Manuscript Submissions to Agents, Review Copies, and Shoeboxes

If you’ve ever submitted a manuscript to a literary agency in hopes of scoring literary representation, you know that the process is (almost) as artful as the development of the manuscript itself. There are scores of tactics that writers have used to get their work in front of their target audience, ranging from the blind query letter (boring), to the literal elevator pitch (really . . . in an elevator . . . which can, depending on the agent, border on assault). A friend of mine sent a copy of his manuscript in a shoebox, with a shoe, mind you, and a note pleading his case that he was just trying to get his foot in the door. Creativity through this process can bring attention to the submission, send a literary agent away screaming for their space, or–quite possibly–land you in jail. (For me, a reevaluation of friends may be in order.)

Agents are inundated with submissions, so who’s to blame the ambitious author who provides their work in a shoebox? Despite its cheesiness, it’s hard to fault the ambitious author who does whatever he or she has to do to break through. Maintaining professional dignity through the process, however, may provide an an agent a desirable client. Indeed, there’s no one right way to get a book published, and agents have a spectrum of sensibilities in regard to submissions. For The Silent Partner, review copies of the book are in development for reviewers, bloggers, and agents and acquisition editors, and some free copies for a grassroots fanbase in development. (In the end, it is the work that matters, and its marketability, but building a desirable readership has its advantages, too, in bringing attention to the material. We’ll see how this goes.)

For me, a shoebox is out. I’ve never seen 8 1/2″ by 11″ shoeboxes that would fit an unfolded copy of my manuscript anyway.

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“The Silent Partner”: Why I’m Bringing My Unpublished Manuscript to Life

Five years ago, the idea for the book first made its way onto computer screen. The first two and a half years I was on my own, discovering and writing. It would take a couple years for a first draft (that no one shall ever see, it was so bad). Over the next year and a half, my book editor, Wendy, assisted with multiple drafts while I attempted to turn the story into something people would want to read. Big discovery came here, too, along with humble pie and the revelation that I had no idea what I was doing. But quitting wasn’t an option. Too much time had been invested, and I’d learned resiliency years ago. It was time to learn how to write, and not fool myself that I already knew how. It didn’t matter how many writing books I had read or how many A’s I’d received in college studies. I now studied feverishly, unlike I’d ever studied anything before. (My college professors would surely be irate if they knew I had ignored such capacity to expand while in their classes.) The Silent Partner eventually emerged from an idea and poorly written story into a crafted and structured novel that, hopefully, will be read.

I had never heard of book trailers until about ten months ago, when Wendy said I should look into them, given my background and affection for film. Completing the manuscript had led to the additional challenge–and fortune–of finishing the book trailer to promote it. Now, with a number of agency rejections to back my claim up that my manuscript does indeed exist, soon the launch of the book trailer will showcase the book in a new medium. All in the effort to have a new voice and bring attention to the source material, acquire agency representation, and–more importantly–get The Silent Partner published.

The solitude of writing, rewriting, editing, revising, throwing away, and starting over again . . . gave way to collaboration with a team and crew of artists–from a number of disciplines–to bring The Silent Partner to life. Filmmakers–from a cinematographer to writers and directors–and actors, a producer-pal and location scout, a film editor and special effects pro, a composer, a band, a sketch artist, and book designer (to assist with the promo “cover” of the book). Many of them now friends.

What an incredible array of talents . . . all bound together for a book that no one yet knows exists.

5 Ways to Deal with Agency Rejection

Seeking a literary agent was once something I thought I’d fear. There were horror stories of writers griping that their unread manuscripts for their novels (usually, their first) were ignored by hordes of agents, who ignored their numerous calls, e-mails, and form letter submissions. These agents were to be an intimidating and untouchable gaggle of literary snobs, if I had listened. But as my sisters can testify, I never, ever, have done that.

After going to several writers’ conferences, I was humbled and realized there was work to do. My writing needed to get better. While it was highly unlikely I’d find the perfect match with a lit agent–that is, find someone who was looking for a story like mine in a genre like mine in a style like mine by an unknown writer like me–I discovered many lit agents felt that it was just as unlikely that they’d find the next story by a new writer that would captivate, entertain, and tease them with the opportunity to acquire the next great work that would sell. And that changed everything.

I do not have an agent. I don’t know if I’ll ever have an agent. I’ll continue to search for one, but I won’t be jaded by the current publishing system–with all of its strengths and weaknesses in the ever-changing publishing world–in its pursuit of the best possible material that the book-buying public will buy. I’ll be the best I can be, I won’t give up on my work, and the best that can happen will happen. I won’t stop. Because of this, my skills improved more in the last two years than they had in the previous ten. Progress.

Here are the five ways I’ve learned to overcome rejections–or lack of response–from my submitted query letters or requested manuscript submissions, and keep determined, focused, and sane:

  1. Recognition that taste is a big part of this submission and approval process. I’m not sure where I heard this, but if you want to call yourself an artist, you can’t blame the world because they don’t embrace your work.
  2. Somehow maintain life balance. We all have people and priorities in our life other than our passion projects, and remembering to be in those moments–physically and emotionally–not only makes the rejection process bearable, it can be something to look forward to conquering.
  3. Peppering instead of blanketing submissions. I’ve heard of writers sending out huge blocks of submissions to dozens of agents at a time. Why do that when you can send out a few, learn from your feedback, improve your work, and then send out more polished submissions? This requires a bit of patience, yes. Think of it–if you can manage it with time and expense–a lot like tuition!
  4. Network with other writers, successful ones included. Don’t hang out merely with lesser writers than yourself but ones who have other skills, mindsets, or success stories that you don’t. You’ll learn something like I have, and you’ll be inspired.
  5. While it pays to be attentive to criticism and other people’s judgements sometimes, it can be invaluable to find the belief in your project that no one else can. If you’ve done research and have studied the subject, the genre, the industry . . . and believe your work is great in a calculated way, fight for it. Quincy Jones had tried again and again to convince Michael Jackson to pull the song Thriller off his legendary album. The moral: In the end, if you don’t believe in it, no one else will.