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Last week, I may have dropped into conversation the fact that I now have a literary agent. Woo hoo! Often, you’ll see people posting on social media about this very thing, and they always make it seem so easy. For the record, my personal experience was very much the opposite.

The years of toil…

I started writing when I was about 19 or 20, I think. When I say ‘writing’, I mean writing with intention, and a serious desire to be a writer in the future. I never sent any of those early scribblings off to agents or publishers, which is fortunate, because they were hideously bad.

I think I first started submitting in earnest about ten years after. Perhaps longer than that, even. My earliest submissions weren’t pretty. In fact, I probably made every major mistake in the book, simply because I was sooo green.

Before you even think about submitting…

Before I launch into the meat of this post (getting your submission to stand out), let’s quickly run through what needs to be in place before you start sending your manuscript out:

-        Editing. Your manuscript should be fully edited and as good as you can get it. An agent or publisher will overlook a few typos, but they won’t be impressed if the story is riddled with errors.

-        Research. You need to work out who to send to. Don’t just mail it off to everyone; take the time to find out who is likely to dig your style, and who loves your genre.

-        Be realistic. Get in the right frame of mind. Let’s face it, you’ll probably get plenty of rejections – but that doesn’t matter, because everyone does. Trust me.

Making your submission stand out

When you feel you’re ready to submit, and you’ve carefully read the agent / publisher’s submission guidelines, think about the following:

-        The title. The title is likely to be the first thing that the agent will notice, especially if it’s in the subject line of your submission email. As such, it should be as grabby / intriguing as possible; this will help it to jump out of the confines of that long Inbox list!

-        The query letter. Query letters are usually embedded into the email itself, and not attached as a separate document. I’d personally avoid gimmicks or over-the-top humour, but don’t be afraid to inject a bit of personality into it. Include a brief summary (two or three sentences perhaps) detailing what your book is about. And don’t forget to mention the genre, the target audience, and the word count. Agents and publishers also like to know what experience you have. E.g. if you’ve been published before, or had success with self-publishing, or won a national competition… these are the details that need to go in.

-        Keep the query letter concise. Work out exactly what information needs to be included, and stick to it. Agents and publishers don’t have much time, so you need to sum it all up in a few paragraphs.

-        Keep the synopsis simple. Most submission guidelines request a synopsis. This isn’t a blurb, or a sales pitch of your book. It’s a basic run through of the key events. You don’t have to include every detail. Think broad, accurate brush-strokes, not minute pointillist-style detail.

-        Make that first page a winner. Your manuscript should ideally all be brilliant. But nothing should be more immediately punchy than the first page. It doesn’t have to be a major dramatic event; sometimes it’s all about the characterisation or the voice. If you’re not sure if your page is powerful enough, ask some friends for feedback.

What not to do

-        Harass them. Once you’ve submitted the manuscript, forget about it. Easier said than done, I know. The rules of when to chase are hazy. I’ve sometimes written a follow-up email if it’s way past their stated deadline on the site, just to make sure the manuscript was actually received. Other than that, I tend not to. Whatever you do, don’t send chasing emails before the time is up.

-        Be rude. If you get a rejection, take it on the chin. You’re not the first, and you certainly won’t be the last. Don’t write a snarky response (some agents have actually shared rude replies online, and this is incredibly damaging for your reputation), and don’t ‘shame’ them on social media. They’re under no obligation to love your work – be appreciative of the fact that they even took the time to read it; they’re busy people, after all, with existing clients that need looking after.

-        Presume a full request means a deal. Full requests are exciting, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get a yes at the end of it (sadly). However, they’re a good sign that you’re doing something right, so keep going!

What to expect after you submit

-        A long wait. There are a few agents that get back to you really quickly, but the majority will take a few months. Some may not even reply at all. With publishers, expect to wait even longer.

-        Lack of response. It’s not uncommon for agents and publishers to not reply at all. Don’t sweat it – it’s not personal!

-        Rejections. You will inevitably get them. Again, don’t sweat it. There are several reasons why your submission might have been rejected, and being sub-standard is only one of them. It could be, for example, that the agent has literally just taken on a writer that they feel is too similar to you. It could be that they’re on the hunt for romance, and you’ve delivered a supernatural suspense. Sadly, you’ll probably never know the reason, but don’t agonise over it – just keep looking to the future.

What happens if an agent says yes?

You obviously start leaping around in a state of excitement! However, don’t say yes immediately, as this is a long-term business decision, and you want to make sure you’ll be working with the right person. Normally, you’ll have a conversation over the phone, which will help you to determine if you’re a good match. If you’re like me, your neighbours (then your cat) will contrive to ruin this conversation as much as possible. For further details, see my previous post!

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 other Ribero books are also available on Amazon, as is The Hanged Man and the Fortune Teller!