This is a guest post by Lis Angus.
By March 2020, I’d been working on my novel for two and a half years, and I thought it was ready to take out into the world.
I’d weighed the pros and cons of independent versus traditional publishing, and decided that I wanted to be traditionally published. And that meant I needed a literary
Many publishers today, especially larger ones, won’t even consider submissions unless they come through an agent. Publishers rely on agents as pre-screeners: if an agent deems the manuscript worthy of submission, the publisher can assume it meets at least a basic quality standard.
Agents’ key job is to represent their existing clients: that’s where their income comes from—they receive a percentage of the payments their writers receive from publishers. To add a new writer to their client list, an agent needs to believe the writer’s manuscript is publishable: otherwise spending any effort on it will be a waste of their time.
So it’s tough for new writers to find an agent to represent them.
In August 2019, I attended a “How to Get Published” writers’ workshop in Toronto,
The organizer and main speaker—Chuck Sambuchino, a long-time editor at Writer’s Digest—made several key points:
- Don’t submit your manuscript until it’s as good as you can make it.
- If an agent rejects your manuscript, you won’t have a second chance with that agent. Don’t burn your chances prematurely.
- If an agent invites you to submit your manuscript, those invitations don’t expire. Submit when your manuscript is ready. (For example, if you’ve participated in agent pitch sessions at a writing conference, an agent may have invited you to submit some or all of your manuscript—but you don’t have to do it right away.)
He advised us to address each query to a specific agent and to comply with their exact submission guidelines. I discovered that agent guidelines vary all over the map: some want submissions only through an online form. Some want them by email attachments. Some want them in the body of the email and say they never open attachments.
All require a query letter. Besides the letter, some want the first 10 pages, or 50 pages, or 3 chapters; some want a synopsis; some want a bio.
The internet has lots of advice on how to write query letters and synopses, so I won’t say much about them here. The query letter needs to mention the genre and word count, and include enough of a blurb to make the recipient want to read more. A synopsis presents the main characters and plot lines and includes the ending.
To assemble a list of agents who represented suspense novels like mine, I used an excellent site called QueryTracker. It has a comprehensive agent database, showing which ones are open to queries and what genres they represent, as well as a link to each agent’s website, how quickly they respond to queries, how often they’ve requested partial or full manuscripts, and how many offers of representation they’ve made.
In Part 2, I’ll tell you how my query process unfolded.
Lis Angus is a suspense writer living in Eastern Ontario. She grew up in Alberta, then lived in Germany for two years before moving to Ottawa to study journalism and social sciences.
She’s a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada and Capital Crime Writers, and is an active participant in the North Grenville Writers Circle. She and her husband have two daughters and two grandchildren, and live in a small town south of Ottawa.
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