Although I am a freelance editor with Pandamoon Publishing, which acquires adult fiction in a variety of genres, I am also a kidlit writer. As a writer, I have been in the query trenches and out on submission to publishing houses just like many of you probably are now. Tackling the query letter and embarking on the submissions process can seem daunting, but there are many resources out there to help you along the way. (If you have not already done so, check out Andrea Somberg’s blog post earlier this month on writing a successful query letter for some helpful advice). Being in the same spot as you as a writer, and reading submissions as an editor, I felt it may be helpful to share some of my thoughts on the whole process.
First off, give yourself a pat on the back for having a manuscript to submit! With that being said, unless you are submitting a non-fiction proposal to an agent or editor, then be sure that your manuscript is complete. If your work is not finished, then hold off on the querying/submission process. You always want to make sure you are submitting your best work, which means that the manuscript should be complete and finalized to the best of your ability. If you feel that you need to continue to edit the work then it is most likely not ready to send out.
Submit with purpose. Know which agents or editors you want to submit to and be mindful of the genres that each is accepting. Make sure that these agents or editors will be a good fit for you and your work. Be sure to follow submission guidelines according to the agent/editor website.
Know where your manuscript lives. By that I mean, know the genre of your book and the age range of your target audience. Don’t try to please everyone because you can’t write a compelling story with that in mind. Whatever you are writing, the story needs to be authentic and accurate. It needs to come from you because you must tell that story or it will eat you up inside if you don’t (that’s being a little overdramatic, but I think you get the idea). Don’t write for trends or even if it is on someone’s wishlist, write the story that you need to tell and be accurate in the portrayal of that story. Not only do you have to be true to you, but you also have to be true to the characters you create and the readers that will be reading the story. Nothing should feel forced or fabricated. Let the reader get lost in your world and narrative.
If your submission to an agent or editor requires you to send a sample, then make sure that sample is from the first few chapters. The first few chapters, and really the first ten pages, are crucial in setting up your story, connecting with the main characters, and knowing what is at stake for them. The rest of the manuscript needs to build on that from the very beginning.
Some agents, and a lot of publishers, will require both a query and a 1-2 page synopsis of your work when it is time to submit. Remember that a query is meant to leave the agent/editor wanting to read more and includes personal information about you as an author. A synopsis is more of a summary about the book and the characters (think main story arc and character arc). Personally, I find it helpful to write out a synopsis after I am done plotting a novel to make sure that I like the story and that it all makes sense.
Participate in Twitter pitch parties and online contests. The Twitter parties in particular, force you to be creative with your pitch in very few words. It can be a great way to summarize your manuscript and to think about what the stakes really involve. You can also connect with other writers and editors and continue to be involved in the writing community.
Continue to work on other writing projects and live life while you are querying or out on submission. It can take a few months before getting word on a manuscript if any, but if you are working on the next thing then the time will go by faster and you will be ready to start the whole process again.
I hope that some of these thoughts are helpful to you on your submission journey. Good luck with your work and I look forward to seeing it on the shelves!
Jessica Reino is a freelance editor with Pandamoon Publishing and a kidlit writer of fiction and non-fiction. She is the author of FOOD ALLERGIES: THE ULTIMATE TEEN GUIDE (Rowman & Littlefield, 2015) and a food allergy advocate. Jessica is also a member of The Editorial Freelancers Association, SCBWI, and a contributor for The Children’s Writer’s Guild Online Magazine.