How to Submit to Book Publishers?
January 26, 2016 9:28 AM   Subscribe

One of my closet relatives has self-published a book and now has revisited with hopes of submission to book agents. Aside from being a really interesting and good story, he is flummoxed by the plethora of requirements agents require (synopsis page, sample page, query letters, no attachements etc). He has used OpenOffice to create and is looking for software to help make agent submissions? Any ideas? More Inside the fold!

Here is the exact request for help and any and all advice to help get this masterpiece out into the literary world is greatly appreciated!

"....Now I need to find an agent to push it. This is not easy; they get inundated and are very selective.

My problem is that most agents want formatted documents (query letters, synopsis page, sample chapter) pasted into the body of the email. NO ATTACHMENT. Sample pages should have a header with book title, page number and author's name. There is no way I can preserve headers from my original to the pasted email body. I'm using Open Office rather than Word, but don't believe that is my problem

If you have come across the problem and know a solution, I'd be grateful that you let me know how to do it. If I have to, I could put the header info into the document itself, but that would be VERY time consuming"
posted by Funmonkey1 to Writing & Language (9 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Janet Reid's site has a ton of useful information on submitting.
posted by vickyverky at 9:38 AM on January 26, 2016 [3 favorites]

When I was querying agents, there were some agents who wanted attachments for the sample pages, and some who wanted sample pages in the body of the email. If you are pasting into the body of the email -- don't worry about the headers. The reason standard manuscript format uses headers with page numbers is so, if the pages are thrown into disarray somehow, they can be reassembled into the correct order -- but if the agent prints out those sample pages for themselves, the formatting may be entirely different, and the page numbers probably won't correctly end up at the top of every page.

(If there is an agent whose submissions guidelines specifically say you need to paste sample pages into the body of an email and include page headers, send me a MeMail with the link? I'm not sure if this is a case of your relative mixing things up between the agents who want attachments and the ones who don't, or if it's one agent who has weird confusing guidelines, or what).
posted by Jeanne at 9:54 AM on January 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

don't worry about headers in the sample pages pasted into the email! that's important when an agent requests a partial or a full of your manuscript, and in that case you'll be attaching the file like normal.
posted by changeling at 9:55 AM on January 26, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'm a book editor, though not an acquiring editor. But agreeing with what everyone is saying: nobody expects text inside an email to be fully formatted, with headers, page numbers, etc. If you get to the stage where an agent/editor is requesting a partial or full manuscript, that's when they'll accept an attachment from you.
posted by BlahLaLa at 10:26 AM on January 26, 2016 [2 favorites]

Please let your closest relative know that book AGENTS are different from book PUBLICISTS. Agents sell books; they are not interested in promoting books outside the bounds of the books they originally sold to publishers, and at a low level, if anything at all. Publicists push books. With very, very rare exception (hundreds of thousands of self-pub sales at a decent price point), agents are NOT interested in representing books that have already been published (and yes, self-publishing is considered published). Relative should write a brand new book to query. To answer your specific question: agents aren't terribly worried about wonky formatting in queries. They see it all the time. So long as the text isn't teeny tiny, it'll be fine. The best thing to do is write a query letter of approximately 200-500 words and paste 10-20 sample pages below the signature. But different agents have slightly different sub policies, and abiding by each individual one is just part of the professional process.
posted by weeyin at 11:03 AM on January 26, 2016 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you so much everyone for your replies! I just got additional feedback from said relative and he states:

"I have a query letter. No formatting required here (except that I must add agent's name,firm etc Plus tweak the query according to his specialty (suspense, commercial fiction etc).

I also have a one page synopsis, that remains unchanged.

The problem is with sample pages/chapters. Many agent want a header showing title, page number and author. So far it has been plain impossible to paste the header info into an OpenOffice document. Any help would be appreciated."

Also have to add the feedback so far from forming query letters and info about how the process works has been most helpful! Thank you Metafilter!
posted by Funmonkey1 at 12:19 PM on January 26, 2016

Reading your relative's email, I think he may still be confused about what the agent is asking for.

As Jeanne and others said, some agents want the sample chapters pasted into the body of the email. If so, they want it pasted as simple, unformatted text. (Or, at least, text that is formatted in an unobtrusive way that won't distract from the actual content.) The idea is that they can take a quick look at the sample pages just by scrolling down in the query email, without having to even open a document. In that case, he should certainly include the title, author, and perhaps word count ONCE before the sample pages begin, but it doesn't need to repeat on every page.

Maybe what's confusing your relative is the phrase "sample pages" which might sound like the agent wants a paginated manuscript. But that's not what "pages" means in this context. If an agent says "Paste the first 10 pages of your manuscript into an email," they just mean, "Take the manuscript text that would make up 10 pages if it was a separate formatted document, and paste that text into the email, but don't worry about the formatting (other than making sure it's not distracting)."

Or all we all misunderstanding your relative, and he just wants to know how to put a header into an OpenOffice document? If so, googling turns up a number of tutorials -- here's one.

Also, I would respectfully disagree with part of weeyin's post. My understanding is that self-publishing is not the dealbreaker it used to be for agents. However, this varies from agent to agent, so it will be important for your relative to do his homework and make sure the agent doesn't rule out self-published works. It would also be wise for your relative to be upfront in his query letter about the book's history. (I think maybe Weeyin is getting thrown by the use of the word "push". I read that as "push the book to publishers," which is indeed an agent's job. If your relative means "push the book to readers," then, absolutely, that's something for a publicist rather than an agent.)

Finally, if you'll forgive a bit of off-topic advice... I'm getting the vibe that your relative is just starting out on this process and doesn't know much about how it works. Unfortunately, there are scam agents who will exploit inexperienced writers. So, two important tips:

1. NEVER pay an agent upfront. Agents make their money by selling your book to publishers and taking a percentage of the sale. An agent who charges an upfront fee is basically admitted, "I'm never going to make money by selling your book, so I have to squeeze something out of you." This also applies to agents who tell you your book is almost ready to sell, but first you need to pay a few hundred dollars to this editor they know, who will help whip it into shape. If that happens, the "Editor" is either a confederate who will split the money with them, or the agent himself using an alternate email account.

2. Before you sign with any agent, it's a good idea to google them and make sure they seem legit. In particular, The Absolute Write forum is often a good source of info on an agent's practices. If you wanted to find out about me, for example, you might type "yankeefog absolute write" into a search engine, and it would likely turn up a forum thread where people could come to praise me or warn against me.
posted by yankeefog at 2:13 AM on January 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

With all due respect to you, yankeefog, that article is from 2010, at time at which, yes, agents were more open to self-pubbed authors. Self-pub success was new, and there was a lot of hope in the publishing world that they could make 50 Shades of Grey stories out of all the self-pubbed books. Six years later, and the publishing world has learned its lesson, after picking up those indie authors for big money, only for them not to come close to making what the pubs thought they'd be "worth." So now, it's true agents are very wary about taking on self-pubbed authors -- on the book they've already self-pubbed. That's why I said write a new book. (Related, most indie/self-pub authors who are as successful as they'd need to be to secure an agent would rather stay indie because they make more money that way.) As far as the "push" goes, I can't tell you how often queries came my way that wanted me to "push" their self-pubbed books in the same way a publicist would. It's a very common thing, and the language and lack of knowledge from the OP's relative leaves me believing he's looking for just what I said. Degree of expertise: Former agent (as of about six months ago).
posted by weeyin at 12:59 PM on January 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Weeyin, thanks for your thoughtful and polite response. You've convinced me!

Funmonkey1, I stand by my other advice, but get out a sharpie and cross out any part of my response where I disagreed with Weeyin.
posted by yankeefog at 2:59 AM on January 31, 2016

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