Submitting your manuscript or query to an agent or publisher

My writing group has us all doing research for each other and then we present them to each other and talk about it.  My topic was submitting queries.  So here you go. Submitting your manuscript or query to an agent or publisher

You've done it! You've finally got your wonderful idea down on paper, or the digital equivalent, and now you're ready to submit your masterpiece to agents and publishers.   What do you do next?  Here are a couple general guidelines to help you get that submission past the acquisition editor's desk and into the hands of a decision maker who can offer you a contract.  Or at least to an agent who can help you get do the same.

Read the Directions!

Every publisher/agent wants something slightly different from the submissions they read.  Typically they address most of these things on their web page including; content to include, max word limits, and genres they are accepting just to name a few.  Acquisition editor's get really annoyed when it's obvious that you either didn't read, or didn't follow the directions readily available on their website.  Even if your writing is good, you may not make it past their desk because they'll stop reading long before they get to your story.

Make sure you know whether or not the publisher/agent is OK with simultaneous submissions before you do it.  Believe it or not editors talk to each other at conferences and other social gatherings and typically have friends at other agencies andr parts of the industry.  While they expect professional behavior from authors, they are not above passing on the particularly egregious offenses at conferences and other industry gatherings.  Especially after they've had a few drinks!  Don't give them a reason to gossip about you, it can ruin your chances not only at the publisher you submit to, but potentially at other  agencies to which the editor reading your submission has connections.

Introduce yourself and your book

When querying you should introduce yourself and talk about your accomplishments.  If you don't have anything impressive; (I'm looking at you honorable mention at the jr. high reflections contest) it's better to skip this than to try to make nothing sound like something.  In that case just briefly talk about yourself and your background and then move on post haste.

Talk briefly about your intended market

Who is your book written for?  What types of books is it similar to? What makes it unique? Do you have any ideas about how to market it?  How saturated is the market you are targeting, and why would they want to read your book over all the other offerings in the genre?  Avoid the temptation to state that the book is for 'everyone' or 'anyone interested in fantasy.'  This will tell your editor/agent that your book is of particular interest to no one and will doom your chances at a thorough read through.  Also include the length of the book by word count, no one wants to hear about how many pages a book is since this will fluctuate radically depending on font, kerning, spacing and much more.

Include a synopsis

MAKE SURE YOU OPEN THIS WITH A STRONG HOOK!!  Just like the first paragraph in your book, this is your opportunity to sell the editor/agent.  Make it concise, well written, and memorable.  Also be sure that you make it short.  Two or three paragraphs are usually sufficient.  The synopsis is probably one of the most important inclusions in your submission as it largely determines whether the editor/agent keeps reading the rest of your submission.  Focus on the main character and conflict of the story.  Avoid discussing side conflicts as they will take away from the hook and make the story sound convoluted.  If you are writing a query letter for an agent it should only really include the hook, short intro of your book, and an introduction of yourself.  Queries should not be more than about 1 page.  If they want more info they'll ask for it.

Be professional, don't be cute

Submitting a query is a lot like applying for a job.  Make sure you are professional and well put together when you submit your query.  Editors, like employers, are looking for something that stands out from the crowd in a positive way.  What you're trying to say may seem witty and hilarious to you, and if the editor knew you maybe they would agree, but since they don't, they are more likely to be annoyed by your attempts at humor.  Most editors consider this type of submission to be unprofessional at best, and off putting at worst.

Chapter summaries

If your publisher/agent asks for a chapter summary they are trying to understand more deeply what the story is about and how you go about resolving the major conflicts.  They will only read this if there is a good hook, but include it in your original submission if they ask for it.  Write about a paragraph for each chapter describing what happens in the chapter and be sure that an outsider can understand it and that it sounds interesting.  A chapter summary that says 'Sally goes to the market and talks to Billy for a while,' or something of equally low value will just annoy the editor and they'll probably stop reading.

Don't rush your submission

Your submission is a lot like a combination of your business card and resume.  All the agent or publisher will know about you is what lands on their desk or in their email.  You want to present the most polished version of yourself that you possibly can.  A submission full of typos, grammatical errors, or showing amateurish behavior or inattention to detail will result in a hasty brush off.

Edit your work and submission materials before submitting

This should be pretty obvious, but you'd be surprised how often submissions look like they've they were typed by a chimpanzee in a hula shirt.  Edit it as best you can yourself and then get the feedback of someone you trust before sending it off into the world to seek its fortune.

Don't include a potential cover image 

Authors almost never have a significant say in what book covers looks like.  Sometimes the publisher will allow some input from the author, but the final decision is theirs and theirs alone.  Including a cover shows that you don't understand the publishing process and makes them wonder about how difficult you might be to work with

Don't put 'copyright' notices all over your submission

There tends to be a lot of confusion about copyright among authors.  Let's clear that up a little.  When we talk about 'having copyright' we are really talking about two different things.  The first is the actual copyright, the right to own, sell, distribute etc any work, and specifically in this case, a written manuscript of any length.  This belongs to the author at the moment that they put the writing down 'in a fixed form.'   For interpretation on what 'fixed form' is these days given digital creation and delivery, I'll refer you to a lawyer who practices copyright law.  The second item is copyright protection.  You have to file for this in the country in which you plan on first distributing the work.  Publishers typically does this in your name once the work has been edited and physical proofs obtained.

Despite what some people seem to believe, publishers are not in the business of stealing people's work and they understand that you as the creator of the work own the copyright of the given work.  Given this reality it's not only a waste of time to put a copyright notice on your work, it will immediately make your editor wonder if there is something abnormal going on with the copyright the work in question.  For example, maybe there is a dispute with you and some other party about who holds the copyright, and therefore you feel the need to express your ownership of said copyright.  They won't know and having something as big as a potential copyright conflict is enough to scare away most publishing companies.

Be sure to thank the editor/agent

When you want something from someone else, in this case a contract, is there ever a bad time to tell them thanks?  I don't think so.