Fatal Submission Fails

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton (Still touring the beautiful English Countryside)

I sense much submission angst out there in writer land. I think a quiz is in order to help you identify some of the fatal submission mistakes a writer might inadvertently make.

Take the quiz and then check the answers to see how well you identified the fatal submission mistakes.

  1. At a writer’s conference you pitched your book to an agent who seemed very interested. She handed you her business card and asked you to send the proposal and first three chapters. The trouble is, you learned so much at the conference you wanted to make changes before you sent it. How time flies while fiddling with a manuscript. It’s now nearly a year later, you’re heading to the conference again and chances are that agent may see you even though you plan to avoid her at all costs. Fatal submission fail? Yes or No
  2. You’ve researched agents and finally picked those you will initially query. You heard back from the agent in your ddreamstime_xs_46465436ream agency. He said he really liked your writing but he wasn’t looking to represent your genre at this time. The thing that makes you crazy is that another agent in that agency just blogged that your genre is one of her favorites. You can’t believe you ruined your chances with that agency by picking the wrong agent. Fatal submission fail? Yes or No
  3. You’ve finished two manuscripts and even had them edited by a freelance editor who loved them both. You’ve started on a third. You know you need to take that step of submitting them to an agent or editor but you sense they are not quite there yet. Once you get this next book done you’ll go back to them and pick the strongest one to submit. Maybe. Fatal submission fail? Yes or No
  4. Before you figured out the ins and outs of this industry you queried your dream agent with a cringeworthy cover letter along with your amateurish first full manuscript. Every time you see this agent you are filled with embarrassment. You hate that your premature submission took this agent off your list of possibles. Fatal submission fail? Yes or No
  5.  Your friend’s agent seems like the perfect match for you but unfortunately that friend tells you the agent is not taking new clients at this time. You forget to take that agent off your list and send to her by mistake. Then you dither about whether to send a follow-up withdrawing the query. You don’t want to draw further attention to your cluelessness just in case there’s a chance in the future. Fatal submission fail? Yes or No
  6. You attended a writers conference the year before last. Three of the agents said they were not looking for the genre of the book you were writing. That was helpful information because now that you are finally ready to submit, you can skip those three. Fatal submission fail? Yes or No
  7. You queried your dream agent and she asked to see the proposal and first three chapters. She liked what she saw and asked for the full manuscript. You were devastated when it came back to you with a “not quite ready” response. The agent suggested all kinds of ridiculous changes. After licking your wounds you looked again at the things she suggested and decided some had merit. You reworked the manuscript and sent it out to a group of different agents. So far there’s been a lot of interest. Fatal submission mistake? Yes or No

So let’s see how you did:

  1. No. It may be a fail but it’s not fatal. That agent was interested in more than  your manuscript. She was interested in you as a writer. Unless she said, “This is hot, hot, hot. I need to see this immediately,” there is no ticking clock. When you get to the conference be sure to greet the agent, remind her of her interest and explain that you had gone back to the drawing board to improve the manuscript but you’ll be sending it soon. This business is about relationships.
  2. No. Send it to another agent in the agency. At Books & Such just because one of us may not have an interest in a project or in a writer another agent just might find it right up her alley. You just don’t send it to two at the same time. I’m guessing most multi-agent firms work this way.
  3. Yes. Fear of submission is definitely fatal to finding an agent and getting published. No manuscript is perfect. Pry your fingers off those dogeared pages and send.
  4. No. Chances are your dream agent won’t even remember that submission. There may be one or two agents in our industry with photographic memories or the stray agent who keeps track of every query and submission ever received so they can go back and check. Be that as it may, none of the agents I know– and I’m friends with the best in the industry– hold previous premature submissions against a writer. If you now have a superb project, trust me, you’ll have no problem.
  5. No. Writing friends give notoriously bad advice. An agent’s list is never full.  It’s a good thing you “made a mistake” and sent your query to that agent.
  6. No. It’s a fail but it’s not fatal. Do not take market information you hear and base your submission on that. Those things are notoriously mercurial. I may say I’m not interested in fantasy at an afternoon panel discussion and by that evening I’ve had three editors ask me if I have any good fantasy manuscripts. All of a sudden I’m looking for fantasy, a mere four hours later. So just get your query out there and see.
  7. No. It’s not a fatal fail for you– you reworked the manuscript and will probably land an agent. But it is fatal to the the first agent– your dream agent– who took the time to help you shape the manuscript. She deserves to see the manuscript she helped edit, doesn’t she?

So how did you do? I hope you caught the gist of this– that there are really no fatal submission mistakes except for failing to submit at all.