I started writing for publication back when dinosaurs roamed the earth. The process was fairly simple then, if unpromising of success. I wrote a query, article, or book proposal, put it into an envelope along with a self-addressed, stamped envelope (SASE) for its return, sealed it, and mailed it. And waited. And waited. And—you get the idea.
That’s not how it’s done anymore. At least, not often. In fact, these days, more and more agents, editors, and publishers have basically hung a sign on their virtual doors: “No Unsolicited Submissions.”
So how is it done now? And what’s the best way to submit my article or proposal?
I surveyed absolutely no one and collated roughly zero results into the following points. It’s a thoroughly unscientific opinion I offer, but it has the distinct advantage of being mine. Here, in order from best to worst, are the ways to submit your work:
- Have your agent submit it to an editor.
Well, sure, I’m an agent. And I have an agent. So, of course, I think this is the way to go. To have one of the most knowledgeable people in the publishing world (present company excepted) referring your work to the other most knowledgeable people in the publishing world isn’t a bad idea, especially when that knowledgeable person (the agent) doesn’t make money unless you make money—which is always the case with a reputable agency because they don’t charge a fee up-front, only a percentage of the money the author makes. But then how are you supposed to get an agent? That’s part of the answer to #2.
- Hand it to an agent or editor at a writers conference.
If you’re able to get to a writers conference or two, and schedule appointments with agents and editors, and show your query or proposal or other work to them, that is by far the most effective way to market your work—and especially your debut—these days. I know, the travel and lodging and registration and time away from your day job can make this an expensive option. But this is why agencies and publishers send their people to conferences; they want to meet you and get to know you and start a relationship with you that may—callooh! callay!— eventually result in publication. And fame. And riches. Or an emailed follow-up to such a meeting that incorporates the agent’s or editor’s suggestions and may result in publication. And fame. And riches.
- Have an established writer friend refer it to an agent or editor.
I hesitate to even mention this because it’s such an outlier as to be almost not worth mentioning. But I do have a couple clients who were referred to me by other clients, so it does work from time to time. But please don’t go twisting the arms of every writer you happen to know. And if you do, please don’t tell them I sent you. Please.
- Send it to an agent or editor according to their guidelines (usually on the website).
Some e-doors are still open. Some agencies or editors still accept unsolicited submissions (and these anomalies are indicated in The Christian Writers Market Guide). But I’m always amazed at the number of submissions that ignore the free (!) guidance offered on the agent’s or publisher’s website.
- Lay prostrate on the ground in Steve Laube’s path and grovel.
It worked for me. But it may not be for everyone.
- Everything else.
The options above aren’t the only ways to submit your work to industry professionals. Many editors and agents have stories of exceptions to the rules, like the guy who slipped his book proposal into Steve Laube’s room-service tray and ended up with a multi-book deal. I just made that up, but stories like that do sometimes make the rounds. But they’re exceptions. Then again, what do I know? As I said, I surveyed no one and collated roughly zero results into this blog post. Suffice it to say, however, that if I were starting out in today’s publishing world and hadn’t already obtained #1 (above), I would prioritize #2 (above). But that’s just me.
Another great article. As an acquisitions editor, I still get pitches, proposals and manuscripts sent to me directly: email@example.com It is another route that some writers use. Of course, I love working with agents. Send me something soon. OK?
author of 10 Publishing Myths, Insights Every Author Needs to Succeed
Another informative and humorous post by Steve Laube…planning on sending you a query letter Mr. Laube so I pray I’ll be one one of the exceptions! ?
Oh, my first mistake! This was an informative and humorous post by Bob Hostetler…maybe I’ll wait to send the query! ?
I want representation,
so tell ya what I’m gonna do;
I have no hesitation
’bout laying own a bribe on you.
You will get my manucript
in manila envelope;
one anachronistic trip,
but this is what I truly hope
that the keys you find within
fit something you ain’t got just yet,
and you’ll gladly take a spin
in your very own Corvette,
but if this isn’t what you choose,
waits an offer that you can’t refuse.
Damon J. Gray
Bob, are you the one who related the hilarious story of an author who made a book pitch to you whilst you were relieving yourself in the men’s restroom.
I’m thinking that ranks right up there with prostrating yourself and kissing Steve’s shoes.
No, but Steve has a story like that.
Love your humor and the truths behind it.
After almost 50 years of classes, teaching, and conferences, I’m thinking maybe it’s time to seek an agent. God’s opened doors the past year for me to focus on, of ALL things, actually DOING the writing part! Through His arranging it (truly a surprise because I hadn’t submitted), I was asked to audition to write for Guideposts All God’s Creatures devotional book. I did so and was accepted – 7 devos to come out in the 2021 edition! Woo-hoo! Then, a few weeks ago, I received an invite to write 10 more for the 2022 edition! I’m on my way. And last summer, a publisher expressed interest in seeing a novel I’d started as therapy when my dad died 13 years ago. So, though my publications to date only consist of several online magazine devos and articles, I believe I should have the go-ahead to talk to an agent. Wouldn’t you say so?
Brennan S. McPherson
Steve, what do you think of the Lord Steve jokes? Do you resent them mildly? Or do you rub your hands together in a dark room and laugh maniacally? 🙂
Bob, as always your ideas are so practical. And maybe it’s the Midwest humor that appeals to me, since I’m a child of that region. But there’s one thing I would change in what you wrote above. It’s on point number five. Shouldn’t you use the word “lie” instead of “lay”? Just wondering.
Doggone it, you’re right. Maybe I was thinking of someone laying a pet named Prostate at Steve’s feet. That’s my story and I’m sticking with it.
Prostrate, not prostate. Sheesh! Though….a pet named “Prostate” would be fun, I’d think. So many possible–if inappropriate–responses.
Your post made me think of how Cry, the Beloved Country was published. Alan Paton lived in South Africa and wrote this story which took place during apartheid. It’s one of my favorite books, and Paton had given a copy of his manuscript to a friend in the U.S. who was so impressed he mailed it to a publisher. I can only dream of writing a book with such a powerful story in such extraordinary language. I used the book when I taught literature, and with today’s struggles in this country I think I’ll read it again.
Kristen Joy Wilks
Ha ha! I love the groveling idea. The only problem … writer’s conference dress code! Who wants to grovel in a fancy dress? Especially if you only dress up once a year at the writer’s conference. I’ve written personalized limericks for agents before though. Perhaps this could be a charming stand in for a good, old-fashioned grovel, ha!
Bob, a dog named Prostate could be a real conversation starter. So could a dog named Kitty. Bwa-ha-ha!!!
My plan was your second recommendation. I was all signed up to meet you at the Northwestern Christian Writers Conference—so disappointed you won’t be there!
OLUSOLA SOPHIA ANYANWU
Thank you Bob. My question is how do people living outside the US attend writer conferences? Do you know of any in the UK? Precisely London? Or do you know of any online conference one can register with? Please enlighten me my Learned Friend):
God bless you.
There are writers’ conferences outside the U.S. (the “conference” pull-down menu at the top of this blog references some), though I’m not personally aware of any in London. However, some (especially these days) have an online component (such as the Kentucky Christian Writers’ Conference, which I am speaking for this very weekend) and many also provide the opportunity to arrange for a critique or virtual appointment. An online search might supply more information.
You could try this one: https://socalcwc.com/program/ . It will be in a couple of weeks [July 8 – 10] and looks good. I’m taking the opportunity to get to several of these. Too bad you missed the one Bob is speaking at this weekend. It’s headed up to be a good one as well.
Thanks for a great article!
Bob, a good post and one that bears repeating…and repeating…and repeating. I’d leave off the “referral by a published author” or qualify it to “published author who has read your work and loves it.”
Ann L Coker
Your paragraph before your numbered list and the closing lines are proof that you could be a good writer who needs an agent. Go for it.