Do you need an agent? And what do they want, anyway?
From the feedback I receive from writers, contacting an agent or editor to submit your work is much harder than writing the book! Do you need these mysterious gatekeepers? And what should you send them? Here are some answers to the questions that keep popping up in my email and at the classes and seminars I teach.
Do I need an agent if I'm not planning to self-publish?
No, it's not necessary to have an agent to get your work published, although it is true that most large publishing houses will only review manuscript submitted by agents. However, many small to mid-size publishers will review your work without an agent. Submitting to a publisher who accepts queries directly from writers can cut down on the length of time it will take to get your work published, since finding an agent can be a lengthly process. In general, however, you can expect much smaller (or no) advance against royalties when working with small to mid-size publishing houses.
What should I send to an agent (editor or publisher) when I am submitting my work?
The answer is to follow the submission guidelines. Every agency, publication and publishing house has specific submission policies. What you should send depends on whether you are seeking publication of an article or a book, and whether your book is fiction or nonfiction. Typically, you will be asked to submit a query letter to explain your work and provide some information about yourself and writing qualifications.
You may also be asked to provide clips, a synopsis or outline, a book proposal and/or sample chapters, depending on the nature of your work.
Do I send my whole manuscript to an agent, and do I need to include a cover letter?
Include a cover letter with every correspondence, even if it is by email. Don't ever send a complete manuscript unless requested.
When submitting your work, format your manuscript properly. Use these guidelines to format your manuscript. (If submitting electronically, ignore the references to paper.)
--Use white bond paper (20 lb. stock minimum)
--Use Times Roman or Courier 12 pt. type only
--Type on one side of the paper only
--Double space (single space poetry)
--Use paragraph indents
--Use paper clips only to secure your manuscript
--At the top each page (except page 1), put the page number, your last name, book or article title
--Justify the right margin
--Add extra space between paragraphs
--Bind or staple your manuscript
--Put your manuscript in a folder
--Try to be cute or flashy with your presentation
Remember, agents and editors receive thousands of submissions and are looking for excuses to discard most of them. They will dump anything that doesn't follow guidelines. Don't let your hard work end up in the slush pile or circular file on looks alone.