Here are Chuck's 16 tips for your submission.
And as always, please feel free to add your own.
- Be formal. Although you’ll be sending most queries electronically and there is a tendency to be less formal over e-mail,
addressthe agent as you would in a paper letter. Remember that elements like sarcasm and self-deprecating humor do not necessarily come across well in unsolicited correspondence.
- Personalize your query to each agent or market. (No mass submissions to multiple people at the same time.) Make sure that you have the agent’s name spelled correctly. If their name is “Sam Johnson” and you are not positive of their gender, use neither “Mr. Johnson” nor “Mrs. Johnson,” but rather just address them using “Dear Sam Johnson.”
- Double-check the agency or publisher guidelines to make sure you’re submitting the correct materials to the correct contact. This, obviously, is a huge point—so take your time with it.
- Make the e-mail’s subject line specific if the market requests it. If not, simply writing “Query: (TITLE)” is a safe bet. If you’re sending your e-mail to a specific agent at an agency, but the agency only provides a generic e-mail address (e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org), then use the subject line “Query for (Agent Name): (TITLE).”
- Keep your emotions in check: Submission e-mails should be professional and businesslike, so resist the temptation to say something off-putting like “Although you inexplicably did not respond to my last query, I am trying you again with a new project and
hopeyou will at least get back to me on this one.”
- Do not say “I welcome your feedback or comments on my work/pitch.” It’s not an agent’s job to critique the work for you, and they will see such a comment as a red flag.
- Don’t type in all caps or all lowercase. Use
proper punctuationand pay attention to grammar and spelling always. (You can write your book’s title in all caps in the query letter, but not anything else.)
- Double check the mailing address or e-mail inbox you’re sending to. One wrong letter in an e-mail address is enough for your query to be lost in cyberspace forever.
- Respect the importance of the query. A good query will open doors, so make sure others have seen and critiqued your letter before you send it out to dozens of markets. The same goes for your synopsis or nonfiction book proposal. Don’t go into battle with questionable weapons.
queryingby e-mail, make sure all your font and type size is the same.Since you will be cutting and pasting into e-mail, different sentences can appear different sizes. Send yourself or a friend a test e-mail to check for such an issue.
- Make no demands. Anything that seems like a demand (“Respond to my letter within three weeks to respect my time”) is a major turn-off.
- Act with humility when talking about yourself. No matter your current accomplishments, and no matter how much you think your novel is the best thing since “Breaking Bad,” you need to simply discuss the story. Even if your writing history is impressive, be sure to state your accomplishments quickly and humbly.
- Unless you have a serious health concern that prevents you from using a computer, submit your own book yourself. In other words, don’t have a friend or relative submit your book for you. This kind of communication gets confusing and the agent may not know whom to address in correspondence. Plus, it can give an agent pause to wonder why the writer is not confident enough to submit his or her own work.
- If you do use snail mail, don’t try to set yourself apart by using fancy stationery. Standard letterhead and envelopes are preferable. Don’t include any extraneous materials that were not requested.
- Do a final check to make sure the agent (or market) in question is still open to submissions. For example, if an agent suddenly closed herself off to unsolicited queries this morning, she will usually say so on Twitter first, and also make a note of it on her official agency website. Those two online locations are good places to visit right before you hit “Send” to double-check that communication lines are still open.
- And after you do send off the work, ensure that you noted the e-mail on your submissions spreadsheet, so you can effectively keep track of each agent you’ve submitted to and when.