Got me a manuscript (uh huh, uh huh)
I know it's complete
Don't know if it's ready
For those people on the street.
I got the blues. Those submission blues
I've got blues!
I've got the sub, sub, Sub, submission blues
I've done those rewrites (uh huh, uh huh)
I fixed those flaws
I done the research
of the Big Agent's Boss,
But I still don't know
If I got it right
And it's keeping me
Wondering way past midnight
I got the blues.
The submission blues
I've got the sub, sub, Sub, submission blues
Ok, that's all I've got.
Seriously though, I know how hard it is to know when to submit that manuscript you've slaved over and worked on until it's so past perfect you are sure you've over-thunk it. Oh yeah, I know. I've Been there.
I've asked agents and authors and editors this question. When do I submit this thing? How do I know it's ready? What I found is that the answer is different depending on the situation.
TIP #1: Make that manuscript as good as you can. When your critique partners or beta readers start using words like "polished" and "I thought I was reading a published book" then it's time to submit, even if you don't think you are done revising. But Where?
TIP#2: Consider the Destination. There are really only three important destinations you would submit your manuscript to – a contest, an agent, or an acquisitions editor. Any other destination would be more for honing your craft than getting it published.
CONTESTS – Agents and editors often host or participate in contests, workshops, and writer's conferences. Some contests, especially online ones, are judged by peers and authors first and then the finalists get to see their work in the hands of an agent or editor. Others go straight to the agent or editor. Free contests are great for feeling out the market for your work, so it's a great place to start submitting if you are not sure that your manuscript is submission ready. If you are paying a fee, such as for a writer's conference, be sure you've chosen your dream agent/editor, because you really don't want to waste your money or anyone's time. Free contests are a little more flexible, but don't enter them if you don't think you'll get anything out of it.
I once entered a query for an econference run by an agent. The rules said the manuscript did not have to be complete or in the agent's genre. The conference took place on the agent's blog and others were invited to comment. So I went ahead and entered even though my manuscript was far from polished and I knew it was not the right genre. As a result, I got great feedback from the agent on what to include- and not include- in a query, and I had a couple fresh eyes give me their opinion of the concept.
AGENTS – Research agents. Research agents. Research agents! Their time is precious. They get bombarded with queries and manuscripts (their round file fills quickly with manuscripts from people who didn't research them). It is so easy to learn what an agent is looking for, what they have represented, and what drives them nuts. So follow them on social media, ask honest questions of them (questions – not pitches), talk to their clients (questions – not referral requests), and read the books they've represented.
I recently got some hot tips about when it your manuscript is ready to submit to an agent. First refer to tip number one, BUT Your manuscript doesn't have to be publisher ready!
This agents said that her job (and this is subjective, but encouraging) is to help you get that promising work ready for that publisher. So Things to watch out for:
1. Inconsistent Voice
2. Lagging in Act II
3. Grammar, Tenses, Typos and other obvious mistakes
Basically, she wanted to see good writing throughout the manuscript, even if it wasn't quite ready for the bookshelves as is.
EDITORS – Same in depth research applies here. If you are thinking of submitting directly to a publisher, pred-ed.com is a good place to start.
The thing about editors is that they know the agented authors have already taken promising manuscripts to polished manuscripts. So, yeah, they're going to look at those first. Also, finding a reputable publisher that will take unsolicited, un-agented manuscripts is hard. It is harder to personalize queries to editors because the submission guidelines will often not give you a name to put in place of "Dear Editor".
BUT if you've written a picture book, you might have better luck finding an editor before the agent. Because picture books are so short and royalties are more splintered, agents don't make a lot of money off just one. So agents who take on picture book writers want to see two things – 1) a proven track record (you've sold a picture book to a reputable publisher) and 2) more projects in the works (you've got more to offer than a one hit wonder). That said, these are not essential to becoming a client.
ANOTHER BUT: if you are at a writer's conference or have won a contest, you might have caught the attention of an acquisitions editor. In this case, your "unsolicited" manuscript has now become solicited and hopefully you've done your research before submitting, so go for it!
TIP #3 – Put on your Patience. This is the Hurry Up and Wait game. Be ready for rejection... or acceptance... or nothing. Enjoy the calm spots in this rollercoaster ride and hang on tight!
I write about, with, for, and around kids all day. (Well, maybe I do the dishes too. Sometimes.)