Oh, the world of tumblr, where I get many beautiful questions from many beautiful people. Recently, a wonderful anon asked:
Hi, I'm an unpublished writer but with a finished book. What would your advice be to me? Should I send my book to any and all agencies and publishers, or be picky?
A great question! And first of all, congratulations!!!! You’ve written a book: that’s a huge, huge accomplishment, published or not! So, the first piece of advice? Celebrate yourself :D
^^ You. Celebrate you.
And, in addition to all the celebrating, make sure that your book is ready for querying: I rewrote mine I think 5 full times before I got my deal with @ninestarpress. There’s no formula, of course, but the step after you write, a lot of times, is not to query, but to rewrite.
And if you decide you’re ready to get down to business – because publishing, remember, is a business! – to answer the question the way you asked it is, be picky, picky, picky. The last thing you want to do is to submit to agents and/or publishers who aren’t looking for your kind of work/send a form “dear sir/madam” letter to everyone. The publishing world is small, and people have long memories!
And don’t only be picky: remember that there is a process to this whole thing, involving query letters and partials and all that. Really, it takes a lot of research.
I wrote a lot in this post about the process of writing a query letter, and I hope it’s helpful (if you have follow up questions, feel free to ask!). But for the purposes of your question specifically, I want to focus for a more on the process of actually selecting agents who would be a good fit for you.
Though I do discuss the importance of research, research, research in this piece, I want to draw back for a moment to agent selection. Because getting an agent is often (but not always) the key to getting published. At most agencies, you’ll be prompted by the submission guidelines on their website to only query one agent at a time (or one agent, ever). So you’ve got to chose who that is very, very carefully (again with the research). You don’t only want to investigate what kinds of books the agency tends to get signed; you also want to look into the books the particular agent that you’re querying has signed, and what they’re currently looking for (assuming they’re accepting unsolicited queries).
Often, the key is to query a few select folks at a time: maybe 5-10 per batch. Wait the requisite amount of time (different agents/agencies will say things like ‘consider no response after x amount of a time a pass’, or ‘send a gentle reminder about your query if you hear nothing after x amount of time’) before sending new letters to a new batch of agents. If you get no “bites” the first time around – no requests to read more of your full or partial manuscript – that doesn’t mean give up! It means you’re a writer now!
It also might mean that it’s time to tweak your query letter. That’s one of the main reasons it’s a rule of thumb to only send to a few agents at a time. Sometimes silence speaks volumes, and you might want to adjust your query letter. It’s frustrating, because theoretically by that point you’ve already written and rewritten it ad nauseum, but a query letter redesign can often mean the difference between a successful and unsuccessful pitch!
And keep going. Don’t give up!
As for querying publishers, most larger publishing companies won’t accept unsolicited and/or unagented manuscripts. However, there are many smaller presses – like mine! – that do accept, and in fact actively seek, unsolicited and unagented manuscripts. If you think this is the route for you, just be mindful that your submission is appropriate for what the press is looking for, and that you follow whatever submission guidelines they have to the letter. This includes the ever-dreaded rule against simultaneous submissions: if a publisher doesn’t accept simultaneous submissions and you choose to submit your work to them, it means you can’t submit anywhere else until their response time passes.
That can be truly scary – trust me, I know – but it can also pay off, big time (trust me, I know that, too).
I’m sending you lots of support and luck, my dear: don’t give up, and feel free to reach back out and keep me up to date on your progress!!