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.