I've been thinking a lot recently about submissions to agents, publishers and magazines, given that I'm sending out three different books and a whole bunch of short stories to them. I have come to several conclusions about how much work is involved, what information you need to know, and how much preparation you need to undertake.
I'll call the agents, publishers and magazines APM's to shorten the article.
I now have around a dozen different versions of my manuscripts on the computer. Some APM's want double-spaced, others 1.5 lines spacing. Some want Times New Roman, others Courier New. Some want indented paragraphs, others require no indentation but want an extra 6-point space at the end of the paragraph. And so it goes.
Then comes the file formats: .txt, .doc, .docx, .rtf., .pdf. Attached to email, embedded within it, or uploaded via the submissions page. In the latter case there are frequently length limits on the number of words or characters in the upload space, often not stated.
How much do the APM's want? 5 pages? 10 pages? 30 pages? 3 chapters? 50 pages or 3 chapters, whichever is the shorter? The whole manuscript? (Hurrah, but don't count your chickens yet; I've been rejected at this point, too.)
The bios: short, long, one-liners. How much do they want to know? How detailed?
Publishing histories: what have you already go out there? Short stories or books? Self-published or traditional?
Social media links. Are you on Facebook? Pinterest? Twitter? Instagram? Are there any interviews available? If so, where? What are the links?
Blogs. How often do you post? Any guest posts elsewhere? Links to them, too, please.
Query letters: do you have a standard template with all the relevant information? Do you personalise them or not? If so, how much do you need to change? Can you establish a connection with the agent? What is the required length, format, and attachment.
Finally, a synopsis: yes, no, partial, overview, extensive? Again, how is it supposed to be formatted?
And I haven't even mentioned the problems of deadlines and rejections, yet.
Some agencies and publishers have deadlines that are months in the future (the record, so far, is over six months). I could live with that, were it not for the fact that they demand exclusivity during that very long period. No simultaneous submissions elsewhere are allowed. Some want that exclusivity for shorter periods, while others are more flexible, asking only to be informed if another agency takes the manuscript. Then there are the ones that have a submission period of just a few days…
Many agencies have a policy of not answering when they reject; they simply tell you that, if you don't hear within a certain time, it has been rejected; IOW, you are effectively being ghosted.
Others send rejections that are obviously cookie-cutter cut-and-paste replies. I have received the exact same rejection email from an agency for two very different manuscripts, and a friend tells me she got the very same rejection for her book, too. For the record, my books were Space Opera and Urban Fantasy, while hers was contemporary fiction. I've spoken with an agent who confirmed that software is available to automate the rejection process with standardised replies.
Worse are the rejections where there is feedback that makes no sense at all. One publisher has told me to go on a course to learn the basics of English. I want to state that I've been writing good English for the greater part of my 64 years of life. Another rejection made me wonder whether they had even bothered to read the manuscript at all, given that their “critique” appeared to be for another genre entirely.
Not to mention is the research necessary to find out all of the above. If you're personalising the query letters, how much do you need to know about the agent in order to build a connection with them? Where can you find their formatting requirements? Are they industry standard or something special?
Every single agent or publisher has different requirements. If I weren't already grey-haired already, I would be by now.
All in all, a single query can take between 2 and 6 hours graft to craft. It's frustrating when your hard work gets ignored or thrown back at you, apparently for some arbitrary reason.
It all means that you have to be passionate and believe in your work. Which, fortunately, I am and I do.
But it does make me wonder sometimes, why I have such a masochistic streak for keeping going. Ah, the joys of being a submitting author…
I'll discuss things you will need to keep in mind once you are accepted, like working with others, vetting the contract, editing and revisions, creating a media kit, etc., another time.
Stephen King got 30 rejections from publishers for Carrie before Doubleday took it on. the Time Traveller’s wife had 25. Done had 23 and Catch 22 had… 22 of course. Just to encourage you (or put you off?) there’s a post on
The Literary Hub about the most rejected books that were eventually published traditionally.
I must admit that most of the high ones, I’ve never heard of, and of those I have heard of (or read) I can see the commissioning agent’s point. But Chicken Soup for the Soul had 144 rejections.
Keep on trucking…
– forgot to include the url of the list… it’s at https://lithub.com/the-most-rejected-books-of-all-time/
An excellent and extremely helpful article, Stephen, and I’m sure that your comment, Cathy, will give some hope to those of us aspiring to tentatively dip our toes into authorship and the inevitable tide of rejections that will follow.
Keep sending off your stories, ignore the rejections. One of these days you will receive an acceptance letter/email. I shall be in the queue to have your book signed personally.
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