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The top 10 do’s and don’ts of submitting to literary agents

Before querying agents, make sure to do or not do each of these items.

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  1. DON’T submit until your book is the best it can be.
  2. DO research the agent thoroughly. Read their publisher’s marketplace or agency website bio. Know what they rep, what they’re looking for, and their specific submission guidelines.
  3. DO write a professional and clear blurb of no more than one to two paragraphs maximum that sticks to the main character and main conflict. Don’t get bogged down in secondary characters, backstory, setting, or theme, and don’t give away the ending (that’s for the synopsis).
  4. DO write a clear and concise query letter with not a comma out of place. Address the letter to the agent and tell them why you are submitting to him or her specifically. State the title, word count, and genre of your work.
  5. DO exude confidence, but don’t overdo it.
  6. DON’T tell the agent you climbed Mr. Kilimanjaro or have 15K Twitter followers UNLESS that experience makes you the best person to write this story.
  7. DON’T include Lucinda cursive fonts, GIFs, or a mock-up of your cover. Keep it simple, courteous, and professional.
  8. DO list legitimate publishing credentials, including awards and anthologies you’ve been printed in.
  9. DON’T tell the agent your book is a “guaranteed bestseller,” destined to “rock the publishing industry to its foundations,” or will make a blockbuster movie starring Kristen Stewart. In fact, don’t make any sort of value judgment on yourself as a writer or the work you are submitting. That is the agent’s decision to make. Just stick to the facts.
  10. DO know your genre and be specific. Don’t call your book a cross-over (a cross-over develops naturally; you can’t write one) and don’t say it will “appeal to all ages.” And remember: Genre is the reader the book appeals to, not what the book is.

Dionne McCulloch, U.S. managing editor, Cornerstones Literary Consultancy.


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Originally Published