Whether it’s a submission for a book proposal, a shorter piece for periodicals or for a contest, the submission rules are changing. In the pre-Internet era, writers concerned themselves with margins and typefaces and self-addressed stamped envelopes. Things are different now. But they’re also the same.
Writing Tip for Today: What can you do to better your chances of acceptance in today’s publishing world?
Do Your Homework!
The method of submitting has changed but submission etiquette is still largely the same. Read examples from the publisher or periodical you hope to break into. Lots of examples. Find out something personal about each agent you approach with queries. Be sure your book fits the types this agent looks for. Don’t try to woo an agent with a category the agent lists as “not looking for.” Send ONLY what the agent requests. You can find agent listings on the Internet these days, but check each one out carefully. How many books has said agent sold in the last twelve months? Beware the agent who touts “editorial services,” as legitimate agents sell books, not editorial services. Any time a prospective agent asks you for money for editing, run away. Make a list of “A” (dream agents or large agencies that have lots of authors) and “B” agents (newer or boutique agencies) who handle your type of book. It’s not uncommon to submit hundreds of queries, so you’ll need to send out in batches. But don’t simply create a form letter and shoot it to 100 agents. Do your homework and at least modify each letter to contain some idea that targets the agent specifically. If you’re sending out article queries, make that same list of possibilities. When you are rejected, you’ll just go to the next one on your list until, with good writing and a little luck, you get a “yes.”
Find a Byline.
New writers worry that they’ll be rejected for lack of experience, but they can’t get an acceptance so they’ll have that experience. If you want to sell a book idea, it’s a great idea to also write and submit short pieces to gain that byline. Write from your personal life and submit to Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Write opinion pieces for your newspaper. With larger magazines, online is often a good way to break in. Print mags used to buy short “filler” pieces–jokes, humor or helpful hints. In today’s shrinking print world these may not be as accessible, but check out a few “mastheads” as you stand in the checkout line. This is the listing at the front of the mag where editors and contributors are listed. In very fine print near the bottom you may find something about submissions. Remember, your byline does not have to be a paid one, although it certainly looks better if the publication is one people recognize.
Be a Pro!
Attention to detail is vital in this writing biz. Misspelled words (or, horrors, agent’s name!), sloppy queries or grammar gaffes matter because this is WRITING. Don’t approach an agent with the confession that you knew you wanted to be a writer when you were a child and would read to your dolls. Don’t say your mom or all your friends loved it. And do not boast of being the next John Grisham. These are all dead giveaways that you are as a writer, pretty wet behind the ears. Take the time to learn and perfect your craft as much as you can. Your chances of acceptance will be much higher than most of the slush pile. For an inside look at a real agent’s slush pile decisions, go HERE.