extent of your CV, then mention it!

DO – I love this one. Always say WHY you’re writing to this particular agent/publisher. It’s good to mention other authors they represent whom you admire or who write for similar audiences to yours.

DO – And this is the biggie. Make sure you read CAREFULLY the requirements of the agent or publisher on the website before you write. In almost all cases they’ll tell you what they want you to include in your query letter. They don’t give these instructions so you can ignore them – they give you them to help you give yourself the best possible chance of it being read. Ignore at your peril!

DON’T – Send a submission to an agent or publisher who isn’t interested in your genre. You can work this out pretty easily – although it can be time consuming – by searching on the internet and reading the agents’ websites. They’ll always share this information as one thing they definitely don’t want is irrelevant submissions to add to an already huge reading pile. Thinking your work might be the one thing that changes their mind and gets them suddenly inspired in a genre in which they have no interest or experience, is pure delusion. So best not to do it.

DON’T – Be arrogant. Passages in your letter such as ‘This manuscript will change your life’ or ‘You’re sure never to have read anything of this quality before’ is a guaranteed fast track to that faceless rejection letter.

DON’T – Think this is the time for wacky creativity. Most agents and publishers these days request submissions are made by email rather than post. Even those who still accept post will not thank you for packages containing glitter bombs or any other quirky method of communication. Send what they ask, how they ask.

DON’T – Include irrelevant information. You don’t have the space. The recipient doesn’t care that your dream is to one day pen best-selling novels from the beach house you will buy when your debut book hits the big time, nor do they want to hear that you’ve read a load of rubbish books recently and reckon you could do better. Be proud, be confident, but be humble.

DON’T – Forget your contact details. Imagine the author or publisher loves your work but can’t get hold of you. Nightmare! Include an email address, postal address and phone number. And always make sure you mention any social media or blogging activity you do that’s relevant to your writing. Agents and publishers want to know you’re capable of self promotion.

Good luck!

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