Which path to publishing?
There are four paths to publishing so you first have to choose which one is be the best for you.
- Self-publication: obviously Amaz*n reigns supreme when it comes to self-publication. If you choose self-publication, you can find reliable--albeit sometimes expensive--editors on the directory of editorial services by the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading: www.ciep.uk/directory/
- Vanity press / Hybrid publishing: I'd advise on carefully considering before choosing this path. In any case, please check Writers Beware before signing any contract.
There are two ways to access traditional publishing:
- Unagented submissions to small / Independent press: many small and independent publishers open their submissions to unagented authors. It can be from time to time, in which case it's best to subscribe to their newsletter or Twitter account. It can be all year round. Again, before signing any contract, please check the Writers Beware blog to make sure you're not signing with a bad actor.
- Agented traditional publishing: it includes small and independent publishers, and the Big Five.
Where do I find an agent?
I'd advise on cross-referencing the methods listed below.
- MSWL: it's an excellent entry point although their search engine is not really intuitive. The information listed on MSWL can also be outdated, so you'll have to check it.
- #MSWL: there's also a hashtag on Twitter. You have to sieve through tweets promoting their own work (please, don't do that) and set the language setting to English, but then you'll find agents talking about their most up-to-date manuscript wish list.
- Querytracker: Querytracker is a life saviour for querying writers. Although it doesn't list every agent, it has a search engine by genre which is really helpful. This feature is free to use.
- A good old Google (or any search engine) search: you'll find listings ("Twenty agents looking for fantasy right now", etc.) that can be outdated but they can point you to literary agencies you hadn't heard about yet, literary agencies websites, etc.
It's really important to cross-reference your search. Sometimes, an agency website will tell you that Agent A is looking for Such Genre, but when you check Agent A's website, you can see that they're not anymore, or that Such Genre isn't listed on their Query Manager form. Checking agents' websites is always a good idea before hitting send--if they have one.
An agent's Twitter is also a good way to make sure you'll enjoy working with that person.
How do I write a query letter?
The most helpful resource I think is QueryShark. There hasn't been any new entry since 2021, but you'll find hundreds of query letters which are then critiqued by a renowned agent. You'll learn by example.
You can also ask for a critique on the sub-Reddit PubTips. People there will also answer publishing related questions.
Some agents ask for a particular type of query letter. Check the agent's Twitter and their website to see if that's the case and follow the guidelines. And don't forget to always follow the agency guidelines!
I'm not getting any reply, is it normal?
It has become the new normal apparently. You can use QueryTracker to check how long it takes a particular agent to reply to queries. If you're using the free version, the comments by other users will help you keeping track, but the paying version also has a timeline feature.
A treasure trove
Janet Friedman's blog is a treasure trove for writers, covering self-publishing and traditional publishing areas, giving query tips, writing tips, synopsis tips. Yes, there is *a lot* of information there. Querying requires research. So put that kettle on, settle down and read it.
Some useful Twitter hashtags
- #MSWL: agents sharing their manuscript wish lists.
- #amquerying: writers sharing their stats, their experience, or sometimes just looking for support.
- #askagent: agents sometimes hold Q&A with this #
Please, please, don't pollute those hashtags by promoting your book! I've yet to hear about any writer who got an agent by doing so. You might instead end up being blocked by other querying writers who are trying to follow the #.
My agent John Jarrold also holds a monthly Q&A on Twitter. He advertises them on his account: @johnjarrold.
Should I pay for a critique / an editor / an online chat with an agent?
It's your choice, depending on your finances, of course. Although you'll also find critique groups where you can find it for free if you're willing to do the same in exchange. One of the longest running critique groups online is Critique Circle.
Lorraine Wilson is also running a mentorship scheme for marginalised writers called Rewriting the Margins. I highly recommend it.
How can I survive the querying process?
I said I don't have any wisdom to share although I'll say something: at some point, you need to pull the plug for your own mental health. Please recognise the signs, shelve the manuscript, grieve, rest, and find another story to tell.
Good luck and I hope that I'll be reading your books soon!