Monday, 17 May 2010


This links tenuously to the previous post on research, relating to submitting work, whether to a publisher or agent, a publication or competition entry.

In reading both general submissions and those for a literary prize, it’s struck me more and more that a great many writers don’t take the time to familiarise themselves with the journal or competition in question. At the very least you need to read a story or two from previous issues, just to get a sense of the fiction they publish. Your story may be wonderfully written, but if the aesthetic is clearly disparate, it will almost certainly be overlooked. It may be that you don’t write the type of story for a particular publication. This is less so for competitions – a great story is a great story – but you need to look at what’s doing well in competitions at present. This might mean purchasing an anthology or two, but you’ll be writing blind if you don’t. Some of the more prestigious competitions charge a hefty entry fee, so it’s worth giving yourself the best chance possible.

This, of course, counts doubly when submitting sample chapters of your novel with a view to your book being solicited. Most rejections are standardised, so you won’t even know your work was rejected because it was unsuitable, or that there’s no market for it. What sort of writers does the agent you’re approaching represent? If your work is for another market altogether, don’t waste your (an their) time. Find a novel that’s similar to yours and see who represents the author.

Success in this game is hard enough to come by without diminishing your chances with poor targeting.


Charmaine Clancy said...

good advice.

Paul Lamb said...

This all makes good sense, and I've certainly tried to follow this approach with my submissions, but it's not always so clear cut. I've been prowling AgentQuery, reading the listings for likely agents, seeing what they're interested in, going to their websites (if available), reviewing their list of clients, and all of the good things one should do, but even with all of that it is hard to know if I've found a match or am shooting in the dark (sorry, mixed metaphor).

If an agent represents only "literary fiction," am I looking at someone who is too tightly focused to know many markets? If I consider an agent who represents for a half dozen genres, does she really know any one of them well? Or does she have lots of opportunities for me?

And except for the broadest strokes, how easy is it for me to judge my own writing compared to someone a target agent represents? I may imagine I write like Philip Roth but really write like Stephen King. If I target my submissions based on my own illusions I may be missing the mark altogether.

While I try to make a sensible focus (I'm not submitting to agents for romance novels or gritty police procedurals), I fear that I cannot know agents likes/dislikes well enough to judge much but the most broad distinctions. So for me, the "blanket the market" approach is what I'm following.

TOM J VOWLER said...

Thanks Charmaine.

Sounds like you're doing the right things, Paul. Some writers submit to agents wwithout any thought. Althouggh I linked to novel submissions, my main concern was writers who enter comps or submit to journals that are wholly unsuitable, wasting large amounts of time, energy and money. I must have read 40 to 50 stories in the last fortnight, the authors of which clearly have never looked at the journal.