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Agent Kimberly Shumate On: How to Create a Professional Submission

What is the number one thing in a query that screams amateur? This question is oh-so-easy to answer, but it’s not one thing—but several. There is nothing more amateurish than someone who sends their material via hard copy, e-mails a gazillion Word attachments for a single book project, rambles on and on about their book that has yet to be requested by the agent, and who sends material that the agency or publishing house don’t even carry, thus wasting everyone’s time.

Editor's note: I am declaring November 2010 to be "Agent Guest Column Month," and therefore, every weekday, I will be posting a guest column by a literary agent. Day 18: Today's guest agent is Kimberly Shumate of Living Word Literary.

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Kimberly Shumate is the founder of
Living Word Literary Agency.

What is the number one thing in a query that screams amateur? This question is oh-so-easy to answer, but it’s not one thing—but several. There is nothing more amateurish than someone who sends their material via hard copy, e-mails a gazillion Word attachments for a single book project, rambles on and on about their book that has yet to be requested by the agent, and who sends material that the agency or publishing house don’t even carry, thus wasting everyone’s time.

And I groan out loud every time an aspiring author says, “I’ve got the next New York Times bestseller.” There is self-confidence, and then there’s plain ego. Think humility. And also, it’s that poor soul who uses a query to exhaust the agent or editor with personal information about themselves, which can often have absolutely nothing to do with the project.

I teach a workshop called “The Do’s and Don’ts of Manuscript Submission” that pinpoints the rather obvious (one would hope), yet regularly made, mistakes people make when they send material to an agent. Here are some of the fundamentals:

DO:

  1. Get an objective opinion about your writing from a brutally honest critique group or someone you are not related to before you send out your project.
  2. Make sure your idea and abilities can generate an entire book.
  3. Try to expand your audience if possible—too small a niche can prevent a book offer. 
  4. A “title search” on Amazon.com will uncover the number of books out that already have a title like (or similar to) yours. Also, check the publisher and the year that each book was released. Remember the magic word—originality. 
  5. Keep your “voice” accessible, and your thoughts/text organized.
  6. Use industry standard formatting: 1”x1” margins, double-spaced, 12-point font. 
  7. Write book proposals in the third person and keep them single-spaced, whereas sample chapters should be double-spaced with new paragraphs indented.
  8. Place the book title and your name in the page header and number the pages. It’s staggering how many people fail to identify their documents.
  9. Address your submission to a specific person—never “Dear Sir,” or worse, to no one at all.
  10. Keep a file on projects you’ve submitted. Record the title, the date, the agent, and their response.


DON'T:

  • Use funky fonts, photos, illustrations, or clip art that detracts from the text and weighs down the electronic document.
  • Ask for a critique from an agent who rejects your work. That’s what your critique group is for.
  • Assume that an agent doesn’t track your submissions—one submission per project unless requested otherwise.
  • Think that proposing a book “idea” alone is enough? Agents are funny. We like to read your work.
  • Think your first draft is ready—the fifteenth draft will be closer to ready, almost.
  • Phone an agent unless you have already made contact via e-mail.
  • Expect quick results—some editorial reviews can take up to one year.
  • Wait for a book deal to materialize before continuing with your next project. Keep writing!
  • Lose your cool with an agent or an editor—we’re all connected and we do talk.
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The quickest way to get an agent's attention
is a professional submission. That's why you need
Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript, 3rd. Ed.

It has dozens of query letter examples (novels,
nonfiction, short stories, kids books and more).


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