Blog | craft | writing for children and teens | writing for magazines
November 17, 2016
There is nothing like the thrill of finishing a story or article or book. You're worked hard on it, you know it's the best you can do, and you're probably still a little in love with it. Now all you have to do is send it out. So you scramble for an agent or market. You discover it's harder than you thought to find someplace that really fits with what you've written, and that's discouraging. But you pick somewhere. It fits okay. You send it out. And then you either haunt your mail––whether digital or snail mail––a lot. For days, weeks, maybe months.
And then you get a response. It may be a rejection. So what do you do next besides mope? It may be an acceptance. But are you sure you want to go with that agent? That publisher? How much did you know about them? What do you do next, besides panic? Or maybe you don't get any response.
What do you do, wait forever?
The complexities of submission are why it behooves every one of us to have a submissions plan set for every piece we complete. And I like to start on my submissions plan for a piece well ahead of the point of being finished with the writing and revision because at that point I tend to be in a hurry. I want to get that piece out there. I know response can take a long time so I don't want to mess around. And that internal pressure can lead to mistakes: sending to a bad-fit publisher, sending to a publisher with a questionable reputation, or just generally ruining my chances of publication.
For me, the time to research agents or publishers is before I finish. Basically, I slip a little research in whenever I'm hitting a rough spot or the urge to procrastinate writing the next scene hits. That's a great time to clear my mind by indulging in a little submissions planning. That's when I begin building a specific plan for this piece.
If it's a short story or article, I'll look at magazines, ezines, and anthologies. And since the piece isn't done and I'm not in a hurry, I'll check out writers discussion boards for information about response times and the experiences others have had working with these folks. And I'll prioritize my list. With anthologies, there may be a deadline which gives them priority over a magazine. With magazines, some may pay more or have a more attractive final product or be better known. I'll prioritize in order of which place will give me the most readers, the best addition to my resume, and/or the best money. Money isn't everything (though I help support my family with my writing income so it is a big thing) and I have to look at the value of everything about the market. Then I have a submissions plan: a list of markets that are good matches to the piece and how to submit to them (and how long to expect to wait for a reply).
With a book, it's more complicated. Books have so many options. Do I want an agent? Do I want a big publisher? Personally, I'm a genre writer (mystery, action adventure, fantasy and science fiction) so I look specifically at publishers that do well publishing the sort of material I write. A publisher that prides itself on award winning literary fiction is not going to be interested in me. But there are a lot of genre publisher options both big and small.
And if I'm writing Young Adult, there are also viable electronic publishing options for genre books and even self-publishing. With genre, the demand for books is great so there are more publishing options, but that means more research. Even if I decide to go with finding an agent, I still need to know a lot about publishers that are putting out books in my genre because I want to be an informed client. I want to understand the choices my agent makes. And I want to be able to ask informed questions.
Book research takes time, so waiting until the book is done for the research will rush you into publishing options that do not make you happy. (And it will depress you as you sort through options you cannot choose because the publisher requires an agent or because they specialize in something close to what you do, but not quite.) Instead, your market research and publishing plan is an ongoing process concurrent with your writing of a big project (like a novel).
For me, researching for a submission plan is a combination of using a good market guide (or a couple of good market guides.) When I know I'm going to be finishing a book in a specific calendar year, you can bet I'll have an updated copy of both the extensive Institute's market guides that are sold in our site’s store and the one put out by Writer's Digest. And if my book has a spiritual aspect, I'll pick up a copy of a market specific guide as well. That will give me places to begin my research. It is never, ever going to be my one-stop place to check out a market, not when I have the wealth of information that is the Internet. I'll do web searches on the markets I'm considering from the market guides. I'll check out writing discussion boards and information put out by writers organizations. I'll ask writing friends (because cultivating friendships among writers is priceless) and I'll work on my submissions plan, adding markets, changing the order of submission, setting priorities. And since we're now talking about book publishing, it means choosing how many markets to submit to at once.
When we're talking about submitting to more than one market (and I certainly suggest it for book submission plans), I will group my list by priority. So I don't send the book to my very favorite publisher and the publisher I'd only go with if I were desperate. This is because desperation publisher will likely respond quicker and positively. But I won't know that favorite publisher wouldn't take it. And I have to make a decision I don't want to make: the bird in the hand or the ones in the bush. So I submit in batches where all the publishers in the batch have the same personal priority rating. I send in batches where I would be equally happy with everyone in the batch. And the desperation publishers are on the submissions plan, but they’re in a spot way, way down the list.
Do I hope I won't need half this information I've gathered and put into my submissions plan? Of course. I'm hoping the first place I send my stuff snatches it up. But I'm also realistic. Sometimes marketing a manuscript means being in it for the long haul. And I want to be making informed decisions at every point. That takes time and effort on my part. But it pays off. Not only am I able to avoid stuck spots in the submissions process, I tend to come across better when I do cover letters, query letters, and communication after the sale because I've done my homework and I'm not going in blind.
So how about you? How are your submissions plans going?
Jan Fields is a full-time, freelance author and an Institute of Children's Literature Instructor. Would you like to have your own instructor teaching you on a one-on-one basis? Show us a sample of your work here.