When it comes to submissions, sometimes Deb Erika Does and sometimes she Doesn’t

Little Gale Gumbo, by Erika MarksAs someone who sold her first book after twenty years of submitting, I have collected a fair amount of Do’s and Don’ts on the subject and wanted to share some of mine with you all. After reading them, I hope you’ll chime in on whether you agree or disagree with any of them—and feel free to add some of your own!

DON’T sweat the small stuff. So you misspelled your own name on your query. Yes, it’s unfortunate, but it happens. And I can guarantee you, while the blunder may not be lost on the agent it reading it, if your query is strong and your work is appealing, a typo won’t break your chances.

DO keep a spreadsheet (or some equivalent means of record) to track your correspondence with agents. Make sure to record the ones who are kind enough to offer to look at your next work, as well as the ones who request partials and fulls. It shows you are conscientious and courteous when you can take the time to personalize your query. And that way you can begin your next query with something like: “Dear XXX, you were most kind to consider a partial of my previous work, THE LAND OF NOD. I have just completed a new novel, BAKING BREAD, and I would be thrilled if you would consider reading it.”

(And along those same lines…) DON’T resubmit a reworked manuscript an agent has already seen and rejected unless they explicitly ask you to do so. Not only will the agent see through this, but you will risk ruining your chances to make a strong impression on this agent with your next project.

DON’T discuss your submission status online. Think of it like the crush who asked if you had plans for Friday but didn’t actually ask you out yet. Wait until you’ve made the date before you sound the internet alarm, or risk blowing your chances.

DO keep your query to a page. Even in the age of email queries, a page is a page is a page. Keep it concise and to the point. Let the query speak to your novel and not to you (unless your background is relevant to the project.) State your genre and word count up front and why you think this agent would be a good match for your novel.

DON’T send out queries in HUGE batches. It’s so tempting, I know! With the click of the send button, you could put out 100 queries into the agent world in less than an hour. Why wait, right? Wrong. Wait. No, really, wait. Take a cue from agents. When agents are sending out a manuscript on submission, they will often send out small batches in a round at one time to five or six editors, instead of a mass mailing, and it’s a wise strategy. That way, if they collect notes with similar criticisms of the work, they can go back to the author and possibly make changes to the project before submitting it to another batch of editors. The same is true for querying. You may think you have a wonderful query—and you may be right!—but on the off chance it isn’t everything you imagine it to be, why not test the waters with a few small batches of queries at a time, allowing you to modify your query if you aren’t getting favorable responses.

DO know when it’s time to put a project away and begin something new. How do you know when it’s time? I’m not sure there’s a perfect answer, but when you feel you have taken the manuscript as far as it will go, and pursued as many agents as you can, without an offer for representation, then maybe it’s time to move on to a new project.

DON’T write checks you can’t cash. Don’t put in your query that you have a finished manuscript when you are only 150 pages in. You might get a request for a full from an email query 10 minutes later—and then what do you do? Wait until you have an actual finished manuscript, and then offer it for review.

DO behave professionally and courteously. If an agent asks for an exclusive read and you’ve already got 5 partials out in the world, be up front about it. There is a good chance the agent may still want to see a partial. Honesty is always the best policy. The same goes for offers. If you have an agent offering representation and there are other agents still considering your work, get in touch with those agents immediately. Don’t let them consider a work that you have essentially taken off the table.

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Okay, friends–your turn! When it comes to submissions, what do you do or don’t?

And speaking of don’tsDON’T forget that The Debs are giving away query critiques to 5 of our beloved readers! To be eligible, just leave a comment any day during this week ( Including Saturday, April 14ths post—contributed by our FABULOUS guest agent Michelle Wolfson) and specify if you’d like to be entered in the contest and we will randomly select 5 winners. You’ll have up to two weeks to send us a digital copy of your query letter (for books in any genre) and we’ll give you feedback on the query. We’re so excited to see what everyone is working on!

27 Replies to “When it comes to submissions, sometimes Deb Erika Does and sometimes she Doesn’t”

  1. This is great…. most of it I already am implementing, one (at least) I’ve already broken…. always room for improvement, that’s what I always say! 🙂 For me, the behaving professionally and courteously seems to be paramount, and it helps that I’ve been a freelance writer for a long time… always in the back of my mind, you never know when what goes around will come around. Thanks for great advice, Erika. (p.s. do I get a second entry for this comment??? Please? 😀

    1. Good morning, dear! I like to think that is something we writers bring to the table–that many of us have had “previous lives” in other fields so we are used to a professional code and understand the nuances of publishing as “a business.”

      (PS–I’ll check with the other Debs on the second entry question 😉 )

  2. Great tips! I’m eating up every last little morsel of knowledge you can throw out at me, so please, keep them coming. I’m almost up to drafting that query letter, and somehow it seems more intimating that writing an entire novel. Love the “don’t discuss your status online” bit. As much as I claim I’m not superstitious, I wouldn’t breathe a word, afraid I’d jinx it. And I’d love an entry.

    1. Hi Kerry Ann! Thanks so much for stopping in–and congratulations on being nearly up to the query stage!

      Oh, you and me both on the “jinxing”– I always refer to the “evil eye” (my father’s family was always whispering about the evil eye!) so I always avoid discussing projects (online or in person!) until they’re DONE done.

  3. Oh, excellent additions, Erika! Every one of them.

    One of my CPs set up a spreadsheet for me when I started to query agents–all I had to do was fill it in as I sent, and again when I heard back. There were slots for rejections, for requests (partials and fulls), and of course the dates. Oh, and also a space for any notes I had about each agent. You always think you’ll remember everything, but trust me, you won’t.

    1. Exactly! I had the same thing, Linda–a NOTES column–and that’s where I would put if they requested partials or fulls or if they offered to look at a next project, etc…anything that I could build on the future.

      What a nice CP!

    2. I love your CP – spreadsheets are awesome. Might I add, for those in the process or about to look for an agent, that http://querytracker.net offers a FREE agent database AND tracking program that I found to be invaluable in agent-searching and submitting. For stats dorks like me, it even has reports on agent turnaround time, their request ratios etc. I guess trolling around that site became one of my submission-induced ‘new hobbies’. 😉

      1. I didn’t find out about QueryTracker until after I started my agent search, but it does sound like a great place to stay organized.

  4. What a great list! I would add, once you set up your spreadsheet, CHANGE IT for every submission. The agents you may have liked for your first submission (now shoved in drawer with socks) may not be the right fit for your second sub. And not only that, but the industry changes quickly. Those agents could have moved on, switched sides, or changed preferences. I made the mistake of putting my list together waaay too early, and by the time I went to sub a couple of months later, a full 30% had changed email address/agency/become an editor…yikes!

    I would love a query crit…mine is weeping in despair!

    1. Hi Suze! That’s a GREAT tip–thank you! The industry is always changing and so are agencies. It’s always a good idea to double check/update records accordingly. And what’s great is with social media and websites it’s easier than ever to keep up to date!

  5. Erika, I really love this post. It should be in a list somewhere of blog posts every aspiring writer should read. Required Submission Reading. I wish so much I’d had this when I started querying back in the day when i knew NOTHING about what I was doing. Now I’m working on book proposal number two, and even though I already have an agent I still think this is a good refresher course. Thanks!

  6. Great post, Erika. This reminds me of the time I sent a query out and misspelled the name of another author the agent represented. I was so appalled, I sent the query again with a note explaining my mistake. And guess what? This agent actually asked me for a partial. Maybe it showed my conscientious (Um, ANAL-RETENTIVE) nature?

    Your tips are wonderful. And, yes, sign me up for that potential query read!

    1. I love that you did that!

      I did the very same thing once (the typo, not the correction)–and it was an author I truly admired–and I wrote the incorrect title for their book in my query. Ugh. I wasn’t as quick thinking as you, my dear, and was too paralyzed with dimness to write back…

  7. Excellent tips! I think the “don’t tell them you have a finished manuscript if you’re only 150 pages in” is really important, because why would you want to start your relationship with your agent with a lie? I read a book where someone did that at the end and prayed people wouldn’t take it to heart.

    I would love to be entered in the contest!

    1. Thanks, Kim! Exactly right–as tempting as it may be to get ahead of ourselves(ie, I just know the idea ALONE will sell my book even before I finish it!) it is never wise.

  8. Great tips! I am completely overwhelmed and nervous to be thinking about querying, so any advice helps! Just the thought that I could possibly win a critique of my query letter makes me feel a bit more confident.

    So, yes to signing me up to win a query letter read!

  9. Thanks so much for this list. #NESCBWI12 Conference coming up this weekend, aka Prelude to Queries. I’ll tweet this list out to my peeps.
    PS, please consider me for the QL critique!

    1. Hi Melissa! So glad to hear you’ll be heading to a conference with this in mind! You will absolutely be entered in the contest. Thanks so much for stopping in–and hope you’ll come back and visit with us again!

  10. Great list, Erika! Sending out in small batches is an excellent tip!! I made that mistake my first time out. Second time, I broke my list down into three batches and tweaked my query after the first batch.

    And following up on small batches – prioritize your list into A list, B list and C list agents. Then when you’re sending your first batch, pick a couple from each of the lists – don’t send to all A list agents in the first batch in a frenzy of excitement. That way if your query bombs the first time out, you haven’t wasted all of your A list.

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