On Submissions: Tips From a Pro on Selling That First Book

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The other day I listened to a workshop featuring Jayne Anne Krentz (for those of you who are curious, it was “Secrets of the Best-Selling Sisterhood” by Jayne Ann Krentz and Susan Elizabeth Phillips from RWA’s 2009 conference). She had a lot of interesting advice for authors trying to sell their first book. Some of them were common sense and others really gave me food for thought. I thought I’d share them today because I’d love to hear your thoughts on them:

  • Regarding Your Query

Know where your manuscript belongs in the marketplace. Is it paranormal romance, historical romance, urban fantasy? All the better if you have similar novels to compare it to. The editor or agent will want to know right away what the novel is like and where they would position it in the store.

  • Regarding Your Synopsis

When submitting an initial proposal to an agent or editor, your synopsis should be a one-page pitch that reads like back cover blurb. Your main intent with the proposal is to sell the agent or editor on reading your entire manuscript. You don’t want to bore them by writing every single detail of your novel into a 10-page synopsis (though you may need that for later purposes). But right now your goal is to engender interest in your full manuscript.

  • Partial Submissions

A partial submission generally consists of the first three chapters (or the first 50 pages). Make sure that partial submission ends on a hook and makes the editor or agent want to read more.

  • On Querying Editors
  1. If you are querying publishers, look for the assistant editor. An assistant editor’s career is made by the writers she discovers, so she will be hungry and more likely to actually look at your manuscript. Senior editors are extremely busy and therefore far more likely to take a look at an unpublished writer if recommended by an assistant editor or an agent.
  2. Don’t be afraid to query editors as well as agents. Sometimes an editor is easier to sell than an agent. So query widely.


I have to admit, all this advice makes sense, but I was a bit surprised to hear the bit on querying editors as well as agents. I’ve gotten the advice not to query editors because if you do and then wind up getting an agent, the agent will not be able to help you if you are rejected by the editor.

After thinking about it, there are actually several ways this could go:

(a) You query only agents and hope you can find one. But what if you don’t? Should you at this point start querying editors?

(b) You query both agents and editors and end up landing an agent who helps you get your manuscript up to snuff. But what if the editors reject your earlier manuscript? Will the agent have the ability to call up the editor and say, “This has been revised; I think you should take a look at it because you might just love it.”

As you can probably tell, I’m a bit torn on which way to go with this one.

So what do you think? Do you agree with the above tips? What about the advice to query editors as well as agents?


8 thoughts on “On Submissions: Tips From a Pro on Selling That First Book

    Terry Spear said:
    January 21, 2011 at 7:53 am

    Hi, Rosalie!

    I’ve sold 10 books to Sourcebooks without an agent. My first book, Heart of the Wolf, made PW’s Best Books of the Year. I could never get an agent. Should I have waited to get an agent first?

    In my case, no. 🙂

    Great post, Rosalie! I have to say too, that for a while I was submitting to Avon’s online query form and I was automatically turned down each time, except for the last time. That time, I wrote a much longer synopsis and got a full request. I didn’t sell, but it shows that there are exceptions to every rule.

    Agents are great. They can get you into publishing houses that you might not be able to otherwise. On the other hand, sometimes authors have to sell to an editor themselves,like one who wrote historicals and sold to Avon before the agent would finally represent her because she said the market was too soft. 🙂

    But sometimes, marketing your own book, will mean an agent can’t shop it because you have already done so. However, if agents aren’t interested…why not try an editor?

      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 21, 2011 at 9:24 am

      Thanks for sharing your personal experiences, Terry. So longer synopsis for Avon, hmm?

      I’m curious, now that you are a multi-published author, have you considered getting an agent? Or have you decided it’s pretty much not worth it? 🙂

    Christine Ashworth said:
    January 21, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Rosalie, I spent the better part of 2010 searching for an agent. When I sold, I sold to an editor. And after my edits, I understood why an agent wouldn’t take it – not only was my synopsis sucky, but my query letter left a lot to be desired, lol. My editor actually said it was my first 50 words of my manuscript that sold her, and not my 3 line pitch.

    So in my experience, first you have to craft that pitch and that query letter like it’s the most important thing you’ll ever do – because it is. If agents still aren’t interested, then take it to the editors. You just never know.


      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 21, 2011 at 1:27 pm

      Great tips, Christine. It’s scary to think that one might have the greatest manuscript in the world, but if the query letter isn’t up to par, it will probably never get read by an agent. That’s a lesson to us writers, though. The query letter needs to have time dedicated to it, just as with the manuscript.

    Maeve Greyson said:
    January 21, 2011 at 11:50 am

    I think it’s best to query both. If you’re lucky enough to land an agent, you can always update them on who you’ve queried and together plan a new and improved attack…er…submission.


      Rosalie Lario responded:
      January 21, 2011 at 1:28 pm

      I’m beginning to think so too, Maeve. It’s such a subjective business. Why not cast your net far and wide?

    Ciara Knight said:
    January 21, 2011 at 12:24 pm

    I agree with Terry. There are exceptions to every rule. I know many people who have sold then signed an agent of their choice. I’d say query your top agent choices first, then look at small press houses, or pitching opportunities. Again, it’s different for each writer. It comes down to one thing. Right place, right time, solid manuscript.

    Julia Rachel Barrett said:
    January 21, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    I think it’s pretty black and white – either win win or lose lose. There’s not much in-between.
    Over several years, I’ve worked very hard on query letters and writing a tight synopsis. I’ve researched agents and editors who handle my genres. I’ve also researched publishing houses that accept unagented submissions. I found the search to be both frustrating and fruitless.
    Either I received no response or a quarter page-sized form letter rejection, making it quite obvious that my submission was not even read. After eighteen months of banging my head against a brick wall, I gave up.
    I’ve come to believe the trick is to deliver the right pitch to the right person at the exact time they are looking for your book.
    I’ve followed pitch threads and learned that even when an agent says she wants to see some Contemporary Romance, the only pitches she actually goes for are paranormal/shifter/vampire, YA…despite the fact that some of the pitches for Contemporary Romance are extremely well-written.
    So, my take? Right pitch, right person, right time. Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw.

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