How To Send Things to Editors and Agents

The short answer: slowly.

I’ve been there. Believe me. You get a request. Or you decide that a certain publishing house is PERFECT for your book. OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMG… you have to send it there right now because it should’ve already been there three weeks ago with how anxious you’re feeling so you run out to the post office and you shout “Overnight it!” and then you whip out your debit card and and and…

Let me repeat: I’ve been there. This sort of excitement — a request from an agent, an editor you meet and adore at a conference — can inspire some reckless, I’m-in-love spending.

But what you should really be spending is the time to perfect your manuscript. Publishing is notoriously slow. Unless the agent or editor says, explicitly, “Get this to me ASAP” and for some reason you can’t e-mail it to them, don’t waste your money Overnighting, Expressing or Prioritizing anything.

Here at the publisher where I work, we sometimes get unsolicited submissions overnighted to us. How much did it cost to send those five pages? I don’t want to know. If you are sending in a regular submission to an agent or editor, this is what will happen to it: it will arrive, it will be sorted by the mailroom, it will sit in a bin, it will sit in a bin some more, an intern will glance at it, it might sit in a bin again, someone might recommend it to an editor, it will sit on the editor’s desk, the editor might glance at it, it will sit on the desk some more… It is a sloooow process.

I repeat: the only time you should make haste sending anything is a) when your project is absolutely ready for consumption and b) when the agent or editor explicitly requests that the thing is sent to them in an expedited fashion.

Otherwise, good old first class cheap-o mail is fine. It is encouraged, even. There are few things sadder than watching an Overnight package languish in slush for a month. Don’t be That Writer.

You’ve got a fire under your butt and you’re excited. Good. Express that fire by writing, revising or otherwise improving your craft. Don’t let it rocket-boost you to the post office. There are much better ways to channel all that energy.

8 Replies to “How To Send Things to Editors and Agents”

  1. Edith… Too true. I sit next to a paper slush pile a few times a week at the publishing house. It is an unholy nightmare. The agency where I work is, for all intents and purposes, paperless. The difference is amazing. I understand the appeal of reading a submission on paper, but slush? Take the slush digital and request paper manuscripts, if that’s what you prefer. I think all slush should be paperless, though I know it is a hot debate issue in certain (really small) circles.

  2. Thanks for the great info! Eventually, if I ever write anything in full, I’ll be looking into getting a children’s book published. I’m just settling into my career as a middle school librarian and then I’ll start sorting out some old ideas and hopefully some new ones!

  3. Ooh, I didn’t even know you could email the manuscript. For some reason, I thought that wasn’t allowed. Thanks for the post!

  4. Ah, it’s so true. Some days I have to tie bricks to my hands just to keep myself from sending off my MS prematurely. Then there are days that I think I will never send it off, if only to keep the dream of the little nibbles of interest alive and well. To reinforce your point, I’ve heard agents say over and over “If I ask you for your MS, do not send it to me next week or even next month. I want to know you did the work. There is no rush.” Now, what did I do with those bricks?

  5. Kristen — You’d be really well-positioned to write something because you read so much, and reading a lot is absolutely crucial to being able to write good books for kids! I’m so excited for you!

    Whitney — If this little post keeps you from sending out something too early, I have done my job. Seriously, seriously, publishing will be here next month, despite all the doom and gloom, it really will. Work on your manuscript until you are so sick of it, you can’t work on it one more time. Then put it aside for two weeks and work on it again. Patience pays off.

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