If you’re querying (like I talked about in this post) and pretty sure your writing is publishing quality, but you’re still not getting requests…
Make sure the type of novel you’re querying is selling in the current market. What agents are signing is eighteen to twenty-four months behind what’s hitting today’s shelves. So they may know the market is saturated well before you do.
I personally don’t like the idea of writing for the market. It stifles originality and takes some of the joy out of the process for me. But some writers love writing for the market. If you can write a novel within a few months, you can give it a try and see how it works for you.
Either way, this information will make you a better judge of whether it’s your writing that needs improving, or whether you simply aren’t going to find a home for it because it’s the three-hundredth dystopian novel the agent has seen that month. (No, that’s not an exaggeration.)
From their website:
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This service is something you can use and then cancel. So if you’re querying, it’s one of the best places to find agents, editors, and the book deals that are being announced today. These are deals that agents or authors have sold to editors/publishers within the last month or so. You can do a search for deals specifically in age categories, genres, and also using key words.
Not everyone posts their deals on PM, but enough of them do that you’ll be able to see trends.
If you search the hashtags during any pitch contest and begin scrolling, you can see the pitches agents are liking. Conversely, you’ll see the pitches they aren’t liking. Note the premises, the worlds/settings, the age categories, and the genres or types of novels. Sometimes, you’ll see a pitch that gets several likes. You’ll know that’s a premise worth thinking about or building on.
Some of you might say this would make you leery of putting your pitch out there. My answer to that: Give the same exact premise to fifty people, you’re going to get fifty completely different novels. What we write is influenced by our experience, perceptions, and imagination. No two will be the same. And often, several agents will pick up similar premises, because book sales ride on trends, which means the premises are similar and they still sell. They actually sell because they’re similar until you reach a saturation point. Publishers use the huge wave of a popular book like Twilight (2008) to springboard other books with similar premises or genre/age groups like The Vampire Diaries (2009).
Ask an Agent or Editor
Agents often get on the #askagent hashtag and offer to answer any of your questions for an hour or so. Ask them if your specific genre and age category and perhaps even premise is something that’s likely to sell in the current market. Don’t pitch them unless you’re asked, but if they’re interested in it, I’m sure they’ll say something.
When you’re at a conference, it would be appropriate to politely approach and agent or editor and ask them this question. Remember to be polite and respectful of their time, but most agents and editors offer round table discussions at lunch or don’t mind chatting after presenting.
From their website…
Publishers Weekly – Since 1872, Publishers Weekly has been the common ground where book people at all levels, in all roles, learn and share news about what’s new and what’s next in every aspect of publishing the written word—in book, audio, video and electronic forms.
Publisher, bookseller, agent, librarian, media member, author, or book lover?
Publishers Weekly is your indispensable guide to what is happening in our fast-changing industry. Best of all, you’ll receive your first 4 issues, absolutely free and save up to 33%! View all subscription offers.
They have podcasts, trade show daily info, and a lot of information for staying in touch with what’s happening. If you don’t subscribe, they have a much smaller list of weekly deals. If you subscribe, you can find a lot more deals and lists that they provide. It’s a treasure trove of information on the industry.
If you belong to SCBWI (Society of Book Writers & Illustrators), as a member once a year you can usually get PW for $99 for the whole year. It’s a great deal. Other organizations (like Kobo Writing Life Authors) also have a similar offer.
If you have other ways you follow current deals in the publishing market, I’d love to hear about them.
Writing had taken such a hold in my life, it was nearly impossible for me not to write. But at the same time, I wondered how I’d survive in an industry that felt like it was simultaneously sucking the life out of me.
Welcome to publishing.
I think all artists go through this. Art of all forms is undervalued in our society. People pirate movies and songs and e-books and think nothing of it. Most people don’t pay for original, quality artwork to hang in their homes or offices. And a lot of readers sacrifice quality, edited literature for something cheaper.
Because, let’s face it, we’d all like to get more bang for the almighty buck.
Me included. The $500 painting pays for a plane ticket to see my kid. I’ll glance at that bare piece of wall for the rest of my life in exchange for a week with any one of my children. Maybe I’ll cover the blank space with a thrift-store cork board and some pictures from the trip. And $500 is cheap for an original painting.
After another round of querying and another round of form rejections, I quit writing. I didn’t have it in me. The words were there, the worlds existed in my mind, and I went back to the stories in my head while folding clothing and doing the dishes. Life went on.
Until one day, my husband confronted me. “What’s up with you lately?” A conversation about my mental, emotional, even physical health ensued. I wasn’t nearly as happy. And my husband told me I needed to go on a writing retreat because it always helped. (Yes, he’s that good.)
My heart fluttered but my brain remained fixed. “No way. I’ve given that up.”
He shook his head. “Why? You love writing. I thought it was your dream to be published.”
“Was being the key word.” I folded my arms and clenched my jaw.
He sighed and gave me a hug, kissed my cheek, squeezed me a bit harder even when my arms remained folded. And I cried.
I couldn’t face it.
Nope. Nope. Nope.
I didn’t think so. At least, not if I had to face querying again. But…
What if I was never published? I could write for me. Writing stories made me happy. And that’s what mattered. The next time I had a free moment, I sat down at the computer and started a new novel. And for the first time in years, I felt free.
So how do we know when enough is enough?
If you can quit writing and it doesn’t ruin you, do it. I say that with all the tenderness and care I possess.
You might be unhappy with that notion or disagree with me, and that’s fine. Feel free. But after watching hundreds of published authors go through the process, I’ve learned what it’s like. If you don’t love writing and write for yourself, for the love of the words and the worlds and the characters—the struggle, frustration, and rejection will eventually leach out every other positive part of the writing process.
You’ve got to have a passion that will sustain you through all the struggle to get published. You have to have it after you get published and don’t sell enough copies or get a hateful review or don’t sell the next book or don’t sell the next three. Even if you sell well and things go wonderfully, you have to love writing enough to find time to write while you’re marketing, promoting, editing the last book, and dealing with everything else in life.
So, if you have to write, how do you know when your manuscript is ready to query?
This is a complex question. Sometimes the answer is, you don’t.
Most people don’t have enough money to hire a professional editor. That’s okay. I never did. So how do you figure it out on your own?
Remember that you’re not alone. You have critique partners, hopefully, that will give you their opinion. They might be wrong, but it’s a place to start.
Use contests like Pitch Wars and Author Mentor Match to submit as if you were querying and see what happens. They’re free, so no harm. Usually, you’ll get an idea of how well your manuscript is doing against the competition. These are a bit more helpful in that you can choose the mentors who read and write in your genre and age category just the way you would submit to agents. Again, don’t let that completely discourage you. Use them a gauge, not an end all be all. They can only accept one manuscript, where an agent can accept multiple. So you might’ve made the cut. And often, the mentor will tell you that or give helpful feedback.
There’s also the free workshop, #1st5Pages. They take the first five people every month who submit and give a free critique of your pitch (the flapjacket or blurb part of your query) and your first five pages and let you revise a couple times in the process.
Use critiques at conferences or online to see what industry agents and editors think of the manuscript. They do cost $40-$50, so it’s sometimes prohibitive, but paying a little can get you a lot of information. This is a career you might have to invest in, just like most people would pay for classes or training. Often, these conferences will offer ten page critiques. I’ve been both sides of the table here, getting critiques and then giving them. My advice: let yourself go through the grief process with them. You can get a little angry, feel hurt, let down, but give it a couple days and then go back and read the critique. Often, the agent or editor will have some great advice for how you can make your novel better.
Use the querying process itself to see if you’re ready. Choose ten agents. Five who are young and hungry for manuscripts and five seasoned agents. If all ten are form rejections, there’s probably something wrong with your query, synopsis, or first ten pages. I’ve got a post on The Modern Query Letter here. And The Simple Synopsis here. Get help. Edit them. Have people read them. If they don’t understand anything in one single pass, make sure they tell you where they were confused. Get it as good as you can. (Don’t feel badly. I know plenty of published authors who need help because queries and synopses are so difficult.) Then query ten more as before.
Still form rejections? Consider getting professional help–but make sure you do your homework! Not every freelance editor is the same. And often, your best bet is to go with an agent or editor from places like #MSWL Consultations. Agents and editors offer critiques, and they might like the premise enough to ask you to submit. If you need a cheaper option, go with a freelance editor who’s been in the query inboxes with agents as an intern and been groomed to read queries.
Revise it. Soon, you’ll start getting requests. If you’ve done your best to revise and perfect your query and pages and you’re not getting any requests for more, you need to think about querying another novel. There is no magic number of queries to come to this conclusion.
It might just be when you can’t take anymore. It might be that you have made a list of every single agent who accepts your age category and genre and you’re going to get to the end of that list no matter what. Either one is acceptable. Do what you need to in order to be satisfied, and then let it go. (That’s the hardest part.)
Hopefully, during this whole process, you’ve continued to write.
Often, it’s not until the third, forth, or even fifth novel that a writer catches agent interest.
Another thing, make sure the type of novel you’re querying is selling in the current market. As stated before somewhere (I think), what agents are signing is 18-24 months behind what’s hitting shelves. So they may know the market is saturated well before you do. My next post will be about how to follow the current industry sales and what’s being picked up now, so you as an author will be privy to what’s being scooped up.
I personally don’t like the idea of writing for the market. It stifles originality and takes some of the joy out of the process for me. Either way, this information will make you a better judge of whether it’s your writing that needs improving, or whether you simply aren’t going to find a home for it because it’s a vampire novel and that trend is over. That said, it’s also you can dust off that vampire novel sitting in that file when an agent tweets out that they want to see those vampire novels again.
I’d written a novel!
After having a couple people read it, all of whom said it was !Wonderful!, I thought, It must be good enough to be published then.
My chest tightened, and my stomach fluttered.
So I researched how to query on the internet. One issue–reliable sources. Another issue–outdated sources. I wasn’t sure who to trust or where to go for help. The biggest issue–I didn’t know anyone else who wrote novels. So I gave it a try.
I queried fifteen agents.
I queried fifteen more. About ten more rejections. And they all began sounding the same.
I mean, if it was decent, one out of thirty might’ve liked it, right? After another fifteen queries and some rejections, I’d had nineteen months of heartbreak.
I’d written another novel and half of the sequel to the one I was querying in the meantime. Because by then, I was addicted to it.
Every agents had said they liked Young Adult, Science fiction.
A side note:
Whenever you’re researching on the internet, look at people’s credentials, but also look at when the article or advice was written. For example, a lot of agents used to want the title, word count, genre, and age category paragraph of the query at the bottom, right before your bio. Now, most of the agents (at least the newer ones) want it at the top. Another addition within the last several years is an introductory, personalized sentence about why you’re querying them. And within the last couple years, comparable titles have become a thing to add as well.
That said, most agents aren’t going to throw out your query if you don’t do it exactly that way. They’ll give you the time (and I know this because I read queries for an agent) and read the entire query. But knowing how they prefer it shows a level of dedication and professionalism that speaks to what kind of client you’ll be.
So what was wrong with my manuscript?
And that was okay.
Something I was doing that wasn’t okay was translating the rejection of the manuscript to a rejection of me. It wasn’t enough to keep me from trying though.
All my effort went to honing my craft. And I made a plan.
First, learn to write well. If querying took that long, I didn’t want to waste another eighteen months querying and burn another forty-five agents. So, I wanted to wait until I knew for sure that my writing was good enough.
Second, learn to edit. Because your writing is only as good as your editing. I wasn’t going to throw away those stories. One was a planned trilogy with a prequel, number two already half written. The other could be a series, and I already knew how book two would begin and end.
So how could I learn when I didn’t know anyone and lived in rural New York?
I bought books on writing craft. For a list of some of my favorites, I have a post on it here.
I went to book clubs and libraries and independent book stores and asked the authors I met how they did it. And every single answer was different. (This is something I later realized would be the one thing that remained consistent throughout publishing–everything is different and subjective.)
I read books and analyzed them. Outlining plots. Following character arcs for primary, secondary, and even tertiary characters. Mapping structures of worlds. I tore the books I loved apart and saw them in a completely different light–as an author and editor rather than a reader.
One of the crucial people I met then was author Therese Walsh. She’d published her first book and was writing her second, but more than that, she was building a community of writers through a website called Writer Unboxed. It wasn’t very big back then, but it’s since become one of the best places to go for quality information on writing. She was building a community. She was giving back to the writing industry and gaining an invaluable network. I wanted to be like her, I just needed the opportunity.
Later, after moving to Kansas, I began taking classes from authors and editors in the business who could teach me the art of writing. I went to conferences and found a critique group.
For years, I soaked up as much information as I could.
But I was afraid to query.
While I do think getting an agent is the best route to go…
We don’t all have the luxury to find an agent who loves our manuscript the way we hoped they would. If you’re looking for an alternative to self-publishing to get your book out there, you might consider these imprints. Some of them even take books on that have been previously self or traditionally published, as long as you have the rights back.
Remember, it’s best not to query agents and publishers at the same time. Go one route or the other, or exhaust one and then the other.
Most of these publishers close on occasion and then reopen when they’ve sorted through their slush. Patience is still required. 😉 You can follow them on social media to see when they reopen.
Also, take note that several of them do not read queries but only take pages or the full manuscript via submission forms. Do your homework and read the submission pages carefully!
Another alternative are mid-size or smaller, independent publishers that can help you garner a fan base that can help you get an agent or bigger deal later on.
I’ll add to this as I find more.
Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin/Random House
They produce hardbacks of Picture Book, Middle Grade, and Young Adult
You can download their submission guidelines here.
TOR/Forge, imprints of Macmillan
They accept submissions in science fiction and fantasy, fiction of all other types including but not limited to general fiction, historical fiction, horror, mystery, paranormal, suspense/thriller, urban fantasy, and women’s fiction. Children’s and Young Adult books for the chapter book, middle grade, and young adult audiences.
Alibi, Penguin/Random House
A digital-only imprint focused on mystery and thriller fiction titles.
WITNESS, from Harper Collins Publishers
They accept thriller, mystery, or suspense novel manuscripts.
Forever and Forever Yours, imprints of Hachette Book Group, Grand Central Publishing.
They’re interested in all styles of romance, particularly contemporary, diverse reads, romantic suspense, cowboys, historicals, and paranormal.
They do not accept YA, fantasy, mystery, general fiction, or nonfiction. Novels should be between 50,000-100,000 words. Novellas should be 25,000-50,000 words.
For submission guidelines go here.
AVON Impulse, Harper Collins
Big, high concept historical and contemporary romances! Primarily, inclusive and diverse romances that reflect our world–all sexualities, races, ethnicities, religions, genders, body types, disabilities, and ages!
For submissions guidelines, go here.
Harlequin, Harper Collins
All sub-genres of romance. So many, in fact, that they have a list of their imprints to submit to with subbmission guidelines here.
Make sure and read carefully and scroll to the bottom to find the imprints that take unagented submissions.
They also accept unagented submissions in a wide range of genres for our digital-first single-title imprint, Carina Press. Visit carinapress.com to learn more.
Loveswept and Flirt, Penguin/Random House
Digital-only imprints focused on romance and women’s fiction titles.
Their contract was a point of contention for a long time, and royalties are split 50/50 with no advance, but it’s a viable way to get your book out there and start getting fans. You can read more about the initial controversy here.
SMP Swerve, St. Martin’s Press, Macmillan
A digital first imprint. The SMP Swerve team seeks for romance authors. From their page: We are looking for dynamic and diverse voices, compelling stories, and authors who are ready to build their brand.
DAW, Penguin/Random House
DAW accepts unsolicited submissions of science fiction and fantasy novels. No short story collections, novellas, or poetry. The average length of the novels they publish varies, but is almost never fewer than 80,000 words.
Scroll to the bottom to find their submission info.
Hydra, Penguin/Random House
A digital-only imprint focused on science fiction, fantasy, and horror titles.
HarperLegend, Harper Collins
They occasionally shut this page and it’ll seem like an error. It just means they’re closed.
All of their works have spiritual underpinnings akin to The Life of Pi, The Screwtape Letters, etc.
From their site: HarperLegend seeks to discover and publish new authors of visionary and transformational fiction in the digital first format . We know that there are many many writers out there who work in this genre. If you are one of these folks, we want to help your work reach the world. We hope that you will embrace our offer to submit your work to HarperLegend.
FARRAR, STRAUS AND GIROUX, Macmillan
The firm is renowned for its international list of literary fiction, nonfiction, poetry and children’s books.
Scroll down to the word ‘Editorial’ and you’ll find this:
Unsolicited submissions are accepted at Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All submissions must be submitted through the mail—we do not accept electronic submissions, or submissions delivered in person. Please include a cover letter describing your submission, along with the first 50 pages of the manuscript. If you are submitting poems, please include 3-4 poems. If you wish to hear back from us, please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope with your submission. If you wish for us to return your manuscript, please include a self-addressed, appropriately sized and stamped envelope with your submission (we cannot return manuscripts if you do not send this envelope with your submission). We will reply in three to five months of the receipt of the submission.
Schwartz & Wade, Penguin-Random House, an imprint of Random House Books for Young Readers
Accepts submissions directly from authors. Schwartz & Wade publishes about 15 to 20 books a year, mostly picture books, as well as middle grade and young adult fiction, non-traditional nonfiction, and graphic novels. Schwartz & Wade also accepts unsolicited picture book manuscripts and proposals for longer books.
Make sure that your submission is a good fit for our small imprint. All submissions may be sent to: Schwartz & Wade Books, Submissions Editor, 1745 Broadway, 10-4, New York, New York 10019.
To review titles currently published under the Schwartz & Wade imprint, visit this link.
Baen Books, Simon & Schuster
publish only science fiction and fantasy. Writers familiar with what we have published in the past will know what sort of material we are most likely to publish in the future: powerful plots with solid scientific and philosophical underpinnings are the sine qua non for consideration for science fiction submissions. As for fantasy, any magical system must be both rigorously coherent and integral to the plot, and overall the work must at least strive for originality.
Delacorte, Penguin-Random House
I know from speaking with Senior Editor, Wendy Loggia, that Delacorte takes unsolicited queries. However, I can’t find anything about where to submit.
Swoonreads is an imprint of Macmillan that accepts all genres of novel-length YA! Anyone can upload their ms to the site and the community of readers and writers can read it and give feedback. Three times per year they select books to publish in print and e-book, based on reader feedback.
This is also a great place to read YA novels!
Many editors also take unsolicited submissions when you meet them at retreats, conferences, or occasionally through contests. Organizations like SCBWI often have editors featured in their newsletters that will also open for a brief window to those belonging to the organization.
If you find anymore, please contact me through the contacts page and I’ll try to include them here.
I’ve never heard of anyone (other than agents) who feels the way I do about a synopsis. I haven’t always felt this way. I used to think they were busywork from agents who wanted to cut down on their number of submissions. (This isn’t the case.) But I love the synopsis. If you don’t have one for your novel, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
A synopsis is an amazing device that can not only help you get an agent but aid in every stage of your book’s life. Before you write it, a synopsis can iron out your plot and ensure your pacing works. During your drafting, it can keep you on track. After the novel is polished, the synopsis shows agents you know the ins and outs of a novel.
What’s the purpose of a synopsis…
A synopsis will show agents and editors that you know how to plot and execute an effective character arc. It can showcase voice, give the clever twists, and guarantee that the agent or editor isn’t wasting their time by reading the full manuscript.
This is scary! I know. Even putting this truth out there is difficult. Putting a book out in the world in any way is difficult. But reality is that a synopsis can actually help you feel more secure about what you’re submitting, because it’s forcing you to analyze and know your plot, characters, and world well enough to prove that it’s working. If it is working, awesome! If it’s not working, it lets you fix it before you burn through your list of agents.
When to write the synopsis…
If you’re a pantster, it’s best to start your synopsis after the first draft. For you, the fun of the writing is in not knowing where things are going to go and letting the characters lead you down the path with them. And that’s fun! I’ve written like this and sometimes still do.
If you’re an outliner, it’s best to nail down your synopsis once you’ve finished the outline. For you, the synopsis is only going to tighten things and make sure your outline is succinct before proceeding. It’ll give you one more assurance you’re on the right path.
How to write the synopsis…
Always use present tense.
Use transitions to smooth over the missing stuff. (After many failed attempts…)
Leave out subplots if you possibly can.
Minimize secondary characters.
Keep it to one page, single spaced, with normal paragraph indents.
Have a header with your last name / TITLE. Add a page number to the header if you can’t manage to get it to one page.
Have Synopsis, TITLE centered at the top, then leave one space, and begin with the paragraphs.
The names of characters are in ALL CAPS the first, and only the first, time we see their name.
The most effective synopsis will showcase the plot, goals and motivations of the characters, include some voice, the theme, and tone, and of course the unique parts of your world.
For Voice, write the synopsis as if you were the main character giving a summary of the ‘high points’ to a friend you meet while waiting for a subway. You have a couple of minutes to rattle off the major events, the surprises, and the wrap up.
The tone will be dictated by the specific words you use to make the narrative feel a certain way.
As the plot and characters unfold, the theme should be self-evident by what the character’s goals and motivations are, the way the conflict and plot push them to change, and by the feeling we’re left with at the end. How has this journey made us question the world around us and/or ourselves?
The character arc should be plain. How did they change throughout the novel? What did they learn, how did their moral premise shift and allow them to overcome the villain at the climax? This will come as tidbits of perspective throughout the synopsis.
The world and it’s uniqueness should be included with minimal telling. Try and show the world as you show the forward movement of the plot. For instance, when ZinZin picks up her wand and blasts a hole right through the toe of the Headmaster’s shoe, but it fizzled before she could steal his nail to make her stew. This tells us character, plot, and world all in one.
Lastly, the plot. I’m going to use a simple five paragraph essay to showcase the easiest way to format a synopsis.
For the plot structure, see the following post:
And how your novel might align a little–or a lot–differently:
Translate the following paragraphs to what happens in your novel. They might not line up perfectly. Writing is all about smudging and manipulating, and that’s fine. Maybe you’ve taken a trope and turned it on its head. Maybe you’ve stretched the key incident out or put it sooner. So long as you have a reason, great. This is a very basic outline.
Paragraph One, The Inciting Incident and Upping of Stakes:
Introduce main character (hero/heroine), their main flaw, the enabling circumstances, the opponent. The hero as an ordinary person in this world who shows hero potential. The life-changing or inciting incident near the beginning. (by 10%) The lock in, or something terrible that ups the stakes just before Act 2.
Paragraph Two, The Key Incident and Introduction of Ally:
The MC reacts to the life-changing event and seeks out an ally or is brought out by the ally. Ally must be established with a basic modus operandi that will qualify them to be the most well-suited person to help MC out of their predicament. They make a plan, usu the MC’s not so great plan that sounds great but will ultimately fail because they think that they can remain the same and overcome their problem as they are. (We all want to be good enough now—but we aren’t.) The MC struggles to hold onto flaw or not recognize it while still trying to react to the inciting, life-changing event. The MC and ally must have a confrontation.
Paragraph Three, the Midpoint:
Your main character recognizes their main flaw. This is sometimes referred to as the the Moral Premise, where the protagonist stops working from a false moral premise and starts working from a true moral premise. In other words, they figure it out and can now work toward a realistic goal.
Paragraph Four, The Climax:
After recovering from the previous debacle, the main character now fully allies with ally and prepares for the final battle/confrontation with opponent/antagonist. Of course, the opponents are rallying as well, so the stakes are increased because there are more bad guys doing more bad stuff. By the end, it appears that failure is inevitable. We must see the resolution of the main flaw and how it allows the hero to confront the antagonist and win. Or lose if this is a cautionary tale.
Paragraph Five, The Wrap Up & New Equilibrium:
This is where we see the transformed hero in contrast to the beginning. They reach a new ‘normal’ where they probably didn’t get everything they wanted, but they have what they need and often something better. And because I’m a hopeless romantic, hopefully they get their HEA as well.
Always tell the ending.
I see a lot of synopses, and a good one can make all the difference in getting a request. I know this isn’t easy. If you need more help, you can always contact me for more synopsis help on my editorial services page.
Best of luck to everyone!