Submission – why does that one, not particularly little word, fill me with dread?
Maybe it’s something to do with its meaning – to submit is either to present a proposal for judgement, or to yield to a higher power. I have written two books, one for children, the other for young adults. Submitting them to an agent is akin to entering your child in a beauty pageant or auditioning them for a role on the West End stage. Seeking approval and praise for your precious creation is potentially excoriating. Criticism that stabs deep into the heart is best avoided. Thus it feels safer to protect yourself and your child or book from outside opinion.
In other words, when you submit (first definition), you submit (the other definition) to your fear. Or to your natural tendency to procrastinate. Or to whatever excuse you tell yourself is a powerful enough reason for avoiding submission.
But submitting to a fear of submission is cowardly.
“It is hard to fail but worse having never tried to succeed.” T. Roosevelt
So – gulp! – not having a clue about the publishing industry and definitely lacking the accountancy or legal skills to examine a publishing contract, I find myself in need of an agent. And – gulp again – I am determined not to put the submission off any longer. Admittedly, writing this is putting it off. ‘Forever a procrastinator’ could be my epitaph but hopefully I can put off needing one of those for a while.
There is a recognised check list for submissions –
First, pick an agent who takes on writers like you. Don’t send a children’s book to an adult only agency. A specialist in travel writing is unlikely to take a fiction proposal. Next, get the name of the agent – far better than the anonymous ‘dear sir/madam’ that immediately suggests you have made the same impersonal approach to every agent you could find.
Next, read the submission guidelines – if they say no email submissions then don’t email them. If they want a particular font and line spacing do it. Getting the formatting right is pretty basic. Essentially, if they have a particular like then go with it.
If they want the first three chapters, send the first three chapters. Don’t send an action section because you think it’s your best bit. That screams ‘the beginning isn’t great but I think this bit is ok.’ If you don’t think the beginning is good, you’re not going to persuade an agent that it is.
Okay, I can do all the above. Easy peasy! But now it gets difficult. My first agent letter was three pages long. In other words, it was a long winded waffle that wasn’t going to get beyond the slush pile.
… ah! The slush pile. What is this? In my head it’s a top-heavy stack of dreams. Nearly all destined for the recycling bin. Why slush? Perhaps slush equals rubbish in the agent’s mind? I suspect it does. Slush is that wet, messy, shoe-staining irritation of greying half-snow, half-water that covers the pavements and slops deeply over the very spot where you want to put your foot on stepping out of the car. Soggy with no redeeming features = the slush pile. It is a transient heap, just passing through a temporary state of hope, before forlornly slithering into the shredder. Hmm – I don’t want my books to go there. My letter needs to be better. It needs to carry my submission over the slush pile.
It needs to describe the book briefly, in one sentence if possible; quickly state why I am the best person to have written it and summarise my writing career – have I won any prizes, been on any courses; say who inspired me without saying that I’m the next Philip Pullman (I’m not. I wouldn’t say that. But apparently people do. And it puts the agent off. Apparently! Not surprisingly.); describe the target audience; give an approximate word count and summarise future plans – is this book a one-off or the first of a series? And all on one page of A4. Including the letter head, agent address, date etc. One page!
Right. I’ve done that. I’m happy with it too. It was difficult, but not impossible. What is very nearly impossible is writing a synopsis.
The problem with synopsis writing (or should it be ‘the writing of a synopsis’ or ‘writing synopses?’) is that I know my story. And the agent/reader doesn’t. In order to make it (the synopsis) brief, I make assumptions. I lose the agent/reader. So I make it longer. But making it longer and including more detail, makes it more confusing. The agent/reader remains lost. So I condense it to the very bare essentials. The agent/reader appreciates the clarity but finds that it is boring – nothing much happens, the plot is thin, too few characters are mentioned – and it sails swiftly into the recycling bin.
I think however that I might have the synopsis cracked. I’ve tried it out on some friends. Either they were being polite or they genuinely got it. The next step therefore is to submit. Yes! – yield to the voice inside my head that is telling me to quit procrastinating, quit making excuses, quit being sae feart and send an agent my submission.
I just need to decide on the agent. Or agents.