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Friday, November 12, 2010

Targeted Submissions? by Terry Burns


Many years ago I was the host at the Panhandle Professional Writers conference for NY agent Donald Maass. Nice guy. That meant I was with him for the whole conference. I also had an appointment with him late in the conference. By the time of the appointment I knew I wasn't a good fit for him as a client. I also knew that pitching an agent or an editor without doing the research and knowing that they are at the very least a solid possibility is not only a waste of time, but it is burning a bridge that later with the right pitch might have been a good possibility. I also learned not to try and go after the houses that required an agented submission even if I got a chance to do so, because the odds again were so high of burning a bridge that might later be useful. I stayed with small and mid-list houses that were set up to work with authors.

Getting to spend that time with him reshaped my approach to submissions. I quit just going through the market guide submitting to anybody who remotely listed the genre, but started doing the legwork to try and prove the market was there. Then I found out the reasons I came up with that told me the market was there controlled the way the pitch was structured, were the things the editor or agent needed to hear. I started getting published, and helped some of my friends get published. I owe Donald big time even though he never offered to represent me.

Then I was recruited to be an agent myself. I work with a base of editorial contacts and when I look at submissions I try to find things I know they are looking for. Targeting. Most agents come from a publishing background, being editors or marketing, or some function in the industry. The fact that I came from the writing side gave me some ground to make up in some areas, but gave me some strong insight in other areas. I still think a lot like a writer and don't like to tie a project up if I can't see a good place to go with it.

If I like projects I keep a substantial database on them even if I didn't have a place for them, and if I run across a market will sometimes get back to them to see if a project is still available. If it is we take a fresh look at it. If not I congratulate them, getting published is after all what we're trying to accomplish.

Targeting is the whole ballgame. For me, just submitting to a house I think is appropriate isn't enough. I have to know what editor I'm submitting to and why I think they are the right person to pitch. I not only want an editor that will be favorable to a project, but I want one that will love it and go fight for it in committee. I want an editor that wants it out there as much as my client and I do. My clients help me find those connections that can give a submission that little something extra, a team effort. They meet editors out and about too.

It's a very personal process.

2 comments:

B. J. Robinson said...

I once had an editor who loved and wanted my manuscript out there and who fought for it with the editorial board, but it was still rejected in the end. That experience is what has kept me writing though, knowing that an editor liked my work. Another wrote a nice rejection letter, not a form letter, and said it wasn't right for them at the time, but it was a worthwhile publishing project. So, I keep writing, and I keep hoping that one day I'll get a break. Thanks for sharing your experience. Blessings,Barb

Raquel Byrnes said...

Its nice to know that so much thought and effort goes on behind the scenes in a literary agency. It makes putting our 'babies' in their hands not only easier, but a smart idea.