For many, the hardest part of submitting to an agent is knowing where to start. If you’re a fiction writer reading this post, chances are good that you’ve completed your novel, and you’re ready to move on to the next step. Here’s a list of things you’ll need in order to begin your search.
The Finished Manuscript. For fiction, there’s no way around this one. Yes, there are stories about people who sell their first book based on the idea alone, but those exceptions to the rule are rare. Most agents want to have the book in hand before they agree to help sell it. That means a complete, polished manuscript, not a first draft, not something that “still needs work.” You want to put your best foot forward, so make your book as presentable as you can.
Your Query Letter. Think of the query letter as a letter of introduction. It’s meant to tell the agent a little about you, a little about what made you choose that agent as someone to approach, and, most importantly, what your book is all about. The query letter is all about making a good first impression and making the agent want to read your manuscript. Ideally, this letter will be tailored for each agent you approach, but it doesn’t hurt to have the bulk of it prepared ahead of time, since the information about you and your book is not likely to change from letter to letter.
A Synopsis. There it is: a word so universally hated by novelists that it might as well have four letters. All you have to do is take the book you’ve worked on for months, perhaps years, perfecting every word, every comma, and distill it down to a two to four page summary. Easy, right? For most, this will be one of the most painful parts of the submission process. However, it is a necessary one, so it’s best to get it out of the way as early as possible.
A Chapter Outline. This one isn’t requested as often as a synopsis, but it’s still a good thing to have. The Outline is a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the major characters and happenings in your book. Think of it as writing a short synopsis for each chapter. If that’s not enough to get you motivated, I don’t know what is!
I’ll go into more detail about each one in later posts. Next time, I’ll take a look at what you’ll need to get started with your non-fiction submission.