Your novel is completed and all of your auxiliary materials-literary query letter, novel synopsis, short synopsis, cover letter-are ready. Now what do you do?
You don't start sending things out helter-skelter, hoping something with hit the target. You take a thoughtful, intelligent, businesslike approach to submission. You plan a campaign.
A Multitiered Approach
I always recommend a multitiered approach: querying literary agents, querying editors, meeting agents, and meeting editors. If you've ever submitted anything before, you know why I recommend this approach. Most agents and editors take a long time to reply to writers' queries, not because they're mean or don't care, but because in the grand scheme of things, material from people you don't already represent or publish is not as important as material from people you do. A wait of several months up to a year is not uncommon. If you queried one agent at a time, one editor at a time, you could be in your dotage by the time you got an answer. Agent know how slow editors can be. That's why we often make simultaneous submissions.
To start your submission campaign, make a table with the following headings across the top:
AGENT/EDITOR ADDRESS & PHONE
DATE OF RESPONSE
GO TO NUMBER
This is your submission log. Now, based on your research, write down the names, addresses, telephone numbers, and, if they're listed, the email addresses of the agents and editors you think will have an interest in your novel.
Immediately query all of these agents and editors. On your submission log, keep a record of exactly what you send to whom and when you send it. In the leftmost column, number the entries. If positive responses come in, record those, too: Requested synopsis and first three chapters, or Requested complete manuscript, or whatever the case may be. Then, in the extreme right column, write the number of the next blank row of your log. There you'll fill in the agent or editor's address and contact information again, and record what you're sending this time.
Negative responses, of course, end there, though you should make a note about the response: Not accepting new clients, or Not enthusiastic, or maybe just Printed rejection slip. Or you might simply want to write See letter. Keep all correspondence in a file or folder with your log.
As you're querying and acting on positive responses, keep your eye you for new names. You might read about an interesting deal in Publishers Weekly or online in Publishers Lunch. You might read a novel like yours and see an acknowledgment to an agent or editor not on your list. If so, jot down this person's name, Google his or her contact information, and query! In other words, always keep your material moving. Most importantly, do not allow negative responses to immobilize you.
Don't Take It Personally
You've got to develop a Teflon rhinoceros hide in his business. Never forget that an agent's or editor's opinion is that that-his or her opinion-and nothing more. Also keep in mind that agents and editors seldom give reasons for turning material down; they don't have time, and even if they did, they don't want to get into a dialogue or critique-unless they see promise and want to encourage you. Therefore, you'll often get those blasted one-size-fits-all rejection slips or letters that tell you nothing at all.
Sometimes the reasons behind these maddening pieces of paper actually have nothing to do with your material. An agent or editor may not be accepting unpublished writers but does not want to say so. He may not be accepting new clients at all unless they are exceptional, but does not want to say so because then submissions would drop off-a bad situation for an agent. He may already have a novel signed up that is similar to yours. The point is, it doesn't matter why someone rejects you; make a note of it and move on, knowing that rejection is an inevitable part of the process of getting published.
Keep It Moving
While you're querying, following up on positive responses, and watching constantly for new agent and editor names, keep an eye on directories, newsletters, and websites such as Shaw Guides (www.shawguides.com) for conferences you feel are worth attending. You may not be able to cross the country to attend a national convention in your target genre, but there's really no excuse for not showing up at a local conference-even a general writers conference-especially if agents who handle your kind of writing will be attending.
When you meet an agent or editor at a conference or convention, be sure to ask that all-important question: "May I send you my manuscript?" If the answer is yes, record that agent's or editor's contact information on your log as soon as you get home, then get that material into the mail, making certain to record the details-what you're sending and when you're sending it.
And so it goes. Never hold back from submitting to a new name you've discovered; there's no limit to the number of queries you can have out at the same time. If an agent or editor requests exclusivity, be sure to find out for what period of time (it varies according to the agent), then decide whether waiting that long without submitting to other agents is worth it to you. Obviously, if material is already on submission with other agents, an exclusive look won't be possible. If you agree to an exclusive submission, a polite letter or phone call is perfectly acceptable if you've had no response by the end of the agreed-upon time period.
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