If you are looking to get published for the first time, chances are you are not aware of when and where to send your work, and in what shape. It’s often difficult to find consistent guidelines, and agencies and publishers do tend to have their own rules for submissions (always look at submission pages!). But the following tips are generally applicable and will save you having to make these basic mistakes:
- The ‘I’m done’ moment. This is the moment where you finally pen down the ending of the first draft of your novel. The relief soon turns to a mixture of excitement, anticipation and fear as you round up your list of contacts and start enquiring about submission letter examples. But then you send your manuscript to your first contact, and as you check over the email you’ve just sent, you read the attached file and notice a typo and punctuation error. And then you see that the first pages are voiced in a way that you later abandoned as you learnt more about your characters and sentence styles. You can avoid this panic by letting your draft rest for a while (try a month or even more). When you come back to your project, you’ll be able to see a lot of its shortcomings and strengths more clearly, and it will enable another round of edits with a much more confident view of what the book can achieve (you can also use this interim period to explore short stories or other forms).
- Don’t send parts of an unfinished manuscript. Probably one of the most common mistakes is sending a part of an unfinished novel to an agent or publisher. Some do it out of pressure, and others may do it with the well-meaning and somewhat naïve desire for pressure (as you imagine it may motivate you to focus and get your manuscript done quicker). This is never a good idea, especially if your project is good. If an agent is interested, they will ask you for the rest, only to potentially lose interest if you don’t yet have the rest. A publisher will never (or very rarely) give you a deal for a book that doesn’t exist and wasn’t commissioned. In other words, you don’t gain anything and you have a lot to lose. Finish your project. Let the book have time to rest. Re-edit it, and then send it.
- About the part where everything happens. This is linked to the point above. A question often asked is: ‘do you think I should send the beginning of the book, or the big dramatic sequence?’ This is a difficult question to answer. It’s true that some books are slower as they build up towards their main drama. However, assuming that you’ve sent the manuscript to the right people (who, in this case, would publish the kind of fiction you write), they will also be experienced enough to understand pacing and its nuances. It’s often advisable to send the opening. This is because it needs very little context, and it should be driven enough for a reader to be excited to read what comes next.
- How about contacting several agents within the same agency at the same time? This, simply, is not very good practice. If an agent thinks someone else in their agency would fit your work better, they, for the most part, will let you know. What you don’t want to do is to generate a sense of competition between colleagues at an agency, or withhold from one agent the fact that another rejected you. It’s a fairly small world out there, so don’t endanger your reputation and be the person others want to work with.
- Don’t crumble after a rejection. Rejections in writing are an inescapable fact. It may take time for you to reach the right people, and it may take time for your work to be at its best too. Rejections may come in the form of a personalised letter with some feedback, a standard rejection letter, or silence. Each one, considering that your book has probably taken over your life, will feel like the end of your career, a confirmation that it’s just not possible for you to break into the publishing world. While making the process seem simple would be an outright lie, it’s important to consider that a lot of rejections, if the project is indeed good, come from a lack of research. Check on your favourite authors. Who represents them? Go to agency pages and check their client lists. Everyone may want immediate success, however abstract and rare that is, but having the right kind of success for you and your project is much more valuable and lasting.
Gonzalo C. Garcia is a writer and Senior Teaching Fellow in Creative Writing in the Warwick Writing Programme. His recent novel, We Are The End, is heavily influenced by his marked interest in Santiago de Chile, video games, digital culture and everyday constructions of narrative. It was nominated for the Edinburgh Festival First Novel Award 2017 and launched in October with Galley Beggar Press.
Directed by Sarah Moss, the Warwick Writing Programme at University of Warwick prides itself in having writing staff who not only teach but are also published authors involved in the writing industry and literary scenes. It has just opened an exciting PhD programme in Creative Writing (https://goo.gl/3pdiB9) alongside its internationally recognised flagship BA and MA programmes.
For more on the Warwick Writing Programme: http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/english/writingprog/