This week (and I know I missed a week, sorry) I’m going to talk about Querying, that is, sending your manuscript to Agents and Publishers. I’m a self-published Author but, back when I finished the manuscript for Camelot 2050: Black Knight I had big ideas about getting published and finding an Agent but there was a flaw in that plan. A new Author trying to bring a series to publish isn’t commonly successful. Agents and Publishers want to know that there is a market for your work so trying to push a series is rarely going to work out. However, I did learn about the Querying process and it’s this experience that I wanted to share with you so, to begin.
You have a higher chance of finding someone to take a stand-alone work over an ongoing series initially at least. This year I’m working on a stand alone story to send out and hopefully that’ll work out and I can push the Camelot Trilogy retroactively if I succeed.
The first step is research, you have to find an agent or publisher who deals with your genre. Speculative Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Romance, whatever you’re writing you need to find someone who promotes that kind of work. Many Publishing houses and Agents specialize so go looking for the bodies who promote your kind of work. There is a directory, released annually of publishers in the UK and Ireland that you can get hold of, the MPG Directory of Publishing by Bloomsbury, but it’s expensive. You can get most of the information you’ll need on the internet given a bit of research.
You’ll need to visit websites to see who is accepting submissions (there’s a Hashtag on Twitter for just such a purpose (#AcceptingQueries). Agency websites have short bio’s for their agents detailing what kind of work they represent and if they are accepting submissions. It goes without saying that, if they aren’t, you’re not going to get anywhere.
So, once you’ve found the Publisher or Agent to submit to, what do you do? Firstly, read their submission guidelines. These bodies receive thousands of Queries when they open their books and the first thing they do is see which ones followed the guidelines. If you didn’t, no matter how amazing your work, you’re going on the ‘Slush’ pile, that is ‘works we’re not even going to read’.
Commonly you’ll be asked for a cover letter, a synopsis and then a sample chapter. Again, a little research will bring you multiple guides on how to write these. A cover letter is a ‘hello’, a quick introduction about yourself and an elevator pitch about your book. The greeting is important, personalize it, use the agent or publishers name, ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ isn’t going to cut it. Be formal if you feel you must but at least show that you’re not using a simple form letter by adding the name of the agent and their agency. When you introduce yourself include a little about things you’ve done that have influenced your work, maybe drop a couple of names of writers whose work yours reflects (‘I’m going to be the next J.K. Rowling’ is too much, publishers share those kind of stories like we share bad reviews). And, finally, the ‘elevator pitch’ is sales patter for a brief description of your work that you could give in the space of a short elevator ride. A paragraph, maybe two, selling your work to the agent/publisher. It needs to be lively, engaging, engrossing, like the back blurb of a cover it should capture their attention and lead them to the next piece of the submission.
The Synopsis. Now I *hate* writing the synopsis, it’s like breaking your story down into it’s key components and it’s hard. Start with bullet points of the main story elements, add points of character development but you don’t want to exceed a page of A4 at a ‘standard’ font size (Times New Roman, for Gods sake don’t use Comic Sans). Sometimes it feels like ripping the soul out of the story but it is a factual document of what happens in the book. Don’t hide the twists, the agent isn’t your audience they *want* to know the spoilers.
Lastly, the sample pages. The length can vary, pay attention to rules like ‘No Prologues’ because, if you’ve made it this far, you’re still not safe from the Slush pile. This is where the Agent assess your style, they’re not reading for fun, they want to know that you can write compelling narrative, action and dialogue. They are judging your work and you need to know that. The submitted piece should be as clean and polished as you can make it, properly edited for spelling, grammar and punctuation. Once you have assembled this submission pack you’re ready to Query. Thankfully E-Queries are on the rise (there are some established companies who still only accept hard-copy however) so that saves on printing and postage. When I Queried for Black Knight I set goals and structure to my process. I Queries on Thursdays (research and selection all week but Queries on Thursdays), I selected four Agents/Publishers to Query that week and documented who they were so I wouldn’t repeat Query them (I feel that’s important, people in the industry talk to each other just like writers do), and then, the wait.
Commonly an Agent will take Six Weeks to respond to a Query but it can take Months. Don’t be disheartened, don’t be discouraged. Read the refusals, many won’t say anything more than ‘I didn’t click with the story’ or words to that effect but, and stay with me on this…
That. Is. Good.
When you finally find an Agent or Publisher you want it to be someone who will love your work just as much as you do, who will champion your story in the competitive market and who will shout your name from the rooftops if they have to to get your work out there. You don’t want to be represented by someone who thinks your work is ‘okay’ you want someone who see’s the worth of your efforts and will put that effort back in return. That’s why Querying can take so long. Finding the right person to represent your work is a challenge but, and these are wise words I will repeat as many times as I have to (for myself as much as you), getting Published is a Marathon, not a Sprint.
Just as a final note. Any Agent of Publisher (apart from the Self-Publishing services) who asks for money, from you, to promote your work is scamming you. Agents and Publishers earn their money from sales. Anyone taking money from the author to represent them before the book hits the shelves is a con.
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