Getting Your Work Out in the World: The Mechanics
On Wednesday, I discussed the mindset of getting your work out in the world, which, really, is even more important than the mechanics. Because, if you're head is not screwed on right, all the submitting in the world is not going to matter. One way or another you'll end up blocking your efforts.
Today its time to talk about the nuts and bolts of submitting your work. In reality, there's probably more written on this subject than any other when it comes to writing and writing-related topics. Because everyone wants to know how to get published. Or how to get an agent. So I'm going to let people with more expertise than me delve into the details of this and stick with a general overview in this post.
First, let me emphasize something–the work must be at its best. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I can't tell you how many times I've had civilians (non-writers) tell me to quit fussing with rewriting and just go ahead and submit something. Because, don't you know, that's what editors are for. They will fix all of your errors for you, so why bother to do it yourself?
What will happen is that said editor will take one look at the glaring grammatical error on the first page and toss the manuscript over his shoulder. That's it. End of story. End of your publishing hopes. So get the piece into as good a shape as you possibly can.
Next, prepare to be patient. Agents and editors in both the book and magazine and newspaper worlds are way more overworked than we can even begin to imagine. Consider just this one fact: agents need to spend their working hours at the office dealing with their existing clients. This means that the search for new ones and the reading of submissions must happen during off-hours–evenings and weekends. So prepare thyself to wait for awhile. A long while. I just had an agent respond to a query with a request to read chapters after two months. I'd long since assumed she wasn't interested. Not the case at all.
While the process of submitting your book is slightly different than submitting an article, there's enough similarities to offer some broad stroke advice.
1. Get clear. It always starts with clarity, I'm telling you! Decide what market you're going to submit to, and make a plan. For instance, if you desire to have your book published by a traditional New York publishing house, you're going to need an agent. If you're going for the smaller houses, you can submit directly. But you need to know this upfront and plan accordingly. Perhaps your plan is to go for an agent first, and if that doesn't work out, hit up editors at smaller houses. Same holds true for magazines. There are A list titles and B and C and D list. Decide how you're going to approach them. Will you start at the top and go down? Figure out what makes sense to you. Great! Now you're ready to:
2. Do your research. You can't just send your book off to any old agent. Or your article to any old editor. Or your story to any old journal. As mentioned, publishing professionals are overworked. And if you are submitting your urban fantasy novel to an agent who specifically says he's only interested in non-fiction, you're going to piss him off. Or if you send an idea for an article on farming to Vogue Knitting, um, you're not going to get very far. Result? Angry editor. And that's bad karma. There are a gazillion sites that offer agent and publisher directories, and a million books, too. Do a Google search. Look around on Twitter. Ask a writing friend for a recommendation or ideas. Cross check to the agent's or magazine's website and make sure you are clear on what they are looking for, and that your idea matches it.
3. Follow directions. Most agents and publishers have websites. And somewhere on that website they'll have submission guidelines. (If they don't, its a pretty good bet they aren't taking submissions and that you're going to be wasting your time sending something to them. Besides, my theory is, if they don't want me, I don't want them.) Read the guidelines and follow them exactly. Do not send your entire manuscript if they are requesting a query only. Don't think you are the exception. Because you're not. Trust me. I know your novel is fantastic, but you're still not the exception. And not following the rules is a very fast way to have your work go unread.
4. Ask for more. I've had some heartbreaking rejections from agents lately. The kind that say, love your work, love you, blah, blah, blah, but I can't represent you for some dumb reason. When you get a personal letter that says anything positive about your work, write them back. Thank them for taking time to read it (you should do this no matter what) and then politely inquire if they can think of anybody else to whom you might send this manuscript? I've had astoundingly good luck with this tactic, with some agents sending me a list of five names. And, sometimes they'll offer to let you use their name, too, which is a huge door opener. (Should this lovely piece of serendipity happen to you, milk it. Put the referring agent or editor's name in the subject line of the email and lead with it, too.)
5. Celebrate. Every time you send a passel of stories or articles or queries out, give yourself a pat on the back. And then go meet a friend for a drink, or take the family out to dinner. It takes a huge, somewhat tedious effort to make a marketing push. And now you're going to be in it for the long haul, waiting around to hear. Life's too short to mope. So, instead, celebrate. Then, no matter what happens, at least you'll have fun in the meantime.
What are your favorite tips for submitting? Any horror–or happy–stories to share?