That sounds apt. Sending out your manuscript can feel like some sadomasochistic event.
You’ve spent tons of time with your characters, you’ve had the voices in your head, the landscape of their lives, and suddenly you’re typing two incredible words: The End.
But after all of the hard work to get to the end of the book, it turns out that it was just a place to begin. Suddenly you have to find your readers…through an agent…through a publisher…through the internet….through a bookstore. But don’t despair - the process works! Every year we are creating brilliant, inspiring, page-turning books for a vast and complex marketplace. And those great books are the ones that move you to write yours. The industry is alive and well.
That brings us back to your book. You’ve just completed it. Don’t underestimate it. You might be tired, maybe even confused right around now. You’re both sure it’s great and/or not sure if it’s right. You might be submitting just because you’re not sure what else to do. My one big tip at this stage: before you do anything: don’t do anything at all. Take a bit of time away and when you’re ready, go back to it. Read it from beginning to end without editing anything. (I’m not going to care if there’s a typo on pg 115.) See if you enjoy it. Is it a great read? Is this truly the book you wanted to write?
If so, this is the moment to submit.
I always wonder what it’s like for the author at this moment of submission. Sending your work into what can feel like a great big non-communicative hole. You might not even get an acknowledgement receipt, a lot of time might pass, and the response might end as a standard form letter, no feedback or anything. As some type of reassurance, this monolithic blankness is not personal. We get more than 50 submissions a week minimum, so while it looks uncaring, it’s the opposite; rather than getting mired in the paperwork of email acknowledgement, I’m actually opening and reading the manuscripts at hand. It’s hard to know what happens at other agencies, but I spend a lot of time considering whether or not the book is something I can make a success. The reason that I don’t offer feedback is partly time-management, and partly because I'm likely to give terrible feedback if I don’t have the vision to represent the work. If I knew what to do to make it work, I’d grab it both hands, feedback and all. Often it’s the agent who doesn't feel they have the right skills to do justice to the book, rather than being a reflection on the work itself. Look at how many people rejected Harry Potter until one person in one agency knew how to make it work. Try not to take a rejection to heart.
The submission letter does give an idea of what is to come. I usually concentrate a bit more when I think the author has considered why they want me as their agent – what the fit might be. This is easily found on the website. Also, don’t expect the agent to sift through the first fifty pages before they get to the good stuff. The opening pages of your book are very important. If the opening is strong, it is a motivation to persevere and give more thought to how it might be edited, worked on, and then sold.
With all things book-related, I always find myself looking for ‘the hook’. It’s a phrase I learned coming into the industry and it is used a lot. I’ve taken it to mean - what’s the thing that makes this particular book stand out in one or two sentences? It helps to have that ready-made in a submission letter of course, but really your book itself will be what convinces an agent. What’s funny about the book business is that books with hooks don't always work. And a lot of books with no remarkable hook (a book about a successful hunk and a virginal college grad? Or a book about Thomas Cromwell?) can be bestsellers. A hook helps, but at the end of the day, it’s what’s inside a book that makes it work - the book itself. Does it move the reader? Can they sit on a rocking chair with a knee rug and feel like they’re absolutely in the most thrilling moments of their life? Are they in perilous danger of sitting on the tube all the way to Cockfosters just so they don’t have to stop reading? Will they tell everyone about it? The submission letter, ultimately, is part of my job. I’m the agent. I pitch. You write. The real hook is what’s inside. That will unlock all the rest.
Samar Hammam founded Rocking Chair Books in 2012 after six years as a Director at Toby Eady Associates. She is a primary agent, but works with other agencies to represent their rights in translation. She lives in London with her fella and two kids.
Rocking Chair Books is a literary agency focusing on adult commercial fiction, literary fiction, graphic novels, and general non-fiction for publication around the world. We represent select writers with total dedication and love. We help shape a writer’s work so that it is ready to be considered by the top publishing houses around the world. We work with the best film and TV agents, strive for the biggest deals, the best contractual terms, and ensure that the promotion is to the highest standard. We provide these services with devotion and creativity. Find us on Twitter here and find out more about us on our website.