You spent a year or two or ten writing your book, sought feedback from trusted critiques mates and mentors, lost track of the true number of drafts, questioned every word and punctuation mark. You agonized over a synopsis and query letter, erasing again and again until you found the perfect balance of summary and voice. Then, you tackled the agent research. Who is open to submissions? Are they looking for your genre? Have they recently sold a book too similar to yours? Are they reputable? Do they suit you? Slowly, you compiled a list of agents, carefully noting their submission policies.
That was me a couple weeks ago, agent list in hand, manuscript and query ready to submit. I chose seven agents to start . One accepted only email queries, one, electronic submission, one asked for three chapters in an attached document and the other four called for query and five to ten sample pages pasted into the body of an email. In this technologically advanced age, it seems silly to waste paper, postage and time mailing bulky printed material. I was thrilled to be a green submitter.
Two days later, I would gladly have endured snail mail. Pony Express. Anything other than sending manuscript in the body of an email. I had no trouble pasting my query or downloading my data into the online submission form. But when I tried to paste my ten pages in the email, the formatting was stripped, removing spacing and indents. I won't detail the hours of online research, trying to track down a solution. Or the day I thought I had it figured out, sent emails to the top two agents on my list and later realized the formatting was stripped in transmission. That was a day I'd like to forget.
We found a couple online solutions to this problem but none of them worked. SCBWI, The Writer's Market (print version) and literary agencies offer guidelines for formatting print or attached submissions but nothing about email versions. I'm not tech savvy. But my husband works in the IT field and this had him stumped. Near as he could figure, the problem stems from either our internet provider (Verizon) or our email provider (Yahoo) or a combination of both. So the next day, I set up a Gmail account. Using Control c to copy and Control v to paste, I successfully transferred the original Word document, formatting intact. Then I sent my husband a test email and when that came through clean, I submitted my query to the last two agents.
Still, I felt I had blown my chance with the agents who received the jumbled mess and it made me sick. Even more troubling, how many innocent writers are sending properly formatted queries, not realizing they may change in transmission? Writers work way too hard at finishing a book to have their chance of publication ruined by a sloppy submission. I understand and respect why the industry calls for emails submissions. But this glitch needs attention. My husband tells me there are so many variables to this problem: internet providers, search engines, email providers, computer, computer programs used to create and save documents, etc. It makes my head hurt.
Writers need solid information to ensure they're sending a professional submission and we need that information available through trusted resources. After this experience, my best advice is to always send a trial version of your query to yourself and a trusted friend or family member before you send it to an agent or publisher. And if it's a mess, try another email provider.
I write middle grade and young adult books with a magical twist. I'm represented by the fabulous Leslie Zampetti of Dunham Lit.
Lorin Oberweger - Freelance Editor