Monday, 15 September 2008

Preparing To Submit

Once you’ve found a publisher or agent that interests you, you must work out whether or not they are legitimate before you submit to them.

Before I’d even consider submitting to a particular publisher I’d want to make sure that I could find a good selection of their books on the shelves of several bookshops, in as many different geographical locations as possible, as that would suggest they had a decent distribution system in place. If their books were only available online then I'd not even consider them, as they are not going to clock up many sales—most books are still bought in real, physical bookshops.

If I were looking for an agent I’d want evidence that they'd made good sales to solid commercial publishers, on behalf of several writers, and that they had sales successes in my genre: I wouldn’t even consider an agent who was just starting out unless he or she had relevant publishing experience, perhaps in rights sales or in a responsible editorial position.

Just do your homework before you submit, not after. Otherwise you could waste your precious time and money sending submissions to inappropriate places—or worse, end up getting tangled up with a vanity publisher or an incompetent or fraudulent agent.


Nicola Slade said...

Interesting post as always, Jane but I'd disagree slightly on the topic of 'books in shops'. My second novel is published by Robert Hale Ltd, a very old-established and reputable London publisher who specialise in selling to libraries. The books CAN be obtained through book shops but tend not to be on the shelves, though they can also be bought from any online bookseller.

The same applies, pretty much, to Severn House, another very reputable publisher that specialises in library sales.

These two publishers, however, are very different from the ones you are warning against and I thoroughly endorse your insistence on checking and double-checking before submitting.

Keith Sheppard said...

I can understand the theory but in practice how does your average "wannabe" vet an agent?

Publishers, OK, you can wander into a bookshop and get some idea of how many of their titles are available. It's not so obvious which agents are behind what.

As someone with no prior reputation, if my initial approach to an agent started with the challenge "prove to me you are worthy before I deign to send you my masterpiece" I would anticipate a response on the lines of "go away, I'm too busy reading the other fifty submissions today from people who aren't so fussy".

Jane Smith said...

Keith, if you check the acknowledgements page in books which are similar to yours, you'll often find that the writer has thanked their agent.

You can check that the agent has a good client-base (most publish their client-list online now); you can ask at Absolute Write, in the "bewares and background checks" section of the forum (there's a link to it on my front page). What you're looking for is that agents represent writers that you've heard of, and have made sales to solid, commercial presses. Any that appear to have made sales to vanity presses are to be avoided, as are any that represent writers who haven't published anything, or have self-published.