It probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’ve heard this a lot over the last couple of weeks. The answer is yes – I do have a job, albeit a part-time one – and a life, and friends, etc. etc. I’ve actually reduced the time I spend preparing and sending submissions to (I reckon) around 4 hours a week. I don’t actually know whether this is good or bad in the scheme of things – but for me, so far it’s striking the right balance of giving me enough time to do other things (like actually get paid, actually write, and, y’know, sleep and stuff) whilst enabling me to make each submission individual enough that I feel like I’m making each agent feel just that little bit special before they crush my soul and dreams.
I know, right: get me.
This is made possible by two factors:
- Pretty much every agent asks for variations on the same three things
- TEMPLATES TEMPLATES TEMPLATES
So, for me at least, once you’ve invested the time into writing up templates for the three aspects of a submission, you’ve pretty much done the leg work. If you’ve ever sent off a novel submission I’m sure you know exactly what goes into it, so please excuse me for boring you with my own list:
- Cover letter
This is actually the only aspect of my submission template that gets tweaked for each new agent. Now I think cover letters are generally understood to be right up there with ‘Goodbye cards for colleagues you don’t actually know’ and ‘texting an acquaintance to explain why you’re not attending an event you just don’t want to go to’ in the ‘Worst Things To Write’ stakes. You have to magically find a balance between making yourself sound impossibly brilliant without coming off like Donald Trump. They suck.
Now I don’t mean to brag, but I’ve written a lot of job applications. I know, I know, it’s impressive, but we can’t all be permanently unsatisfied layabouts; such hallowed ground is reserved for only the truly desperate. Ahem.
The upside of this, however, is that I have written a lot of cover letters, and I think (hope) I’ve finally managed to find something like the right balance, which mostly just means talking about myself as little as possible. To which end, my cover letter template consists of a paragraph summarising my novel, a paragraph supposedly expanding on where I believe my story would fit into the current market (which is actually just to prove that I read more YA than is really reasonable for a grown up, but that this is a good thing), and a shudder-inducing paragraph about me and why my on-paper total lack of experience actually amounts to loads and loads of experience.
So for each new submission, I tweak the cover letter to include the name of the agent I want to read it, the list of what I’m sending them and a line or two about their personal client list, and how my story is both similar enough to appeal to them, but different enough to be worth their time. At least, that’s the hope. This last point is actually the time-suck; in the two weeks I’ve been sending submissions I have already spent several hours trawling through client lists and novel blurbs, and the outcome of each hour results in about half a line of text in the cover letter. On the plus side, it is genuinely worth knowing whether this agent even seems to like the genre I’m writing – and I’ve picked up some valuable tips on how to make an author bio truly cringeworthy.
The second main part of any submission is the synopsis, and for this one all of the work went in before I’d sent off a sausage. Writing a synopsis is a familiar task to any writer, and many use them for their own benefit to examine the structure of the plot and assist with the creation of their story. I am not one of those people. My typical reaction to trying to summarise the various threads, characters, dramas and what is hopefully the general entertainment value of my story in a succinct, thorough one-page summary pretty much has me like:
I do not enjoy. That said, I managed to crank out three synopses of differing lengths before submitting anything: a short, 350-word version, a one-page (500- word) version and a 750-word version. Most agencies I’ve submitted to so far have asked for a one-page version, but I have used the others and the one-page one is actually my least favourite, so I like to have the option of avoiding it where possible…
- Sample pages
And this: the key element, reason for being here and basis on which I will be rejected or contacted, which – hilariously – I spend almost no time on. I have (so far) submitted three versions of my opening chapters, depending on the length specified by the agent: ten pages (brutal), three chapters (most common) and 10,000 words (preferable).
Now don’t get me wrong, the time that has gone into my actual manuscript – and particularly those first few chapters – far outweighs what I’ve spent preparing submissions, thank God. What I am ashamed to say, and probably shouldn’t admit, is that I don’t actually read them again before each submission. In my defence, I’m submitting every single day, and have read / re-written / proofread these chapters LITERALLY HUNDREDS OF TIMES. I think it’s seriously possible that I could recite at least the first two chapters of my story word-for-word, by heart. So yes, I don’t even check this part before attaching it to the email. You probably shouldn’t ever do that.
So that’s how I’ve enabled myself to fit sending a submission a day around the rest of my life. Lots of advanced prep, a few hours each weekend researching the agencies and client lists, and then only about 20 minutes per day actually sending the sucker off. As with a surprising number of aspects about writing, success seems to lie in your proficiency at Microsoft Excel and scheduling, rather than actual writing. Go figure.
Next Week’s Post: My first rejection arrived! Er, yaayyy! So expect ramblings about rejection in general, my coping mechanisms and how I’m planning to resist anger, misery and hate. To the Dark Side, such things lead.
Submissions Last Week
5 agencies, including JK Rowling’s publisher, to whom I spent the majority of my time constructing the agent-specific line in the cover letter repeating ‘DON’T TALK ABOUT HARRY POTTER DON’T TALK ABOUT HARRY POTTER DON’T TALK ABOUT HARRY POTTER’ to myself.
Current Rejection Tally: 1