The submission process: one step forward, three back

February 28, 2018 § Leave a comment


I sent my first, and so far, only postal submission off on 5th February last. The other six submissions I made were by email. A total of seven. Despite this small number, each submission has taken a disproportionate amount of time. It is rather amusing that agents think you might be inundating the Book World with your submissions. If only I could afford staff to help me with the process, then there might be some hope of flooding literary agencies with my work.

Agents appear, or perhaps it is my imagination, to accept that 99 per cent of unsolicited submissions are not rubbish. In fact, some of the younger agents have befriended the slush pile: the slush pile is notional now. By and large, documents sent as an attachment to emails form a ‘slush pile’. Gems have been discovered on the slush pile. The impression these younger agents, almost invariably young women, give is that they are much more open to the unpublished writer, or indeed the debut author. You can’t help but feel that the long established agents do not need to fritter their time away reading unsolicited material when they have a stellar client list. They may, of course, consider a ‘writer’ who has been recommended by another writer. Hard lines on the old unpublished author who has no one influential to recommend her.

Never mind. There are vital young agents ready to go beyond and above calls of duty to rescue the would-be debut author from obscurity. Of course, there is a catch. They have to really like what you send them. Hmm. Don’t despair. Have a look at their client list, the ones whose work fired up the agent. You may find that these novels don’t fire you up. Taste is a strange thing.

Obviously, if I see that agents love books by authors I have never been tempted to read, I conclude those agents are not the ones for me. More difficult are the agents who also like books that I have liked. I might take a chance with them. Why not?

Agents may let you down gently saying they receive a lot of ‘strong’ work but cannot take it on unless they feel ‘passionately’ about it. I am not sure I believe this. I wonder how many agents really trust their own judgement or are that in tune with their feelings. Why do they become judges at writing competitions? Do they prefer to look only at work that has already been ‘vetted’?

My own submission process is slow because I have become caught up in this idea of ‘crafting’ the covering letter. How much can I craft it? I read of one writer who had polished and polished her cover letter until it shone. What does that mean? I cannot spent absurd amounts of time on a letter. The law of diminishing returns applies. Even undistinguished cover letters are hard to write. I print out my cover letter many times. I tweak it here and there, but the letter does not shine. It will have to do. All the same, I never send it off at once. The next day, I read it again and discover (guess what?) a mistake.

We are familiar with that horribly punitive attitude agents have to typos. Would you believe I still managed misspell in the footer, so it appeared on every page, the name of my own novel. I was about to bundle this submission into an envelope when I discovered the mistake. Tempted as I was to leave it, I could not. Would an agent forgive me for misspelling my own novel’s name?

Attaching a document by email is worse: are we really sending the most up-to-date version? Indeed, in two submissions I made, the latest version was saved to a memory stick and not the computer, so I attached an earlier one. With mistakes! On discovery, I re-sent the two submissions a week later. Perhaps, they weren’t mistake-free either. Now I hardly dare to press the send button. Am I going to go mad and blind?

In the month of March, I will relax about sending out submissions. A balance must be struck between my original aim of sending out 100 submissions, and ‘over-crafting’ cover letters. It’s a heart-breaking business. But, ultimately, no matter what little quibbles these agents have, all will be brushed aside if they really like your work. But will they?






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