How to Target Your Submissions to Agents

So you feel it in your bones that there’s a perfect individual out there ready to fall all over the slush pile to publish your manuscript. Maybe you’re scouring the planet for an agent to stand behind you when the winds of rejection threaten to blow the knuckle hairs off your writing hand. What’s your plan for targeting and catching that person’s attention?

Laura Manivong‘s first kids novel is Escaping The Tiger,
a story based off her husband’s experiences as
a Lao refugee hoping for a new home. She
lives in Kansas City. See her website here.
She also tweets.



As writers, the most important thing we can do is read, right? But if you’re like me, you can’t remember what flavor rice cake you ate yester morn, much less the details of the 200 books you were supposed to have read last year. Couple that with the oft-heard advice to “do your research” and “target your submissions,” and new writers everywhere can be heard mumbling, “What the denouement does targeting your submissions mean?”

NOTE WHAT YOU’RE READING

For me, targeting submissions means keeping a detailed reading log so you can get a sense of who likes what. Use a fancy-pants excel document if you wish, or use a Big Chief tablet. The point is to make it more than a list of titles and genre. Include the publisher, author, year of publication, intended age group, POV, and a quick description of the plot. That one-sentence library of congress summary on the copyright page works wonders for your paraphrasing pleasure!

Then dig deeper. Check the acknowledgements page to see if an agent or editor is credited for their stunning acumen. Record it on your reading log. Can’t find it? Google it, check the author’s website, join online communities and ask, or get your mother-in-law to call the publisher to inquire who the brilliant editor was behind Title Wunderbar. (Attempt this last one at your own risk!)

DISSECTING WHAT AGENTS LIKE

Now finesse your reading log. Analyze the book and note why you connected with the main character, or, um, why you used the book as kindling for Uncle Irwin’s bonfire. Note how that vast Alaska landscape almost became a character all its own, or how the protagonist’s external problems are beyond her control but she still manages to change her world through tiny acts of rebellion. In other words, get to know what agents and editors like by looking beyond genre. Look for emotional clues that tell you what triggers agents’ and editors’ heartstrings, something to which you can connect your own work. See how what you’ve written compares to other published titles.

SEARCH MARKET GUIDES

And once you’ve done this research, it’s time to grab a market guide and crosscheck your research for current editors or agents and their submission policies. Now instead of saying “I read you accept middle grade contemporary fiction,” you can dazzle those query readers with a truly targeted submission. For example, “My protagonist, like the character in This Other Awesome Book You Represent, finds solace outside her family as she struggles to connect with a disengaged parent. I wonder if you might be interested in my 180,000-word novel?” (Note to self: Write article on word counts that run very long.)

Buy “Escaping the Tiger”


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4 thoughts on “How to Target Your Submissions to Agents

  1. Natalie Aguirre

    Thanks for the advice. I already have started a list of books I read with the name of the publisher and agent included. But maybe I should add more detail to it like you suggested.

  2. Doug C.

    I started writing when I was thirteen, inspired by a short story I read in one of my dad’s Playboy magazines called Children of the Corn. Yes, there are guys who really do read the stories. It was not until I walked into a bookstore years later and found that same short story in a book called Night Shift that I realized who Stephen King was.

    I never ended up writing professionally, but I now work as a professional illustrator and the writing comes in handy. When I read this, "What the denouement does targeting your submissions mean?" – I had to grin. In my field of work I have a somewhat similar question: "What the heck does target audience mean?" For me this amounts to about the same thing and in searching for an illustrator agent I find the same rules apply.

    I spent a long time with copies of The Writer’s Market when I was younger trying to find a place to pitch my stories, but then I moved on to illustration and found my true calling there instead. You offer some very sound advice and I enjoyed reading your article. I hope it inspires people to take the time to put as much craft into their submissions as they do their stories.

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