April 28th, 2006


submissions etiquette

I don't find this an easy topic. Partially as everyone has so many rules. And so few of them are the same. Plus, there's a lot of anxiety going around about submissions, particularly once the manuscript is out the door and on its way. I'm going to make a few comments based on some questions I've received, and throw in any extras I can think of.

But, first, a disclaimer -- do not query me for submission on this blog. Like Miss Snark, I find this approach rude. (In her case it's particularly amusing as the person sending the query doesn't know her identity. It's like applying for a job at a company with no name, no address, and no verifiable track-record.) Thinly veiled questions that lack the paragraph of summary about the book still count, too. Just take your chances with the rest, and submit an actual query. Make no mistake. This blog (and others like it -- see sidebar of agents who blog) are a service above and beyond. It's not in my job description. It's neither authorized nor forbidden by the company I work with. Very few agents are out there making this kind of information available. Treat the agents who generously spend their time on such things like the valuable resource they are. (While I'm at it, ditto for agents at writers conferences -- those that attend them are actually a fairly small percentage of agent-kind.)

*Patience. It should be an oft-rewarded virtue. But what do you do when the agency website says it takes four weeks to reply and it's now been seven? In my opinion, you cannot go wrong with a polite letter with an SASE or a return postcard asking for an estimate of the time required to finish the assessment of the submission. If the agent is email-friendly, go that route. But, again, keep it polite. Don't be passive-aggressive or demanding. Since we're talking about virtue, treat others as you yourself would like to be treated. If, as it so frequently sounds, the agent assures you they will be getting back to you within a week, and then they don't, what do you do? Well, be aware that a lot can happen in a week. Clients can deliver manuscripts that were already late and need immediate handling. A member of the family could fall ill. Most agents have every intention of getting back to you as soon as possible. How much time is too long to wait? Only you can be an accurate judge of that, but do so with understanding.

*Exclusive vs. simultaneous submissions: never keep this a secret. Spending time on reading and critiquing a submission only to find that the author has signed elsewhere can leave an agent feeling cranky, and even a bit used. Some agents have responded to this by requesting exclusives. Here's my opinion on those: If you should choose to do this, agree upon a time limit with the agent. If they can't respond within that time limit, it is professional and acceptable to submit elsewhere. Should the agent remain agreeable about this situation, one can certainly continue to leave the submission with them until one has interest elsewhere. The moment you actually get interest, always inform all agents that have your materials immediately.

*There are many sites out there that provide submission guidelines (agentquery.com is the one I most often see mentioned in letters I receive). Not all of them are current. Even better, some of them are compiled by people who haven't actually contacted the agencies and have simply garnered their information from other sources, whether current or not. I know of one particular site that cross-references with author listings. They have four clients listed for me, only one of which is actually my client. Emails to them have never gotten it changed. When in doubt, default to the most official space: the agency's own website.

*Resubmitting.... Tricky one. If an agent writes and asks for revisions, by all means, go for it. Don't invest in rubber manuscripts, though (the ones that bounce back within a day or two after the agent has requested revision). Think about it. Getting a second shot isn't that common so take advantage of it to the best of your ability. Should you submit the book again if the agent specifically hasn't asked you to do so? Very tricky. It's been known to work (I have at least one client that I initially rejected). I guess I'd just suggest using common sense in this instance.

Questions? Clarifications? Areas I've managed to miss?

a couple links to interesting posts

Since I was just talking about anxiety induced by the submissions process, read this article about the anxiety induced by the race to become published. It's overstated in a couple places (there really are more publishable submissions than available publication slots in my belief; also, being demanding and/or going over your editor's head has every likelihood of back-firing, which is not to say that one shouldn't make their needs known, but there's never a reason to have a diva moment). But the core of it is expressing a valuable lesson which I feel can also be applied to agent-hunting.

My favorite bits:

It has less to do with a worthy apprenticeship than a race to a finish line that leaves people disheartened, depressed and/or sick with envy, none of which fosters creativity. Because the game is all about getting published now, then whoever can bestow this state is the savior. Not a partner.

What I’m suggesting is that if there is desperation in the process, it should be about the work, not the contract. The passion should focus on the words, not on this contest or that, not on polishing the first three chapters for five years.

Last night, a friend who read my entry about the submission process said that it sounded a lot like getting a job in a tough market. People who send in shoddy resumes don't make it past the front door. People who don't have the skillset, don't get the position. People who act like jerks don't tend to keep the position. And so forth. And, yes, when the cash reserves are getting low and unemployment is running out, people get desperate. But bringing that desperation into the interview never gains them anything.

Also, this recent entry by suricattus which goes back to my disclaimer this morning about appreciating resources. To which I add, don't burn bridges. The professional publishing world is a pretty small place.