December 31, 2010

5 Steps to a Perfect Submission

NOTE: This article has now been published in 7 different chapters across the US and Canada for Romance Writers of America, is now being considered for Mystery Writer's of America SoCal chapter newsletter and is on submission for Writer's Digest's October 2011 issue.

As fiction writers, we strive to perfect our submission process to catch our dream agent’s attention and this can only be accomplished by using the basic pattern of submission rules that each agent has constructed to suit them individually. Following these five simple steps, even a novice writer will be ahead of the game when taking their masterpiece out into the world.
Finish the book.  DO NOT submit to an agent unless you are able to use the word “completed” (with word count) in your query. This doesn’t mean first draft material either. Not only do you take that final plunge in writing “The End” at the bottom of that last page, but you have to take your book a step further. Edit and revise several times, which may include several man hours, weeks or years depending on your life and your idea of revisions. But the most important part of this step is that you do it. Your manuscript (MS) is an extension of you and will be the deciding factor in catching an agent. Make it into a masterpiece and then hand it over to someone else.
And I don’t mean your mom. Getting your work critiqued can be daunting. Your work is going out into the world, you’re nervous, you’re not sure if your trusted friend will like your characters or the world you’ve built for them, but here’s the hard truth: you want to be an author. You’re going to have to get over those nervous jitters and accept that not everyone has the same taste. Besides, moms lie. Use your loyal writing community. Don’t have one? Start by reading other writer’s blogs. Befriend them and they will welcome you with open arms. They might even teach you something. The online writing community is always willing to help and know what agent’s are looking for. They will BETA-read for you. They will give you feedback and you will consider every word because you want the best chance of getting noticed by an agent. Of course, you have to use your own judgment in their suggestions as well. This is your work and you know it best.
Because your MS is an extension of yourself, you want it to look professional. So format. This will tell your chosen agent just how serious you are. There are many different opinions on what your header should contain, to bold or italicize the title page and what font to use and a nice tool to answer all these questions is Formatting and Submitting Your Manuscript by Chuck Sambuchino.

Synopsis. Nicknamed the “dreaded synopsis”, the synopsis is your second step in the submission process and unfortunately required. Some writers believe writing an entire novel is easier that consolidating it down to a few pages and I’d have to agree. Contrary to popular belief, the synopsis is NOT a play-by-play of your MS. Instead, think of it as the summary on the back of your book when it’s published, only two to five pages rather than a couple paragraphs. Summaries don’t tell the entire story and neither should your synopsis. You will have the main points and the ending, of course, but the synopsis should be emotional rather than physical. Who are the main characters? What’s at stake? What are their goals, motivations and conflicts? Tell the agent why your readers will keep turning the page, but in a brief summary.

Write the Query Letter.  Easier said than done. Trust me, I know. Just like the synopsis, the query letter is required. This is how you’re going to catch an agent’s attention and make them want to represent you and your work. Further consolidating your MS into two or three paragraphs seems impossible, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Start with a hook line. You’ve already done this in your actual MS. Your hook line is the first sentence that keeps your reader wanting more and you have to do the same in your query letter. Make the agent keep reading your sales pitch. Make her eager to request more material. Because that’s all we as fiction writers really want: a chance to share the real masterpiece.
Two to three paragraphs is plenty to express the goals, motivation and conflict of your protagonist(s) and antagonist(s). Keep it simple. Give the agent the basics, just as you’ve done in your synopsis, but keep them wanting more with conflict. Agents receive thousands of submissions each month and more than you’d think take up more than one page. Two hundred and fifty words is usually the maximum agents are willing to consider for each submission.
Once you’ve got your query cleaned up, send it off to your trusted critique partner or submit it to The Public Query Slushpile (, hosted by Rick Daley. The site is an excellent resource to get free critiques and feedback.

Comprise your list of agents. Your list of agents needs to compliment your work. Genre, for example, is the most important factor in selecting your agents. You don’t want to submit your thriller to an agent who only represents romance. An easy way to sift through the thousands of agents is to obtain a copy of Writer’s Market or subscribe online for about $5.99 a month, check out Agent Query (, or head over to Preditors and Editors ( With these valuable resources, you can weed out agents through an advanced search of genre, website availability and much more. Once you have a basic list, it’s time to research.

Researching your agents. Besides the query letter, researching your agents is the most important step in the submission process and the most time consuming. You will need to read up on every single agent on your list in order to tell the agent why your MS is going to fit them personally in your query. When I say “fit”, I mean you need to know which agent you will be submitting to (some agencies house more than one agent and yes, you need to know the agents name. None of this “Dear Agent” crap), what their submission guidelines are, how to submit to them (snail mail or email), and finally, and what book sales of theirs might compare to your MS. It’s hard trying to compare someone else’s work to yours since yours is so unique, but it can, and must be done. This little tidbit of information gives the agent confidence that you’ve done your homework and tells them just how serious you are about being published.

These five steps will put you ahead of the other two thousand submissions a single agent receives every month and may even lead to that call or email you’ve been waiting for. I wish you the best of luck!


  1. Great list. You should well be on your way this year!!!!

  2. Very good newbie list! Thanks for participating in the New Year's Revisions Blog Party. :) This will be a great resource for new writers who stumble upon your blog.

    Happy New Year!

  3. Great advice. Being prepared and ready is so important.

    Happy New Year


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