Now that you know what goes in your submission packet, it’s time to target your submissions!
You have two main options if you want to pursue the traditional publishing route: submitting to literary agents or submitting directly to publishers. While it may seem like a no-brainer to cut out the middle-man (or, in most cases, -woman), an agent provides you with some important benefits.
First, a good, reputable literary agent is well-connected. She not only knows acquisitions editors at both big and small publishing agencies, the acquisitions editors know her. Even better, they trust her judgment, because they know that the only way a literary agent gets paid is if she chooses to represent strong projects that consumers will want to buy. In other words, rather than ending up in a mountainous slush pile, your project lands directly on the desk of someone who has the power to make buying decisions.
Your agent will work to negotiate the best money possible for you. In other words, she knows what your project is worth and how to get publishers to increase advance and royalty payments if you’re being offered less than your work is probably worth. She may actually pay for herself very quickly this way!
So how do you find good, reputable agents?
My top recommendation goes to QueryTracker.net, a website that will not only help you figure out which agents represent projects like yours – it will also help you track your submissions. There are other websites that will help you find agents, but only QueryTracker vets each and every agent that’s listed. If an agent has ever done anything disreputable (such as asking for money upfront), she is not listed. (Full disclosure: I blog for QueryTracker, so I’m not unbiased – on the other hand, I am very careful what I put my name behind, and I stand wholeheartedly behind QT. It has also been recognized by Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 Best Websites for Writers every year since 2008.)
Now it's time to find information on past sales, likes and dislikes, and so forth. Writers should subscribe to Publisher's Weekly to track who's selling what, to QueryTracker to find advanced reports on things like who reps whom, and to Preditors and Editors to find out who's a crook.
To use the QueryTracker site, choose the genre you’re targeting (e.g. Fiction – Children’s) and Search. Clicking on the name of a listed agent will give you links to the agent’s website and any social media the agent uses. You should always follow these links to gather details on what the agent is looking for, as well as her submission guidelines. If you get a premium subscription to QT, you will also have access to “Quick Click Tools” that will take you to other agent-search websites that will give you additional information (the best ones, in my opinion, are AgentQuery.com, Publisher’s Marketplace, and Preditors and Editors).
As I mentioned at the beginning, you can also submit directly to publishers if you wish. In these situations, you will want to thoroughly research the publisher online, most notably through the publisher’s website. Caveat: Particularly if you choose to research agents through non-vetted sites like AgentQuery and Publisher’s Marketplace, or if you want to submit directly to publishers, be sure to double-check Preditors and Editors, which tells you which agents and publishers to avoid like the plague.
In any case, you'll want to identify your book's niche in the market. My personal experience has been that I (as a writer) need to be able to identify a hole in the market and then explain how my book fits that niche, why there is no other book like it, and so on. While that is obviously going to give me some ideas for publishers (and I am fortunate to have an agent who is open to my thoughts), many agents see it as their job to identify and target particular publishers. Certainly, I need to find an agent who's into my kind of stuff,
In most cases, you will be sending a query letter, which introduces you and your project, either before you send your submission package or with that package (again, check the individual agent or publisher’s submission guidelines to find out what to send). The query letter, sometimes referred to as a cover letter, includes a brief, catchy description of your book, as well as your credentials (if any) for writing it (e.g. previous publishing credits).
Best of luck in finding a great agent and/or publisher for your project!
Carolyn Kaufman is a writing coach, a psychologist, and the author of The Writer’s Guide to Psychology: How to Write Accurately About Psychological Disorders, Clinical Treatment and Human Behavior. She regularly blogs on writing and publishing for the QueryTracker Blog, and on psychology and writing for Psychology Today. If you have a writing and publishing question, feel free to contact her through the QueryTracker Blog; if you have one about psychology for your story, you can contact her through the Q&A form on her ArchetypeWriting site.