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.


32 Responses

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  1. Mary Kay Moody says:

    So very encouraging, Wendy. Thank you. I have been guilty of thinking many of these fails were permanent. Hope you are enjoying your travels.

  2. Thank you, Wendy, for this view of life after failure. Failure feels like a death blow in the moment, but hope rises the next morning.

  3. Thank you so much for this post!

  4. It’s always good to hear an agent’s perspectives on things like submissions. I hear a lot of grace and receptivity from the agent’s side in your explanations of the answers. That’s encouraging for us writers. 🙂

    • Angie Arndt says:

      Agreed, Jeanne, it helps me to know that the cringe-worthy mistakes I’ve made may not be fatal (even though I was sure they were).This post was so helpful and the timing was perfect.

      Speaking of timing, have a wonderful time touring the English countryside!

  5. Wendy, you have a heart of gold. I’m thinking pixie dust, and you make others soar (My daughter had me watch Peter Pan yesterday, lol). Because this post was so uplifting. Thank you. This reminds me of Janet’s post yesterday, about the lack of communication. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask, reach out. We are so often our biggest obstacle.

  6. Toni Wilbarger says:

    Thank you for this post. Situation number 7 happened to me a few years ago, except this agent asked to see the manuscript again after I had rewritten it. I reworked the entire manuscript, salvaging very little from the original. But when I looked up the agent to resubmit to her, she had left the agency and had become an editor of the young adult genre — not what my novel is at all. I’m grateful to her for suggesting the rewrite because I feel the book is so much stronger now. But I feel a little let-down because I have to start the submission process over again. I sent her an email thanking her for her direction, but I never received a reply.

  7. That was a fun posting Wendy. The only “fatal” failure is a failure to participate, a failure to try. Anything else is recoverable.
    I hope you are enjoying your trip and staying safe.

  8. I agree with commenter Jeanne; I too hear grace here! Thank you, Wendy. Navigating the bumpy waters of publication can be discouraging, but you encouraged me today. (And I got almost 100% on the quiz! Ha!)

  9. Carol Ashby says:

    Wendy, it’s nice to see that the only fatal move was not to try. I always say you haven’t really failed until you give up. Success in my old research career came from re-searching until we found the answers. Success in writing comes from rewriting for constant improvement and never giving up.

    • Julie Scorziell says:

      Hi Carol, do you have any news about Andrew? I’m worried since he hasn’t posted a comment today and it sounded like yesterday was difficult. My prayers are with him and his family. His strength and courage through this journey have been an amazing witness and I know he would give all the glory to God. Thanks so much.

      • Carol Ashby says:

        He hasn’t responded to my last email that I sent yesterday evening, but he was having a very hard time before that. He posted what he thought might be his farewell post at his own blog. But I haven’t heard that he’s gone. I hope everyone will keep his wife, Barb, in their prayers, too.

      • Julie Scorziell says:

        Thanks Carol. He has impacted so many people with his faith. He will be missed.

      • I’m praying extra hard for him today.

      • Carol Ashby says:

        I think he’s going to be surprised to see how many were deeply affected by his faithfulness through the toughest times. I’m sure he’ll hear “well done, good and faithful servant. Come and share your master’s happiness.”

      • I heard from him briefly this morning. He said he was very ill. And I’m sure in a ton of pain. I know he appreciates everyone’s prayers and concern for him.

      • When Andrew gets to Heaven he’ll see that all he has submitted here certainly hasn’t failed. He has touched all of our lives with his courage.

      • Angie Arndt says:

        Praying for Andrew and Barb. Thanks, y’all, for keeping us informed. I’m a newbie to the group, but I can tell from the posts I’ve read that he has a kind (not “kind of”) wisdom born of far too much pain. Praying that God will give both of them strength and that peace that passes all understanding.

  10. Great info and advice, especially as many writers are heading to ACFW next week. The only statement I take issue with is #5: “Writing friends give notoriously bad advice.” I have truly learned more, gotten more accurate information, and been more encouraged in the ups and downs of this industry by my writing friends than by anyone else in the industry! Granted, the most accurate information comes from my writer friends who have been doing this for a while, who have many connections in the industry, and who have my best interests at heart. But I just didn’t want to see all “writing friends” thrown under the bus because a few here and there gave some bad advice! 🙂

    • I would have to agree, Deb. I am learning to choose carefully the writing friends I talk with about my questions and my projects. It’s those I have relationship with and trust . . . a lot. 🙂

  11. Thanks for sharing this, Wendy. These hypotheticals are very relatable and encouraging. Hope you’re having a lovely trip.

  12. Thank you! And I hope your English countryside tour is as delightful as it sounds from this side of the Pond.

  13. Jaxon M King says:

    Thank you, Wendy, for the helpful insight into the “other side” for us newer authors! Enjoy the rest of your trip.

  14. Great list. And I must be retaining some of these blog posts because I got the answers right, too.

  15. Great advice. I’m guessing every reader is wishing they were in the English countryside right now, though!

  16. Wendy, thank you–to the word count of one billion–for this motivational post that sets the record in print what a writer should do next if she thinks she’s failed the first attempt at submitting a manuscript.
    Blessings as you tour the beautiful English Countryside ~ Wendy Mac

  17. Zan Marie says:

    Thanks for this post! I’m sure I’m not the only writer who needed it.

  18. Wendy, thanks for addressing so many of the half-truths and misrepresentations that are floating around our industry.

  19. Lynley Hatcher says:

    Sending in a query is a bit like passing a note that asks, “Do you like me? Check yes or no” and then waiting for the answer. I appreciate the encouragement of your post. Have a lovely trip!

  20. Thank you so much for taking time from sight seeing to post this informational and grace-filled blog post. It is so encouraging to me. It gives me great instruction. I love to learn..just call me what I told my son to call me when he was younger — Sponge Mom, Square Dress. Oh, I got a lot of mileage out of that one!

    Have a wonderful rest of the tour and a sage trip home.

    Sending prayers for Andrew and his wife Barb.

  21. That was a safe trip home. Maybe I should use my laptop to comment…bigger keys than my cell.

    Anyway, it could still be a sage, wise and prudent, trip home. LOL.

  22. Melinda Minor says:

    Your article on fatal submissions had given me life. Thank you.