Top 10 Things to Know Before You Submit

So you’re ready to hit submit and send off your manuscript to an agent or editor – congratulations! You deserve a celebration – one that probably includes a trip somewhere and a shopping spree at your favorite bookstore.

But before you hit that button and pop open the bubbly, there are a few things you need to know. We’ve compiled the top 10 tips from literary agents and editors of things to do (or not to do) before you submit your work.

1. Get your manuscript ready!

Don’t even think about sending out your query letters until your manuscript is ready to go at that exact moment. This is a big one. When an agent or editor reads your query letter and synopsis, then requests your manuscript, they want a reply straight away. Any requests for extensions will fall on deaf ears – this is not university.

2. Research the agent or editor diligently.

Research the agent or editor you are querying. Check out their website, blog, twitter, and anything else you can find to get a sense of their style and taste. Find out who they represent. Read some of the novels they have published. Use this information to tailor your submission accordingly. Trust me, your diligence will show and will be rewarded.

3. Word count is everything.

While you’re at it, you should have already researched and read other books in your genre, giving you a good sense of pacing and acceptable word count. Make sure your manuscript word count aligns with your genre. As an example: a 20K YA high-fantasy manuscript is not a novel, nor would it be considered a novella in most instances.

4. Give your book a killer hook.

Many projects are rejected within the first 30 pages due to poor openings. Make sure your book as a killer hook that grabs the reader’s attention (and keeps it) for the first 30 pages and beyond.

5. Pick a genre.

A lot of authors (especially new authors) combine genres when they market their novels to agents and editors. Your book isn’t a YA/MG hybrid. Those are two completely different audiences. When in doubt, go to your nearest bookstore and roam the aisles. Where would your book be stocked? Pick the most appropriate genre and stick with it.

6. The more eyes on your manuscript, the better.

The agent or editor you are querying should never be your first reader. Ever. No exceptions. Before you start querying, your manuscript should have been through multiple versions of the edit/beta/revise/edit/perfect cycle.

7. Test your pitch and premise.

Test your pitch and premise on people who haven’t read your manuscript and ask them to say it back to you in their own words. Do they understand the story and conflict? Do they seem intrigued and excited about your novel? If not, you need to do a bit of tweaking.

8. Agents aren’t a back-up plan.

Some authors turn to agents after their self-published novel doesn’t sell well, thinking that an agent will then pick it up and help boost sales. Self-publishing is not a “test run” for your novel. It is published. Don’t self-publish and then plan on submitting to agents. Select the publishing route for each manuscript and stick with it.

9. Get your documents ready.

Agents and editors will all ask for different documents when you query, depending on their requirements. These should be noted on their websites (which you will know as part of your diligent research in point 2 above). Query letters, synopses and proposals are all different things. Learn the difference and submit accordingly.

10. Co-writing agreements are for keeps.

If you have co-written your manuscript, make sure you have a collaboration agreement formalised with clear splits before you begin to query agents and editors. This even goes for spouses. Agents and editors will be suspicious of co-authors that query without an agreement already in place.

Step-By-Step Guide to Writing a Synopsis

Summarizing Your Novel

More often than not you will be requested to send through a synopsis (or summary) of your novel with your query letter when you approach agents and editors. They may also request all or part of your manuscript, as well.

It is important to understand that a synopsis or summary is not the back blurb of your novel. It is a step-by-step account of your manuscript and breaks down the entire novel, ranging from 2 to 10 pages in length (generally, the shorter the better).

When requested, agents and editors will read your query letter first, then the synopsis, then your manuscript. I recommend that you prepare all three for every book you write, as you never know when you might need them.

Do I have to write both a query letter and a synopsis?

Different agents have different preferences for what should be included in every submission, but you will ALWAYS need to have a premise for your novel, no matter what. Even if a synopsis is not required for your submission to one editor or agent, another might require it. Always check each individual editor/agent website that you are querying for their guidelines.

If nothing else, your synopsis will help you to nail down a premise for your novel and assist in identifying sections of your manuscript that might need further work before you begin to query.

What’s in a synopsis?

The synopsis is a breakdown of your entire manuscript. It can range from 2-10 pages (although the shorter the better), and briefly explains your characters, the conflict/plot and the resolution. In the synopsis you do not want to keep the reader guessing – you want to give away all of the books’ secrets (including the ending) in the most concise, compelling way possible.

Because you’re essentially writing a mini version of your book, you may struggle to write your synopsis. Some authors love the, while others hate them. As a pantser, I don’t outline my projects which makes it more of a challenge when it comes time to writing my synopsis. However, I have come up with the following 8 stages to ease the pain.

The 8 stages of writing a synopsis

Stage 1: Finish Your Novel

Write the book! Seriously, make sure you’ve finished writing your manuscript before you start to write your synopsis. Pro tip: if you’re writing a synopsis before you’ve finished your book, you’re actually writing an outline. If you don’t know where the story is going, neither will the reader of your synopsis.

Stage 2: Summarise Each Chapter

Read through your book, summarising each chapter into one or two sentences. Note that some chapters will be significantly longer than a sentence or two, particularly the opening chapters and the climax, and if you’re working with multiple points of view then you might need to add in a little bit more.

Questions to ask:

  • What is the point of this chapter?
  • What is the most important thing that happens?

Stage 3: Don’t Keep Secrets

Include the ending! One of the main purposes of a synopsis is to show the full arcs of your plot, subplots, and your characters. Don’t forget to include all the resolutions. If you don’t resolve certain aspects of the novel, the agent/editor reading your synopsis will know that this is by design.

Questions to ask:

  • Are the characters fully developed?
  • Are the character and story arcs expressed in the chapter summaries?

Stage 4: Embellish the Beginning

The first paragraph of the synopsis should give the same basic information you convey through the book’s first chapter(s). If you’ve been using our story beats, these include: inciting incident and key moment.

Questions to ask:

  • Where and when does this story take place?
  • Who is the protagonist?
  • What problem is your protagonist facing right off the bat?

Stage 5: String it Together

Start to string your paragraphs together in a coherent way. Some paragraphs might need to be split up further, others might be better together. If your novel has multiple points of view, you might need to group certain aspects together for flow.

Questions to ask:

  • Do the sentences paint an accurate picture of your manuscript?
  • Do the points of view flow naturally into each other?

Stage 6: Focus on Plot

Read through your synopsis so far with a focus on plot. As you read through you might be able to highlight a few plot holes and lost information. This might mean that you need to go back and revise a bit of your novel, or maybe you’ve just missed out on some key information in your synopsis. If it should be there but it’s not in your novel, you need to revise your manuscript.

Questions to ask:

  • Does your synopsis accurately reflect your book’s plot?
  • Have you only included information that is expressly in your novel?

Stage 7: Focus on Character

Read through with a focus on character arc. What kind of character arc does each character have? If your synopsis shows a negative arc for your character but has a positive arc in your book, you need to revise your synopsis (and vice versa).

questions to ask:

  • Does the reader get a good sense of who your main characters are and how they evolve throughout the story?
  • Do you need to add in any pertinent information into the synopsis to help the reader understand character motivations?

Stage 8: Trim and Edit

Trim and edit. Your synopsis should not be longer than 10 pages – the shorter the better. When an agent or editor requests a synopsis, they will usually specify a length requirement. Check each guideline carefully to ensure you meet the requirements.

questions to ask:

  • Is the synopsis too long?
  • What can be culled to help the synopsis read better?
  • Have you met the guidelines specified by the agent or editor?

How do I format my synopsis?

Check each agent/editor website to see if they have any formatting requirements, as most will. Generally, we recommend following these guidelines:

  • Your synopsis should be written in third person, present tense, regardless of the POV or tense that your book is written in.
  • The first time you write a character’s name, it should appear in ALL CAPS to be easily identified.
  • On the first page include the agent/editor details that you are querying, word length, and genre of your novel, unless specified otherwise.
  • Use 1.5 or 2 point line spacing.

Submitting Your Synopsis

It’s time to submit your work! Congratulations on making it this far! It can be a heart-wrenching process, but look what you’ve achieved! Before you hit the send button:

  • Triple check the submission guidelines of each agent/editor you are submitting to.
  • You might need to create multiple synopses for the same book as you begin querying multiple agencies.
  • When you’re finished submitting – take time to celebrate this amazing achievement!

How To Write A Query Letter in 4 Steps

You’ve toiled and troubled over draft after draft of your manuscript. You’re  finally ready for an agent or editor But now that you’ve started looking into it you realize the odds of capturing anyone’s attention is slim to none.

The age-old challenge for authors: How do you get them to notice you?

The solution: Write a good query letter.

First, congratulations are in order! You’ve entered a new phase!

Querying is a very exciting time in your writing journey.Now it’s time to put your best foot forward and tell the world why they should take notice of you and your work.

Don’t worry it’s not as scary as it sounds!

Follow along as we tame the beast that is understanding query letters, and dissect how to write your own.

What exactly is a query letter?

Your query letter is the first impression of who you are and what your project is that the agent or editor will ever see – they will read this before anything else (including a synopsis or any chapters of your manuscript). As such, writing a query letter that is in sync with your brand, your project, and your personality is arguably the most important tool you will have in your arsenal towards becoming traditionally published.

A query letter is like a cover letter that you send out with your resume. It’s a one-page professional letter that tells the agent or editor who you are, what your credentials are, what your project is, and why they should sign you.

When you should start to query.

It is always important to query after you finish your novel, especially if you are a first-time novelist. And by that, I mean  you haven’t published anything. You might be sitting on 12 manuscripts at home, but unless you have gone through the traditional publisher route, you are still seen as a “first-time author” to any agents or editors you’ll query.

Querying after you have finished your novel proves to the editor/agent that you can actually finish your manuscript. There are so many people out there that start writing and get distracted by other things in life and never finish their books.

Only query when you are confident that you have completed your manuscript. Make sure all the edits, rewrites, rereads, beta reading, and grammatical fixes have been completed.

Writing Your Query Letter

Sitting down to write your query letter might feel overwhelming, but it’s a very exciting time in the life of your manuscript. You’ve done the hard yards – you’ve written a book, edited it (through many drafts), and have possibly written a synopsis. Now you need to draft your letter.

It’s important to remember that query letters should not be long. At a maximum, they should be one page long and structured into four or five short paragraphs, itemised in the steps below.

Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you’ve come this far and you are definitely going to make it across the finish line. Here we go!


Step 1: Paragraph 1 – Know your Audience and Write to your Target

The first paragraph should be short and sweet, 2-3 sentences long. That’s it. Anything more and you’ve lost your audience.

The first paragraph is all about the agent or editor you are querying. Why have you picked them specifically to query? All queries you send out should be meaningful – you’ve done your research into who this editor or agent represents and the types of novels they accept. Never, I repeat never query an editor or agent that you haven’t researched.

Goals for the first paragraph:

  • Show you have researched the editor or agent
  • Make it clear what you’re selling (yourself, your novel)
  • Show the word count of your novel
  • Convey confidence that your work fits in with the agent/editor

Example:

Dear Ms. Editorname,

I am a long-time reader of the thrilling, dystopian YA novels Contemporary House publishes, especially the recent TIMEJUMPER series. I have completed a 75,000-word manuscript entitled The Moon Howls Back that I believe will be a good fit for your publishing house.

Step 2: Paragraph 2&3 – Provide a Premise and the Hooks of your Story

Your second and third paragraphs (third paragraph optional) provides the agent or editor with a brief premise of your book, and hooks her to your writing style and your overall project. It in these paragraphs where the reader will decide whether to continue to your manuscript (or synopsis). Ensure you use the same tone in your premise as you do in your novel to really sell it. If these don’t add up then you’re effectively selling a different story to the reader.

Goals for the second and third paragraph:

  • Introduce your main character (or characters if you’re working with multiple points of view)
  • Identify your protagonist(s) objectives
  • Identify opponents and conflicts that the protagonists face
  • Hook the reader in! Keep them wanting more!

Example:

As a child, Dorothy had the distinct impression that the moon was following her. Every time she looked up at the night sky, there it was, beaming back at her, watching her every move – both good and bad. What she once passed off as childish imagination is revealed as truth when, 25 years later, she discovers that she’s the result of a space mission gone wrong, and the only thing tying her to her mysterious past is the satellite hanging solemnly above her.

Under the moon’s ever-watchful gaze, Dorothy must race to find out not only who she is, but exactly where she belongs and where her true allegiance lies – before it’s too late for everyone.

Step 3: Paragraph 4 – Notify Qualifications and Authority on your Subject

This is part of the query letter that tells the agent/editor about who you are. What makes you qualified to write this story? Have you published before? Won any awards? Perhaps you’re a trained nurse and you’ve written a medical drama? Anything that ties you specifically to your novel premise should be noted here.

Many first time authors start getting nervous when they reach this point. They think that because they haven’t published anything or won any awards that they will not have anything to “sell”. This is categorically untrue. All editors and agents understand that first-time authors can be just as valuable as published or award-winning authors. This is the part of the query letter that you need to show that.

Goals for the fourth paragraph:

  • List your writing credentials (published books, competition wins, etc)
  • Identify any personal credentials you have that connects you to your manuscript

Example:

I spent my life living as an expat in Asia without ever understanding what that word really meant to my identity and self-worth. As such, I have an in-depth understanding of what it feels like to be an outsider, never truly understanding where my loyalties lie. I have a Bachelor’s Degree in English Literature and Media Communications, and have worked as a freelance blogger for Craft of Writing for the past three years.

Step 4: Paragraph 5 – Call the Recipient to Action

Explain why you think your book is a good fit in one sentence, and then end with a call to action. What do you want the agent or editor to do? Contact you, right? Tell them, then end the letter.

Remember to always include your legal name as well as your pseudonym, if you’re using one.

Goals for the fifth paragraph:

  • Link your manuscript back to the editor or agent you are submitting to
  • Include with your legal name
  • Include your pseudonym (if required)

Example:

I’m convinced The Moon Howls Back is a good fit for your program because, while Dorothy is convinced she is insignificant, she must fight to protect those she loves and lead her people to safety, making sacrifices along the way. I look forward to hearing from you, and hope you will be interested in reading the manuscript.


What Not to Do In a Query Letter

Many people get caught up in the idea of “selling” their novel that they forget that a query letter needs to be engaging but not pleading. Here is a list of common pitching mistakes, and why they’re not effective:

  1. “My book is timely!” – your book might be right for the current political climate, and might address some hard-hitting truths that is perfect for the world at large, but don’t fall into the trap of nominating this in your query letter. What it says to the reader is that it might not stand the test of time. Books can take years from acceptance to the bookshelf, so by the time your book is out in the wild, it might no longer be “relevant”. Nominating it in your query letter might be shooting yourself in the foot.

    At the end of the day, if the editor decides that your novel is something that should be set free onto the world, they will learn that from your synopsis and your manuscript sample.

  2. “Test readers love it!” – you might be trying to convey the message that you’ve had beta readers or critique partners that saw value in your story, but what you’re really doing is telling the agent or editor that she MUST love it, too. It’s a turn-off to be told what to think or feel about anything, and this is how you will come across.

    Part of the editing process (before you query your novel) should be to have beta readers at some point. Who probably think your story is amazing, because it’s written by YOU. There’s really no need to tell the agent or editor this, as it’s a given.

  3. “This book is my baby” – sometimes it can feel like your entire heart and soul has gone into the creation of your manuscript. That’s part of writing raw which is perfectly fine. However, adding a sentiment like this into your query letter tells the agent or editor one thing: any requests for revisions will potentially crush you, resulting in a difficult working relationship.

    Real talk: There will always be requests for more revisions. ALWAYS. Whether it is by your editor or your agent, you will need to make some changes. This is how J.K. Rowling’s “The Philosopher’s Stone” was changed to “The Sorcerer’s Stone” for the U.S. release. Sometimes you will have to make compromises, and sometimes you will need to kill your darlings. The editor or agent you are querying needs to know that you will not be defensive or difficult to work with throughout this process.

  4. “Never before has there been a book like mine!” – where do I start with this one? This screams warning bells to any agents or editors that you are querying. What you might mean is that it’s a niche project and exciting. What they’re reading is that your book doesn’t fit into a specific genre and therefore it will be difficult to find an audience to sell to.

    We all want to write new and exciting stories. We want our ideas to be genuine and even experimental at times. But throughout the writing process you should ALWAYS know who your target audience is, and where your book sits in the bookstore. Perhaps you’ve written a mystery/romance/christmas hybrid. That’s fine, but what part of the bookstore will it stand? You can only pick one – and that’s the one you want to sell it as to the agent or editor. You do not, I repeat do NOT, want to wait for the agent or editor to tell you what genre your book is.

A Daily Practice To Drastically Improve Sentences

For today’s writer, there’s a huge emphasis placed on avoiding the use of passive voice and adverbs.  While well-meaning it can often become a red herring for the editing process and outright distraction for the creative process.  

Continue reading “A Daily Practice To Drastically Improve Sentences”