Though I ultimately chose to self-publish, I did take a run at the query trenches. There are a lot of reasons for agents and publishers to reject a book, even if it’s a good book.
One thing you can do to up your odds of getting your manuscript accepted by an agent or publisher is to make sure you’re actually ready to submit it to them.
How do you know if you’re ready?
Here’s a little checklist.
Finish your book first.
Partial books and outlines are not ready for submission. (Not unless you’re already famous for something else.)
Almost every writer I know has unfinished books lurking on their computer that may or may not ever get finished. It happens. A lot.
Sometimes the author loses steam with the project. Sometimes a new story idea distracts them. Sometimes the aspiring author just decides they don’t want to write at all anymore.
And agents and publishers know this happens.
They will not accept submissions for incomplete manuscripts because they don’t want to even risk wasting their time.
Do a couple of rounds of self-edits.
Submitting a completely unedited manuscript only hurts your chances. You need to look through it, make sure your characters are consistent in their behavior and appearance through the book, check for plot holes, that sort of thing.
Anything you can fix before submissions will only up your odds.
Have beta readers go through it.
You need other people to look at your book. After spending tons of time in that world/with those characters, you know exactly what’s supposed to be on the page. Your brain will fill in the gaps.
A beta reader can find those gaps, those places where you didn’t explain a concept that you understand (because you created it). They’ll find plot holes. They’ll find things that your characters do (or don’t do) that just don’t feel consistent with their personality.
And it’s so much better for them to find these things (so you can fix them) than for an agent to find them (and reject your book for something that could have been addressed).
Research Traditional Publishing vs. Self-Publishing.
Traditional publishing is not for everyone. It works for many authors, but not all.
Querying is a grueling process. Going through it only to realize months (or years) later that self-publishing is the better route for you personally… is a waste of time and effort.
Do some research before submitting to any agents or publishers to make sure this is the right path for you. Weigh the pros and cons of both.
For me, self-publishing makes more sense, but that may not be the case for you.
I’m willing to take on the extra work of formatting and metadata and copyrights and lining up editing and cover art in exchange for the creative control allowed by self-publishing.
But if the idea of that extra work makes you cringe and you just want someone else to handle it (even if it means they get the final say over what they book looks and reads like), then traditional might be better for you.
Look into it for yourself.
All of the above steps are necessary early steps whether you go with self-publishing or traditional publishing, but from here on, it’s specific to the query trenches.
Research publishers and agents.
There are so many out there, but they don’t all want your book. Each publisher and agent has a network in place for books of a specific genre, a specific age group, specific tropes, etc.
Furthermore, they don’t always accept submissions.
Many have specific dates/times of the year where they open for submissions. Agents can only work with so many authors at a time (varies from agent to agent), and publishers only publish a certain number of books a year (varies from publisher to publisher depending on the size of the company).
Some publishers only accept submissions from agents, not directly from authors.
So do your research here. Compile a list of places to submit that accept your genre, age range, level of gore, level of sexiness, tropes, etc.
Submit to the ones you can. Set reminders in your phone to submit to places that open later in the year.
Prepare your submission materials.
Every single agent or publisher has a whole slew of things they want submitted alongside the manuscript (or a portion of the manuscript). Take the time to get these right.
If you don’t include a cover letter when they specifically requested one, they might not even bother to read your first page.
If you don’t format your manuscript how they want it formatted, they might not read the first page.
If you give them a three page synopsis instead of a one page synopsis (Because you already had a three page one and surely that’s good right? That’s giving them extra.) they probably won’t read the three page synopsis. Or your manuscript.
These submission materials are basically like a job interview. They’re seeing how well you pay attention to basic guidelines, how much you’re going to fight and try to slide by with stuff they don’t let fly. After all, anyone they offer a contract is going to have deadlines and things they have to do (to the agent/publishers standards) within that time.
But these materials are also meant to show them if your book is a good fit for them and make it as easy to digest as possible. They look at thousands of manuscripts, and they have to be able to pick out the ones they want relatively quickly.
Making their lives difficult probably won’t get you a book deal.
Personalize the submission materials.
Show them that you actually looked at their website, their catalog of books, the authors they work with. (Which you should do to see if your book is actually a good fit for them.) Show them that you did some research, that way they can take your submission seriously.
Check out Query Shark.
This website has a lot of help for getting a solid query letter. Don’t just submit yours to them for critique though.
Read through the ones that have already been critiqued/revised and apply the advice to your own query letter.
You can find those here.
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