You’ve finished your novel. You’ve written a query. Now it’s time to send that query out into the wide world. All you’ve got to do is find a bunch of agents and hit send, right?
It’s not quite that easy. First, you have to do your research. While you’re looking for agent names, you should also be checking their submission guidelines.
Submission guidelines? What are those?
Submission guidelines spell out specifically what the agents want to see. Do they want a query only? Do they want a query and the first five pages? Do they want a synopsis? Do they not want a synopsis?
Each agent’s preferences will be a little different. Also, agents will specify what sort of stories they are looking for. If you write fantasy, you don’t want to send your query to an agent that only represents mysteries and thrillers. (While most agents represent many different genres, not every agent represents every genre. That’s why you have to check.)
Why go to all that trouble?
Because you won’t be wasting your time. You may want to get your query out there to as many agents as possible, but if the agent doesn’t represent what you write, then the only answer you’re going to get from that agent is a no. You went to the time and effort of sending a query that had no chance of being accepted.
Yes, every agent has different guidelines. They sometimes conflict and contradict. Sometimes they may even be similar. Some are vague. Some are very, very specific. It is your job to know what these are and abide by them.
Agents have preferences. They know what they need to see to make a decision. If you can’t give them what they ask for when you’re essentially applying for a job with them, they’re not going to want to work with you. Who wants to work with someone who isn’t professional enough to follow the directions?
So, where are these guidelines? How do you find out what each agent wants?
With the Internet, submission guidelines are very easy to find. Find the agency website. Submission guidelines will be one of the prominent buttons (usually). If you look for it, you should be able to find it pretty easily.
If you happen upon an agency that’s not online (rare, but it happens), take the time to write a short note requesting the submission guidelines. Make sure to include a self-addressed stamped envelope (remember those?).
What could the submission guidelines ask for?
While every agent will have different preferences, there are some standards. Start with the query. Anything else asked for should go after that query (pasted into the body of the email—never send attachments unless they are specifically asked for).
If the agent wants to see five pages, those are the first five pages in order. Same for chapters—start from the beginning and show them in order (if the agent wants three chapters, he/she means the first three).
A synopsis is a rundown of the whole story with the ending included. Aim for one to two pages, although how long the agent wants the synopsis should be in the submission guidelines. If the agent wants a synopsis, the agent will expect to know how the story ends. Don’t hold anything back.
One last thing…
You’d think that this would be a no-brainer. And I’m probably preaching to the choir. But, I’m going to reiterate this one thing: make sure to follow the submission guidelines.
If you spend any time following agents on their blogs or on Twitter, you’ll see the complaint time and again. It’s the one thing that seems to drive them all up a wall. They are inundated with queries that don’t follow their guidelines.
Make sure yours do. That way, you’ll stand out over all those that didn’t follow the directions. Instead of an automatic pass, you may get a positive response. Pages! An offer of representation!
And that’s the point of all this. Isn’t it?