Your Submissions Questions Answered

Submitting your work to an agent can be scary. What if I get the secret handshake wrong? What if my attempt at humor falls flat? What if this agent really is the ogre he’s rumored to be?

And those questions are only the beginning. There are so many. So, in an effort to ease your mind a little and help you along, I’ve decided to list a few submissions-related questions I’ve been asked as an agent, followed by more-or-less helpful answers, some of which are even accurate. Mostly.

Q: What are you looking for?

A: Don’t ask. Not in an email, at least, when the answer is right here on the agency website.

Q: I know you don’t represent my genre, but can I submit it to you anyway?  

A: Why would you? It’s a far better use of your time and effort to submit your work to agents who not only represent works in your genre, but who love doing so and do it well.

Q: What if a submitted proposal has minor typos?

A: There are no minor typos. Not in “BobWorld,” at least.

Q: I sent you the wrong version of my proposal! Have I just ruined everything?   

A: It happens. Just send the right one, with a short, sincere apology; and all will be well. Unless your second proposal is also the wrong one.

Q: I’d really like to talk to you on the phone before I send my proposal. Okay?  

A: No, sorry. Let your proposal do the talking. If it’s not up to the job, keep working on it until it is. If it requires some verbal explanation before you send it, keep working on it until it doesn’t.

Q: Everyone says I need a platform, but mine is pretty small. Am I out of luck?

A: On the one hand, an irresistible hook and brilliant writing can overcome a modest platform. But agents and editors want to work with writers who “get it,” who can show they understand that authors and publishers are partners in the huge task of getting a book noticed, marketed, and sold.

Q: Do I need to tell you which publishers I’d like to submit to?

A: No, not unless you have personal connections with them; that’s always good to know. But agents are supposed to know this sort of stuff.

Q: If I send you my proposal and you say, “no thanks,” does that ruin my chances with everyone in your agency?

A: No, each of us speaks only for himself or herself. Except when Steve, the Big Kahuna, speaks for everyone. Usually when ordering carryout.

Q: If you reject my proposal, would you recommend another agent?  

A: No, sorry. Finding the right agent for you isn’t like choosing a watermelon (except for the whole thumping bit). Much depends on a personal connection. Can you see yourself working with this person for years? Is he or she enthusiastic about what you write? How you write? Are you the right match for him or her? And more. This is why I routinely recommend going to writers conferences and meeting (even interviewing) prospective agents.

 

So now’s your chance. What are some of your other submission questions?

31 Responses to Your Submissions Questions Answered

  1. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson July 31, 2019 at 3:55 am #

    I actually laughed out loud twice at this article. Great stuff, Bob, as usual.

  2. Avatar
    Sy Garte July 31, 2019 at 5:41 am #

    I have a serious question (not serious like a disease, but serious in that I really don’t know the answer). My book is in production, word is getting around, and I have had two requests from aspiring authors to tell them who my agent is, and put in a good word for them. What is the correct protocol to handle this?

    My instinct is to tell them to do what I did – get a list of Christian agents and contact the ones who might be a good fit. One person sent me some chapters, and frankly I would not want to be involved in his agent search. When, if ever, would you (as an example) be happy to get a submission from someone who mentions he was recommended by one of your clients?

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler July 31, 2019 at 7:46 am #

      If I’m the example, we’re all in trouble, Sy. But your instincts are pretty good. It’s not uncommon for me to get a submission mentioning that a client suggested the writer get in touch with me. To be recommended by an existing client is a compliment.

  3. Avatar
    Shulamit July 31, 2019 at 5:50 am #

    Regarding platform–I realize there are all kinds of platform, but I’m wondering if there’s some sense of how big of a following for one’s online writing is considered “platform” in a way that will catch the eye of an agent or publisher.

    Are 5000 followers on a blog enough? 10,000 on a “Medium” or “Quora” profile? Or do “followers” not turn heads until someone has tens of thousands?

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler July 31, 2019 at 7:49 am #

      There’s no magic number, Shulamit, because not all numbers are equal. Followers or friends on social media aren’t as impressive as, say, speaking to groups of hundreds or thousands or an email list with thousands of current addresses. Look at it this way: if you were an editor who wants an author’s book to sell 10,000 copies in the first year, what would make you think that this writer could help with a big chunk of that?

      • Avatar
        Shulamit July 31, 2019 at 1:23 pm #

        Thank you, Bob. And I totally get that the publishers want to know their authors can help them sell books! I’m just wondering if websites that are places for writing (not social media) are looked at seriously in terms of platform.

        If it was me, I’d definitely be impressed with 20,000 followers on Quora or Medium and at 5000 followers on a private blog (because it is much harder to garner followers without the infrastructure of major websites that show up in search engines regularly), but without the experience of actually being an editor I don’t know if my instinct that this matters, is correct.

        Clearly, I’ve seen folks with thousands of followers who are shallow and the numbers are insufficient to make up for silliness and sex that “sells” but has no spiritual or intellectual value. So the numbers can never tell the whole story.

        But my question is, if the book they submit is awesome (basic premise), would thousands of followers of their online writing be considered “platform” or would it be brushed off as the equivalent of social media?

      • Avatar
        Shulamit July 31, 2019 at 1:29 pm #

        And I really should say, I follow The Steve Laube Agency blog because you and your colleagues do a great job sharing information, and treating your readers with dignity. Not a small thing in this industry! Thank you for all the time you all spend to help people you often do not know.

        Understood if you don’t have time for my follow up question. There may not be a good answer to it.

  4. Avatar
    Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 31, 2019 at 6:46 am #

    I think an agent’s just a person
    with harsh realities of a task
    that make him feel at times a version
    of a living Janus-mask.
    His public mien must be inviting,
    encouraging those who hesitate,
    and giving hope in a frightening
    world before a close-locked gate.
    But yea, he carries heavy trust
    from the Keepers of the Realm
    to be discerning (for thus needs must)
    in what he raises up for them.
    One wonders at the human toll
    placed betimes upon this gentle soul.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler July 31, 2019 at 7:53 am #

      Andrew, you always make me smile. Thanks.

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 31, 2019 at 7:56 am #

        Bob, you’re welcome. The wit, wisdom and faith contained in your words have made my world a brighter, better, and happier place; I am and shall always be grateful.

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan July 31, 2019 at 11:25 am #

      Andrew

      perfect poem as always. Prayers for you today (as always)

      • Avatar
        Andrew Budek-Schmeisser July 31, 2019 at 11:36 am #

        Claire, thank you so much for your kind words, and especially for the prayers.

        Kind of bad these days, kind of rough.

  5. Avatar
    J.D. Wininger July 31, 2019 at 6:49 am #

    Always great tips Mr. Bob. The one question I would ask; one that I’ve yet to get a satisfactory answer for is “How does an author know the prospective agent is the right fit for them?” I suspect, I start with a “preferred list”, based on observations, discussions with other authors, etc., and then query that list to arrive at a “short list.” From there, what is the correct criteria for selection by an author. This assumes that more than one queried agent expresses interest. Many thanks for your always candid thoughts. An off-line response is most acceptable; your preference sir.

    • Avatar
      Damon J. Gray July 31, 2019 at 7:49 am #

      I always start with their bio. Many agents have a personal web site in addition to what is on the agency site. It’s more of a gut-feeling than anything else, but I learn a lot just by perusing their site, reading their blogs, checking out their reading list. Stuff like that.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler July 31, 2019 at 7:59 am #

      J.D., your suspicion is pretty spot-on. And Damon’s comment is also. Someone like you, who connects with people online, reads tweets, blogs, posts, etc., and interacts with comments and so on, will be in a much better position to make an informed decision. “Just any agent who will take me” is not the best approach, but “someone on my short list,” as you say, especially if I’ve met that person and have a sense of what it would be like to work with him or her–that’s a really good approach.

    • Avatar
      J.D. Wininger July 31, 2019 at 8:18 am #

      Thanks gentlemen. Much appreciated.

  6. Avatar
    Norma Brumbaugh July 31, 2019 at 7:58 am #

    Makes sense to me, even made me smile. Thanks for the chuckle (and the frank talk).

  7. Avatar
    Jeanne Takenaka July 31, 2019 at 8:12 am #

    Bob, great post. My son and I (no, he’s not an aspiring author) both got some laughs from your responses. I appreciate your wisdom shared in an engaging way!

  8. Avatar
    Bryan Mitchell July 31, 2019 at 8:30 am #

    Agents are thorough about what they want to see in submissions. I see fear in these kinds of questions. They want someone to be their Virgil as they feel lost at the start. But should one acquire an agent, their work may not find a willing publisher. Even with an agent and publisher backing an author’s work, many readers will pass it without a second glance. How we handle success or failure will either strengthen or harden our hearts. No one adds a day to their life by worrying. Find peace through the Kingdom of God. It’s within and at hand. It’s the only guide you need.

  9. Avatar
    Abrigail Julian July 31, 2019 at 9:34 am #

    Hi Bob! Thanks for taking the time to answer our questions! I have a question about proposal format (I’ve scoured Tamela’s series and the guidelines, but I’m still confused about this). Is the format for the proposal:
    Cover Letter- greeting, contact info, title, genre, elevator pitch, “blurb”, bio & platform info, manuscript status & comparisons

    Proposal- title, genre, contact info, elevator pitch, “blurb”, extended 3rd person bio & platform info, manuscript status & comparisons, target audience & similar details

    Synopsis- one- to three-page summary of story

    Is that it, or am I missing something?
    Thanks again!
    Abby

  10. Avatar
    cynthia mahoney July 31, 2019 at 11:40 am #

    Still a.m. sorta, kinda close to noon, but, hey…

    So, good mornin.’

    Excellent post. I believe I’ve gone through the stages you list (grief?) but have learned on the way, and especially through the agents here.

    I write down, er, type a note to myself which agents have rejected, which do not accept repeats, those that give a timeline and do/don’t answer, and me… how to accept rejection with grace and work more on the MS. Very important!

    Almost had a heart attack when my manuscript was requested in full, well, needed smelling salts, well, almost. Yet a very gracious, best-ever rejection letter which led to another rewrite.

    Walk in grace, gratitude, understanding that the slush pile is mountainous and if the pitch, etc., is horrible both in plot, characters, and typos, onto to the floor or delete button it is destined. Do your homework, read about the agents you send to, connect with them on social media (do NOT pitch your MS there, that’s insanity), go to a conference (but as Steve once said… do not… stalk an agent into the bathroom and slide your manuscript under a stall… funny story, disgusting but Steve had that happen!

  11. Avatar
    Roberta Sarver July 31, 2019 at 1:33 pm #

    Thanks, Bob, for putting this in plain English. If a person pays attention to your advice–and those of the other agents–he/she should be in good running. Provided, that is, the manuscript is worthy of attention.

  12. Avatar
    Barbara Harper July 31, 2019 at 3:04 pm #

    I have a question about the order in which events should occur between writing and submitting a manuscript. For instance, should it go this way:

    1. Write first draft
    2. Edit first draft as many times as needed for best results
    3. Hire a professional editor
    4. Send to beta readers for feedback
    5. Edit again based on recommendations
    6. Submit to agent

    Or should those be in a different order, like beta readers before an editor?

    Also, after researching agents as mentioned above and coming up with a short list of those we’d like to work with, do we query them one at a time or a few at a time? I’m assuming one at a time. But one problem doing it that way is the amount of time it might take to hear something back. If an author ends up working through her list with a few weeks or months between each query, that might take a while. Nevertheless, I want to do whatever is the proper etiquette.

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan July 31, 2019 at 3:10 pm #

      I have the same questions~ sometimes it’s clear on the website, other times it’s not.

  13. Avatar
    Morgan Tarpley Smith July 31, 2019 at 9:42 pm #

    Thanks so much for this!! Very helpful!

  14. Avatar
    Paula Geister August 1, 2019 at 7:00 am #

    Bob, as always, your posts are informative and enjoyable.
    While I can always learn more about the publishing business, I do have one burning question. What is The Big Kahunas favorite thing to order for carryout?

    Hope you’re getting settled in nicely in your new home.

  15. Avatar
    Paula Geister August 1, 2019 at 7:02 am #

    Yikes, I see after submitting my comment I have two (not minor) typos.

    • Avatar
      claire o'sullivan August 1, 2019 at 9:41 am #

      I chuckled at both comments, Paula.

      Especially… what’s Steve’s favorite take-out?

      Thanks for the a.m. giggle!

  16. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee August 1, 2019 at 11:22 am #

    Bob, how big of a platform do I need before I can get my first book published, brilliant writing aside?

  17. Avatar
    Rhonda Dragomir August 2, 2019 at 12:38 pm #

    A Wisdom entree with a side of humor. Perfect meal for me today, Bob. Thanks for serving it. Now…what shall I drink?

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