My Submission Process | Writing Post
Today I thought I would discuss my Submission Process, having just received a really lovely which was still a no.
I have a surprising amount of insight into the submission process at literary agencies having not only submitted my novel for consideration and being clipped at the post. Also, I used to work as an intern/reader at a literary agency.
Here’s my story:
I wrote my novel My Mr Keats in my last year at university. I had previously written a short story for my creative writing final in 2nd year and I was encouraged by my tutor to take it further.
Writing the story was the easy part, for me – normally it’s the opposite! – and I loved every second. I did a TON of re-writes and edits after completing the 500 page manuscript (manuscripts, for the most part, should be shorter as a debut). I had never really gone into detail in editing – my writing weakness – but I was determined to make this book as best as it could be.
After five full edits and the deletion of 150 pages, I felt ready to send it to Literary agents for consideration. At the time I was working at a Literary agency.
Part of the reason I felt so empowered and determined was because of the above fact. I had seen the competitiveness and importance of early submissions from handling the submissions email and I did not want my book to be:
- Passed off
- Rejected without reading.
This may make literary agents sound brutal; they are not, by any means.
A new literary agency can have an inbox of over 2000 submission from all over the world, at any one time, so imagine what size older and established agencies inboxes are like.
An agent usually spends a lot of time reading submissions so you can’t begrudge them wanting to make the process faster by finding an excuse not to read a submission. Even I dismissed submissions that:
- Did not follow the submission guidelines, i.e. did not direct their email to a specific agent, was not of a genre we openly accepted or was sent to an agent who was clearly labelled as not taking submissions on the submission guideline pages.
- Had obvious grammatical or spelling errors in the cover letter or synopsis
- Were arrogant, rude or critical of the agencies previous replies or business etc
- And you wouldn’t believe the amount of submissions I read that started with ‘The next Harry Potter’ – people that use this phrase either are extremely arrogant or do not understand their book well enough to compare it to a reasonably similar book.
With all of this in mind I read gems in the submission pile.
However, another pet peeve of literary agencies is when an author sends the book out to every literary agency that they can find. And it is obvious when they do.
You may think this makes sense, you’re widening the field, but actually it is a total turn off and also rude. If you don’t feel it is necessary to read about the agents work but still want to work with them, why should they read your work and work with you?
I took the Writer and Artists Yearbook and highlighted all of the agencies that accepted my genre of book in the UK. I then went on each of their websites and read their submission guidelines, their current author lists and found which agent would be best to send the book too, if at all.
In the end I whittled a list down from around 100 agencies in the book to 45 agencies that accepted my genre to only 16 agencies I really liked the sound of, with 5 in particular I thought were particularly good fits.
I took the list of 16 and prepared my standard synopsis and various lengths of the first chapter – some agencies wanted 10 pages, another the first 50,000 words and one agent only wanted the first page. This is why it is so important you read the agents guidelines carefully!
Never send an agent your whole book unless they specifically ask for it on their website or via email – you’re wasting their time and it is frustrating.
After I prepared these various submissions and a standard 1-2 page synopsis of the whole plot I got to work writing a separate cover letter for every agent. This is where most submissions, in my experience as a reader, fell short. You can tell a lot about a writer from their cover letter.
When I say ‘tailored’ I don’t mean I just changed the agents name at the top of the letter – I showed my research into their company, pitched my story specifically to them and gave my reasons for why the book would be a good fit with their agency. This is all done in a page or less, and less is better.
Once all of this was gathered I sent the emails off. Admittedly this is where I made a mistake.
I was stressed from exams, work and the prospect of leaving university within a few weeks. I was also incredibly excited and raring to go…so I sent the submission out the week of the London Book Fair.
The London Book Fair is the busiest time for an agent in the UK. This is where they gather to sell the rights of their books to international publishers and learn from national publishers what kinds of books they’ll be looking for in future. It is sales and industrial gathering which lasts for 3 days with about 2 months prep and 6 months worth of follow up. So sending my submission during the epi-centre of the chaos was stupid.
Most agents aim to respond within 6-8 weeks of receiving an email but this is not always possible. And it is even more unlikely during the London Book Fair (Doh!)
I received my first reply two weeks after I sent out the submission and it was positive! With a request to see the full manuscript. I was ecstatic! I jumped and screamed in the library canteen much to the chagrin of my uni friends. I knew as an intern at a literary agency that an agent requesting see the full manuscript was a really big deal – it was like clearing the 2nd to last hurdle in the Olympic semi-finals.
And then I got a rejection – but it was fine. I had a request to see the full manuscript (which I sent with a brief over-look). Then I got a personalised rejection. As an intern it was my job to send the rejections from my agency and whilst not a pleasant job it gave me so much insight into the obvious copy-and-paste rejections. Copy and paste is a huge part of rejection unfortunately, so receiving an email which was a rejection, but with notes and a genuine interest, was actually quite pleasant (ironically).
I lived off the hype of getting that first request for days and then I got a second request! Both of these were were with agencies I was really keen to work with based on their current authors, so again I was thrilled.
The rejections did flow thicker after the 3rd week or so but that was fine – I had 2 agents reading my full work.
I then grew some tits and told my internship boss that I had a book out on submission. I hadn’t submitted it to her agency although i battled with the idea of submitting it under a pseudonym for ages as I didn’t want her to feel awkward or for me to feel judged either. But she was hugely encouraging and I sent her the full manuscript to read. So, technically, I had 3 agents reviewing my book.
After 5 weeks thought i got the dreaded rejection from the first agent who had requested to read the whole manuscript. And sadly she used a copy and paste rejection so I don’t know why she didn’t like it in it’s entirety all.
Then more rejections came in. Some were still personalised, but it hurt a bit more now – then I heard back from my boss. She was, again, absolutely lovely and really encouraging and she was kind enough to give me quite a few notes (via email, thankfully) but the book wasn’t for her either. It was too cross-genre for her and as an agent she didn’t know how to sell/pitch it to an agency. But she did enjoy it and wanted to know what happened which is a great thing to hear.
By this point I had finished university, was back at home and had complete writers block. I was desperately waiting to hear back from the third agent with the full manuscript, as the final agent on the list of 16 came back with a copy and paste rejection.
Finally, after 12 weeks, I heard back from the last agent who had requested the book. She had passed it on to a 2nd agent for an opinion as she was torn by the selling point too. But ultimately both had agreed it was too cross-genre for their company, even though they had both enjoyed it.
This is the sad reality of publishing. It is a business and even if books are great and enjoyable agents/publishers will turn them down if they don’t think they’ll sell. It seems unfair in a way, as how do they really know? But they are the experts.
My submission process obviously didn’t end there. I edited the book some more and sent it out to a few more agents I had previously cut down from, but the results have not been positive here either. Thinking that it might not be meant to be with an agent, I submitted direct to a few smaller indie publishers but again no luck.
I then came across Unbound via YouTube and the idea began to form in my mind that the agents were rejecting my book because of its cross-genre issue and that the issue they had was the marketing/sales side of it. With Unbound you have the chance to market/sell the book in any way you like, until you crowdfund the money to get it published. This meant I would be able to change if a marketing scheme didn’t work and sell it to different audiences in different ways.
Of course, with Unbound you still have to submit your book to a panel who decide whether or not it could succeed in crowdfunding and how much you would need to raise to get it published as an ebook, paperback, hardback, or all 3 or just 2.
I submitted the book, as a last chance go, in September 2016 and in October it was accepted. I had a few months to put together a plan and sort out the paperwork and crowdfunding logistics and in January it went live. It is now July and I am still going.
As of yesterday it is 11% funded with 34 backers – most of them bloggers and other readers – if you like the sound of My Mr Keats please, please, pledge to help it get published! Pledges start from £1 and you will receive a copy of the book and your name printed in back of every copy!
If you have any questions about writing, publishing or my novel please get in touch below!