Getting help to get started
Before even thinking about sending off submissions of your work, consider investing in a good, professional edit. If you are not sure where to start, take a look in the Yearbook, which lists many professionals who will be happy to review your work, for a fee. Here is a useful article from Sarah Ream, Commissioning Editor at ‘The Pigeonhole’.
Research on-line, or, if you already belong in any kind of writers’ group, ask around to find editors in your geographical area and politely sound them out about their costs. What kinds of services are they offering? Might they help you strengthen your manuscript? An editor is paid to edit confidently but sympathetically – charging by volume, not by the hour – and honestly enough to give useful feedback with which you can strengthen your work. You are not paying them to tell you how marvelous your work is, but to offer an objective, helpful critique, with ideas about what to clear away, and what you can afford to keep, strengthen and develop.
Once we have taken on board what feels right and / or endured several, or several dozen nerve-racking re-writes, we may finally decide that our work is good enough for us to seek representation. But, before you think about submissions, I strongly recommend becoming involved with on-line writers, for the exposure and experiences this offers.
Are we are certain that our work is ready to meet the marketplace? Might it be worthwhile to seek out some kind of public endorsement from readers and other writers who can sympathize with our agonizing search for plot structure, finding the exact word and the late night drive for perfection? The advice and feedback we receive from colleagues who may become friends and who are all facing similar hurdles, helps to ensure that our work is submission-ready, slick and confident enough to excite the interest of the professionals. Just maybe, as a reward for all our hard work, an agent will notice what we have to offer and help to present our work to publishers in the best light.
I do believe in trying for an agent rather than going directly to publishers: most of the larger publishing houses don’t accept submissions from the general public, instead preferring to call on the services of agents, some of whom they employ rather like talent scouts. They trust the judgement of fellow professionals in the industry and are happier to consider their representations seriously than to look at an anything from the top of the “slush pile”, that stack of unsolicited submissions which clutters up the desk or fills the in-box. Besides, smaller publishers are not always easy to locate, nor is it straightforward to assess what each publishing house might be looking for next season. An agent is best placed to have that kind of insider knowledge. But first, we must be a hundred percent certain that we have done our best to polish our material, otherwise we will find it harder to present ourselves confidently to the market. For this, on-line participation is immensely useful and should never be overlooked as a source of inspiration, support, friendship and learning.