Submissions Guidelines (31/1/2011)

Follow the submissions guidelines. This is always good advice. Research the people to whom you intend to submit your manuscript. Also good advice, and anyone who can’t be bothered to take the effort to follow basic instruction and take information readily available off a website so they can address the right person BY NAME probably deserves everything they get. Or don’t. There’s plenty of advice on what to do and what not to do, for example here and here and another example of why you really should pay attention here. I bring these agencies to your attention as they’re the only genre agencies I know of. (Edit: And ONLY for that reason – I have no beef with either agency and only reason I’m linking to them is that if you, dear reader, are an aspiring SF/F writer then you ought to know they they exist and read what they say about submissions.)

However, dear agents and editors and people who write submissions guidance and then point fingers and laugh at those unable to follow it (Twitter, I’m looking at you), please have a little consideration for your poor aspiring writers. Let us suppose I am that person. There are a lot of publishers and agents out there to whom one might send a query letter. About forty to fifty the last time I paid attention. Many of them aren’t in the least bit interested in my latest manuscript, but I don’t know that because I already ruled out the ones whose interest obviously lies elsewhere. I know that almost none of you will be interested and I’m damned if I’m going to write to you one by one and wait, individually, for a reply (the last time I was doing this seriously, the average response time to a query letter was about two and a half months. There was a lot of variation in this and maybe it’s changed but I doubt it. And I’m quite convinced that someone out there still has The Thief-Taker’s Apprentice sitting in their slush pile, gently gathering dust) because then I’ll be waiting for about TEN YEARS before I’ve collected my full set of rejection letters. So no, I’m not going to single-submit as a general rule, although I’m not going to tell you that. And if I’m researching 40-50 agents and publishers while at the same time as indulging my remorseless muse at the same time as holding down a day-job that pays the bills at the same time as having any kind of life whatsoever, you’ll understand that a lot of my research is going to be carried out over the odd hastily-snatched twenty minute slot over lunchtime. And even then I’ll probably be trying to fit in two of you in each slot because otherwise it’s going to to take about three months just to get your names and addresses (EDIT: Neither the JJLA or Zeno demand this – the internet and those books on ‘how to get published’ that I’ve read often say that you should, though).

So, agents and publishers, let me offer YOU some guidance. You should aim to have all your information available to me in that one ten-minute slot. Otherwise I’m going to default to standard ‘best practice’ that I’ve picked up from sites better organised than yours. And that probably means I’ll do something wrong. And then you’ll reject me, and we’ll neither of us know what we’ve missed out on. Ask yourself, if you don’t like it, how many authors you know that are good at writing books. About all of them, right? And how many of those are good at following basic instructions? What about meeting deadlines? Being organised? It’s not that we’re different to the rest of the world, it’s just that we’re, well, we’re not project managers[1], we’re writers.

Ten minutes. Let that be the test of how clear your submissions guidance is. Then you can criticize us for not doing it exactly the way you want it.

While we’re at it, aspiring writers, this is probably worth a couple of your ten-minute lunchtime slots.

[1] Except for some of us. But we all have our personality disorders, right?

7 Responses to “Submissions Guidelines (31/1/2011)”

  1. Daniel Chuter says:

    Whole hardly agree. Agents are far too strict with their guidelines. Especially that bit about only approaching one agent at a time, ESPECIALLY since most don’t accept or reply electronically.

    I mean, come on agents, it’s the 21st Century. iPads are infiltrating every house on the planet, quietly infecting our electronics with iSkynet. We don’t have time to be old fashioned!

  2. Daniel Chuter says:


  3. KJJ Carpenter says:

    Ah, Mr Deas. You truly are an inspiration to us all. I completely agree with you.

    In Australia we have a total of 30 or so agents. 30! And only 2 of those accept fantasy material. It’s pathetic. I went right past an agent and to a publisher, and I’ve found a pretty decent hook, so we’ll see how things go.

    Basically, agents are a waste of everyone’s time unless you manage to nab the right one, and that in itself is rare.

  4. Stephen says:

    KJJ, I have to disagree – a *good* agent will save you a great deal of time. I understand it must be frustrating to find such a small number of agents who’d even consider genre fiction, though.

  5. Sarah S says:

    Hello, I’m new on here and looking forward to being a part of the conversation !

  6. Wilf Jones says:

    Just read a resume of Andrew Franklin’s speech at the LIBF re the future of Publishers. He denied they will ever be an irrelevance as they are the ONLY guarantor of quality. By extension, because editors never go out and find the stuff themselves, it is only in agents that we as readers can place our trust. We’re all doomed – readers and writers – if this is true. Of course there are technically bad writers to be weeded out, and all decent agents can do that, but a great deal of their business is in attempting to second guess what the public wants to read. But in that attempt do they not actually determine what the public should read? Haven’t they become the arbiters of taste? They know wht the market wants. They know what the market doesn’t want. Their evidence lies in what is selling now and what has gone before – they extrapolate the future. The problem of course with them following the market is precisely that they are following. So yes they will fill the many slots that come free in the wake of Harry Potter – but will they ever find the Harry Potter in the first place? Sing Hallelujah! if you can find an agent concerned only with promoting what he or she finds to be good and damn the fashions or trends.
    Our problem as aspiring writers is that at present the success or failure of our efforts is almost entirely under their control. If agents don’t like your book then it almost certainly won’t get published.
    Submission guidelines then? Well I agree it would be good if we strugglers could impose a few rules of our own I can’t see it happening. Not until publishing changes. And that’s another argument.

  7. Stephen says:

    Wilf, editors have always had that power, so if agents become the gatefkeepers of what does and doesn’t get published, I’m not sure that changes anything there. The diminution of variety in favour of safety (i.e. publish stuff that’s like other stuff that sold well rather than new stuff, which I think was your core point) is troubling for readers and writers alike, and I know agents and editors who dislike it too. In some ways it’s art vs. money, and I suspect the only way that art wins in the long run is though patronage. That and maybe you’ll get some writers who write what’s popular until they have established themselves as a ‘brand’ and have the power to start heading off-piste.

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