A submission letter can be a terrifying hurdle to overcome in the journey towards possible publication, but there are some simple steps you can take to make it less of a chore.
For this blog I’m going to focus on five very practical elements of a submission. If you read this and think ‘surely no-one could make THAT sort of mistake’ – I’ve seen many many cases of the following examples, and I’m not alone.
1. Whom are you sending it to?
Address your letter politely and accurately. ‘Dear Sir or Madam’ looks sloppy, ‘Dear Abner’ (of Abner Stein) looks ill-informed – he died a year ago. Make sure you’ve got the gender right. Don’t write to Lady Agent and then start the letter ‘Dear Sir’.
2. How easy is it to read?
The cliché is that poor authors and lunatics write great reams of correspondence in green ink in hard to decipher hand-writing. Green ink does have a certain reputation, but the basic rule is to write as elegantly as you would for a job application. These days the vast majority type their letters, so choose a clear font, make sure the font size is legible (12 point ideally) and keep it concise.
If you are going to hand-write it – make sure you are legible. If I have to handwrite something, my handwriting is so appalling that I’m better off having my nine year-old write it, but an elegant hand will lend a certain je-ne-sais-quoi to a submission.
3. Don’t forget your contact details.
While agents like suspense as much as the next person, they really haven’t got the time to try and track you down from such clues as ‘living in a one-bedroom flat in North London with the last name Smith’. I’ve done a version of this by putting up a website that I thought was getting remarkably few (in fact no) hits, only to realise a month later that I’d not put any contact details on at all.
4. Don’t forget to put your submission in.
This doesn’t happen very often – but when it does, it’s a wasted opportunity. A version of this is the letter that asks if the agent wants to see more, without any more information than a paragraph in the letter summing up the novel. Some agents will ask to see more, but a far larger number simply won’t have time to chase that up, making it another wasted chance.
5. You don’t need other ‘stuff’.
Nice as it is to see your photograph, get showered with glittery confetti, be offered a lunch out, or see examples of origami – the publishing world doesn’t tend to respond well to these kind of touches. Keep it simple – your words really do need to speak for themselves.
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