Wednesday 16 November 2011

Crabbit's Tips for Writers - 3: On Approaching Agents and Publishers

Here is the third in my series of free CRABBIT's TIPS FOR WRITERS. This one is Crabbit's Tips for Approaching Agents and Publishers. For the ones I've already published, see the label "Crabbit's Tips for Writers" by scrolling down the righthand sidebar. Or, for the full list see the first post here.
For today's tips, either read them below or go here for the free downloadable pdf, to print out and pin above your desk. Enjoy and pass on! This one is particularly for those who are new to this business of submitting to publishers. It's crucial stuff and I'm sure regular readers of this blog already know it because I say it quite often...

1.      Research to find agents/publishers who handle the sort of book you have written. If they don’t, they won’t.
2.      If the agent/publisher has submission guidelines (usually on website), follow them strictly. If they don’t specify something, follow the standard rules, as found on my blog and many others, and in other good written resources.
3.      If you decide to go the wacky route and break a standard rule, don’t be surprised if you are rejected without response. Your sense of humour may not be the same as the person you are writing to.
4.      A standard submission for fiction consists of letter, synopsis and approx the first 10k words; and for non-fiction contains letter, proposal (including outline or synopsis) and some form of CV as well as the first 10k words.
5.      If submitting a novel, you must have completed it before approaching agents/publishers. If submitting non-fiction you need not.
6.     Never do a blanket submission or use a submission service – each approach must be personal.
7.     Never hassle an agent or publisher; do not thrust your manuscript at them; do not pitch or bug on Twitter; and do not vent your frustration in public. (Your blog is public.) Never criticise them for how long they’ve taken or anything they’ve said or not said. They talk to each other.
8.     Understand the many reasons why they say yes and why they say no. It’s not just about your book so don’t take it personally. (Reading Write to be Published will show you all the reasons, so you can avoid them.)
9.     Be prepared to be rejected, often. It’s not a lottery but it’s a very difficult game.
10.  Be methodical: research before and record afterwards.
11.  Expect to wait up to six weeks for a reply. If you haven’t had a reply by then, it’s fine to send a very polite email asking if they are interested. If they don’t reply to that, treat it as a rejection. Don’t contact them again.
12.  Are you allowed to approach several at once? Yes, with caution. Don’t mess them around, especially agents who may work on their own and whose time is very valuable, and unpaid. So, be up front: if you are sending to someone else, say so, which gives them a chance to chip in with a request for you to give them a period of exclusivity. With publishers, feel free to send to a couple of others at the same time but a) not if you’ve been asked not to and b) don’t mess people around. Be up-front and professional. They do understand that you can’t wait six months for every reply but they need you to understand how busy they are, too.
13.  Do not include gifts in your submission. Or photos, naked or clothed. Or confetti. Or anything except the submission.
14.  Get advice only from people who have either been published by proper publishers or who have worked in the industry. Lots of people give advice when they know sod all.
15.  Be writing your next book while submitting this one. If you only have one book in you, you are not a great prospect for a publisher or agent. Also, if rejections come in, it’s a comfort to you to know you have another book in progress. Besides, it will be better.
16.  Some people break all the rules and get published. You could cross a road blind-folded and not get run over. That doesn’t mean that crossing the road blind-folded is a good way to live a long life.
17.  In your covering letter, never boast or over-egg your book’s qualities. Don’t mention film rights or how the agent/publisher is going to be rich. Don’t tell the recipient that he/she will love the book or in any way tell them their job.
18.  Writing a synopsis is nothing to get stressed about: I have masses of guidelines and examples on my blog and am soon publishing a book, Write a Great Synopsis – An Expert Guide.  
19. Do not submit your work while drunk or otherwise likely to act even slightly unwisely.
20. Eat chocolate and drink coffee. And generally be kind to yourself but very tough on your work.
That's it - simples :) 


Jacqueline Pye said...

Thank you for this, Nicola. Very timely. I'm planning to approach two particular publishers when feedback arrives from several children to whom I've given my manuscript. Already had a critique and applied results, and of course read WtbP!

Rebecca Emin said...

What a superb blog post.

Lauri said...

Excellent advice.

In a fit of desperation after getting my 16th agent rejection for my wall flower novel (which I've accepted now will NEVER get to dance) I randomly chose an agent who had the same name as my sister. I sent her an email saying the whole thing was a huge fat crapshoot and I only chose her because she had the same name as my sister. I was, also, of course, drunk at the time. She asked for a partial and later rejected it. Best that novel ever did.

Nicola Morgan said...

Lauri - :) but also :( That made me laugh - sorry!

Jacqueline - good luck :)

Rebecca - thank you :)

Neal... said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Neal... said...

Well over the course of a little over 30 submissions, I think I've only managed to break the spirit of about 3 of these on occasion, which I don't think is *too* bad going...

Sometimes I do wish there was a place for guilt and consequence-free venting of pet peeves about being on this side of the submissions process, but overall I've been pleasantly surprised about the time agents have taken to respond honestly and helpfully about things they don't want to represent.

God bless 'em, I say. Facing a slush pile is certainly something I wouldn't fancy doing so it's really helpful to know the best way not to make their jobs worse...

Julian Hill said...

Lauri, you've stolen my heart. That is correct behaviour, that is. Hats off.

I always used to think that the appropriate response to a rejection letter was a greetings card full of toe-nail clippings; thanks to Nicola and this wonderful post, I now see that I was wrong. I am a changed man. Honest.

Nicola Morgan said...

Neal - the reason you've had a decent response is probably that you've not sent them a pile of rubbish. (Not saying that anyone else on this blog has!) You say you wish there was a safe place to vent - I know what you mean., However, I also know that agents and publishers and also booksellers often talk about having a place we could vent about the utter crap that sometimes comes our way. Don't get me wrong - I am not talking about writing that just isn't very good - I'm talking about utter madness. (And btw, i'm NOT talking about enquiries to Pen2Publication - none of them are madness - I'm talking about people who send me MSS even though I'm not an agent or a publisher and honestly their emails often don't even make sense.)

Julian - euuw.

GleamingKist said...

Sounds like good advice to me.

Neal... said...

Nicola - if it is rubbish I'm sending, at least I think it's presented properly...

I'm all for agents, publishers and co getting a chance to rant too, and I've seen lots of funny tweets about loopy submissions. But I can imagine there's a vaguely disturbing side to it as well.

On this side of the divide it's very easy to look bitter when complaining. Still, I have a developing theory that,just as you can judge a civilisation by how it treats its poor, you can get an idea of individual lit agencies from how they manage the slush pile -- even if all you get is a form 'no thanks'.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic always :P