I'm a writer, as you all know. But I'm also an editor for WOW!, High Hill Press, and my freelance business. Because of this editing experience, I've learned a lot about submitting writing work, from both sides. So here are my 5 tips to follow when you're ready to submit a manuscript to a magazine, publisher, or literary agency.
1. Research the publisher, publication, or agency. Usually, I get queries from writers who have visited the High Hill Press website and researched which editor to send their manuscript to. That's the thing. No longer do you have to guess what a magazine or literary agency is looking for. Most likely, you can find information on a website or blog, on Amazon or Indiebound.org, that tells you what types of books or stories this place is looking for and has published in the past. You can also use the online archives or "Look Inside" feature on Amazon to read samples.
2. Know something about the editor/agent. This takes number one another step further. Most editors and agents have either a blog, website, Twitter account, Facebook page, or Goodreads account, where you can find out more information about this person (including how to spell his or her name) than you ever could before. If you're writing a dystopian horror young adult novel, and you love a certain editor, you can Google his name, see if he has ever worked on something like this or wants to, with a 30-minute research session. But you should not contact an editor or an agent through these sites to pitch your work! You can interact with writing professionals on these sites as a writing professional--that's it (unless they invite you otherwise).
3. Learn how to write a query letter. This tip probably should have been number one, but first you need a list of places to send your work (number 1 and 2), and then you need to write a proper query letter. Honestly, sometimes, I'll open a query letter for High Hill Press, and I have no idea what the story is about when I finish reading the query. I'm not tough either--I give everyone a chance (this is the writer in me). Query letters have three paragraphs: a hook, a basic plot summary (including genre & word count), and your bio paragraph or why you are the one to write this book. THAT IS IT! Take the time to write a good query and get it critiqued by writers you know. Then send it out. Go to this link for help: http://www.agentquery.com/writer_hq.aspx
4. Know your own work. You know your work. You've been sweating over it for years now. But do you know how to describe your book in two to three sentences that make someone want to read it? Well, you need to. This is the hook. This is what goes in that first paragraph I was talking about in number 3 above. When someone asks you, "What's your book about?", this is the answer. For example, here's the answer for my book, Caught Between Two Curses, when I'm now asked what it's about: "It's about a 17-year-old teenager living in Chicago whose boyfriend is pressuring her to have sex. She thinks this is her biggest problem until her uncle falls into a coma because of a curse on her family. This curse is connected to the Curse of the Billy Goat on the Chicago Cubs, and she's the key to breaking both curses."
5. Know your strengths and weaknesses. As a writer, you probably know that you're fantastic at dialogue but need help with sensory details in your description. But what about your strengths and weaknesses at pitching your work? Even if you decide to self-publish, you have to know how to sell your work to others. So, what are you good at? What do you need help with? How can you get this help? For example, I'm terrible at writing a query letter for my own work (I know that's ironic, right?). But it's a weakness, so I always write one and have my critique group help me with it as well as enter any free query contests. But a strength of mine is grammar and editing, and so I know my manuscript is pretty close to perfect in that area (my critique group has seen it too), and so is my query letter and synopsis. Don't assume you're good at everything or bad at everything--you aren't. Get help where you need it, and help other writers with your strengths.
I hope these tips are helpful. If you have another to add or an experience to tell us about, please do! We learn from each other.
Besides an editor, Margo L. Dill is also a children's author and writing instructor, both online and in-person. This fall for WOW!, she is teaching a class that helps writers figure out their career in writing for children from their personal goals to submitting their work. Find out more about this class (which starts on September 3) and others in the WOW! classroom.
photo by Pink Sherbert Photography (www.flickr.com)