The title of this post may sound like an erotic romance with an unhappy ending – but it’s actually about two essential skills every writer needs to cultivate.
Submission is, of course, the process of sending your work to agents and editors. For the pre-published writer, this process is almost as important as finishing the novel. It’s the business part of writing. You’ve created a product, and now it’s time to label it, market it, and find your customers.
Writing a whiz-bang, knock ’em-sock ’em query letter and a kickass synopsis is as much of a challenge as writing a 400-page novel. And you’re going to need to study up on it, just like you studied fiction writing itself.
There are lots of books and websites out there on writing query letters. One of my favorites is agent Kristin Nelson’s blog, which has lots of great examples of successful query letters like this one. And if you’re a conference junkie like me, you should try to attend Kristin’s workshop on query writing. She’s a great teacher and she’ll get you fired up and ready to go.
There are also books that help; one of my favorites is Elizabeth Lyon’s Sell Your Novel Toolkit . Again, it has examples that really help you see what works in a query letter.
Once you’ve finished your terrific query letter, it’s time to write the synopis. This is a one- to five-page summary of your book that tells the whole story beginning to end and showcases your compelling characters, your brilliant plot, and most important of all, your unique voice. You can learn about writing the synopsis in the Elizabeth Lyon book, or you can try the internet, where there are zillions of helpful articles like this one at Absolute Write. Or you can attend my workshop on The Strategic Synopsis in September at the Colorado Gold Writers Conference. I’ll be showing how you can find the strengths in your writing and put them front-and-center in your synopsis.
It’s a good idea to write several synopses. Some agents want a one-page summary, while others want two or five or even ten pages. If you have these ready to go, you’ll save time. Besides, writing a synopsis is the best way to see if your plot, characters, and hook really work.
Now it’s time to put your marketing materials to work. Like any business owner, you have to decide what customers you’re going to target.
Get yourself a copy of Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents. Yes, you’re going to do lots of your research on the internet, but this is a great place to start. I like it much better than the other option, Writer’s Market, because Herman actually interviews agents and editors about their likes and dislikes. It’s very informative and just flipping through it gives you a sense of who these people are and what they’re looking for.
Now make yourself a list. What agents and/or publishers accept the kind of book you’re writing? Some accept only romance, while some only deal with science fiction. Even within genres, many only want specific types of books. For instance, a romance agent might be interested in paranormals and contemporaries, but not historicals. This is essential research. You don’t want to waste your time submitting to publishing professionals who don’t want the kind of book you’ve written, and you really don’t want to waste their time.
Once you’ve made a list of people who might be interested in your work, you need to research each one individually. Most agents and publishers have a website where they post their interests, their submission guidelines, and a list of previous sales or releases.
It’s also a good idea to look up your target agents and editors on websites like Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware. While most are hard-working people who love books and care about writers, there are a few bad eggs out there who prey on the hopes and aspirations of new writers and try to scam them out of their money.
Spend some time on the agent or publisher’s site. Maybe they represent an author you love, or maybe you’ve read books by some of their clients. Maybe they blog, and you can get a sense of who they are. Maybe their bio mentions that they have a golden retreiver or like to knit. All these bits of information can help you tailor a letter specifically to that person.
And you want to write a personal query letter for each agent or editor. Do not send out a blanket letter with “Dear Agent” at the top. Do write a letter that explains briefly why you chose that particular publishing professional. It shows you did your research, and it tells them you’re a professional, too.
Now that you’ve done all this work, it’s time to send out your query and/or synopsis and/or pages. How do you know what to send? You check the website. Most agents and editors have very specific submission guidelines, and following them will make you stand out, because as my editor Deb Werksman explains here, most people don’t follow them.
Some want hard copies, sent through the mail the old-fashioned way. Some want only electronic queries. And each wants a different combination of query, synopsis and pages. Send what they ask for, and only what they ask for. If you checked out the link to Deb’s post, you can see that they have very specific ways of working, and they’ll be more inclined to accept authors who cooperate.
Now it’s time to sit back and get ready to put that second skill to work. Rejection is almost inevitable, and being able to deal with it is as essential a skill as writing a good novel. If you don’t find a way to wrap your head around being rejected, you’re probably not going to make it as an author. It’s part of the process.
Don’t take rejection personally. Being rejected doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, nor does it mean that the agent or editor rejecting you is a %@#@$ who doesn’t recognize genius when she sees it. Rejection simply means your work didn’t strike a chord with that particular agent.
An agent has to absolutely love your work in order to take you on as a client. Agents don’t get paid until they sell your book, and they put their careers on the line every time they send your book to an editor. My agent spent over a year working with me on two manuscripts before we sold Cowboy Trouble to Sourcebooks.
And by the way, I had nearly a hundred rejections before I got published. I kept them in a notebook, carefully preserved in page protectors. I called it my “trophy case,” and I’m still proud of it. All those rejections represent my perseverence, my determination, and my willingness to work hard. Each one is a mark of valor.
But there were a lot of them. If I’d sent out one submission at a time and waited for a response before sending out another, I’d still be wearily ticking agents off the list. Simultaneous submissions are a must, partly because it can take a given agent months to read your manuscript, and partly because rejections sting a lot less when you have five more submissions out there waiting for a possible yes.
When I was gunning for publication, I spent one full day a week doing this work. I was working full-time, so that meant I was writing in the evenings and on Saturdays, about 25 hours a week, and working on the business end all day Sunday for a full eight-hour day. It was a lot of time, but I was focused on my goal and loved what I was doing.
And it worked. It will work for you too, if you do the research, make good choices, and send out more submissions every time you’re rejected. Do the work, and you’ll get the reward. And then? Then you’ll be published, and you’ll have to work even harder. But it’s the work you want to do. Your book, your characters, will be entertaining thousands of readers and enriching their lives. And that makes all that hard work worthwhile.