Starting the submissions process is a big deal. It means that you’ve not only written a full-length book (a task in itself), but you’ve polished it to a high shine and are ready to share it with the world. For that alone, you deserve a big pat on the back.
When submitting to agents for the first time, it’s likely that your hopes will be high. You’ll be eagerly checking your emails on an hourly basis, waiting for the responses to come through. The reality is rather less immediate than that, unfortunately. Here’s an inside view into what it’s like.
The Initial Submission
With most literary agents / publishers, you’ll be asked to send in a section of your book, plus a synopsis and cover letter. One word of caution at this point – it’s vital to follow the individual submission guidelines. Some agencies might want a specific font or layout, for example. Others might want your synopsis to be 500 words or shorter. Keep to their requirements or risk being rejected straight away.
Time is Ticking
Now it’s time for your first period of waiting. Sometimes (if you’re lucky), you’ll get a response quickly; within a week or two. But more often than not, you’ll be waiting far longer. We’re talking eight, nine or even ten weeks. At other times, you might never get a response at all.
I’ve had responses within a day. I also recently received a rejection for a book I submitted close to two years ago. Seriously – it’s that variable!
Different Types of Rejection
Don’t be downhearted if you get rejected. Most agents and publishers receive thousands of submissions a year; and of those, only take on a handful of new clients / books a year. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the agent hated your writing – it might be that it just wasn’t their thing, or they’ve taken someone else on recently who is similar in style to you.
- Form rejections. You’ll recognise a form rejection a mile off. It’s usually generic and will say something encouraging but final. For example: ‘Whilst this stood out from many submissions that we receive, we didn’t feel strongly enough about it to take things further’ etc. This is the most common kind of rejection. Don’t sweat it too much, just brush your shoulders off and carry on. Even the best authors have had them in the past. Consider it a rite of passage.
- Personalised rejections. Every so often, you’ll get a more personalised rejection. Although it’s still a no, you should feel pleased when you get one of these, as it means the agent felt you stood out sufficiently enough for them to offer you advice / encouragement. Trust me, it’s a good thing, even though it might not feel like it. It means you’re on the right track!
Now let’s get to the exciting responses – the requests to see more material.
- Partial requests. Some agencies (and I think this is more common in the US than the UK) ask to see part of your manuscript – say the first 50 or 100 pages. This is a great thing and you should feel proud that you’ve got this far. It means that their interest is sufficiently piqued to want to read more.
- Full requests. This is the Holy Grail of responses. It means they really enjoyed what you submitted and they want to see if the rest of the novel is as good.
If you get a request for a full manuscript, you’ll probably be bouncing off the walls in excitement. However, try to curb your enthusiasm for now, as guess what? You’ll probably still be waiting quite a long time for an answer! Some agents may rattle through your full manuscript in a few days, but more commonly, it’ll take them several weeks / months to get around to it. Remember, these are seriously busy people.
Acceptance – Then Another Wait!
Hooray, you found an agent or publisher to take you on! That’s immense news and certainly worthy of cracking open the bubbly. But you know what I’m going to say next, don’t you? Yep, there’s more waiting involved. Your agent will need time to sell your novel to publishers, which could take ages (or indeed, never happen at all). Your publisher will require at least a year to get the book to market standard.
But the great news is, you’re so nearly there. Very few people make it that far, and you should be feeling epic.
A Few Common Questions…
What if they’ve had my full manuscript for ages? Can I chase it up?
In most cases, I think it’s acceptable to send over a polite email after a certain period of time. I tend to leave it at least 12 weeks though. Check out their website, as some agencies explicitly state when it’s acceptable to chase them.
How many agents should I send to at once?
Everyone has different theories on this. I tend to send to around 5-6 to start with, then when I’ve had responses from them (or believed that they’ll never respond) I send the next batch of 5-6.
How do you pick the perfect agent / publisher?
There are loads of ways to swot up on agencies and publishers. Read relevant publications like Writing Magazine, which frequently have editorial pieces / interviews with agents, publishers and authors. Read the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook. Go online and start browsing. Think about which authors are similar in style to you, then find out who represents them. Above all else you’ll need to do your homework. For example, I found my publisher (Amberjack Publishing) in Writing Magazine and loved the fact that all their favourite authors were the same as mine!
Do you need a literary agent?
For my Dr Ribero series, I went straight to a publisher, as I loved the sound of them so much and felt like we’d be a good match. However, I can definitely see the advantages of having an agent in your corner. They’ll help with editing, plus negotiating your contract – and they’ll fight to get you an awesome deal. Writing can be a lonely job at times and it is nice having someone to offer support and guidance!
The process is stressing me out – how can I stop this?
When I first started submitting my manuscripts (back in the day), I was one of those neurotic types who checked her email every five minutes. Trust me, this is not a good idea. Instead, once you’ve submitted, put it out of your mind. Concentrate on other things; spending time with family, working on your next novel – whatever takes your fancy. Don’t get hung up on waiting for responses. It’s all a waiting game, and patience is definitely something you’ll need bags of if you’re serious about being a writer.
Dr Ribero’s Agency of the Supernatural – The Case of the Green-Dressed Ghost, is available to buy – you can do so here (US) or here (UK). The second in the series, The Case of the Deadly Doppelganger, is also available to buy.