Skip to content

Submission Horror Stories: 29 Ways NOT To Submit To An Agent

Submission Horror Stories

‘How NOT to submit to agents’ is one of the top searches leading to this blog! It should be noted there’s no ‘right’ way to submit writing, but there *are* multiple wrong ways, so check this post out.

There are some real submission horror stories here … Many thanks to Carole Blake from the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency for providing a VERY comprehensive list on how NOT to submit to an agent. This is a fab list and  I have actually had a number 27 myself!! Maybe it was the same lady??? Eeek.

This post is in memory of the brilliant Carole Blake, 1946-2016

Carole was one of the founders of Blake Friedmann Literary Agency and one of my She-roes! Famous for her acerbic wit and the fact she suffered no fools, she was a B2W idol.

Carole’s book, From Pitch To Publication: Everything You Need To Know To Get Your Novel Published, was published in August 1999 by Macmillan.  They reprinted three weeks after publication, and twice again in the first year of publication. A UK book club also made it their main choice and bought 30,000 copies.

From Pitch to Publication is now in its 19th UK printing and is used by publishing companies and literary agencies to train new staff and is prescribed reading on many post-graduate publishing studies and creative writing courses. Read all about her, HERE.

How NOT To Submit To A Literary Agent

1) No gimmicks

Don’t send food, flowers – or anything else. Food goes straight into the bin … just in case. I’ve read lots of crime fiction.

I once received a large parcel that weighed almost nothing. Inside was a rubbish bin and a letter saying the writer assumed the submission would end up there so was sending me one to speed up the process. The partial for a crime novel that was attached looked rather good. I left the bin, letter & ms on my desk. Next morning our office cleaner had removed the contents and put the rubbish bin neatly next to my desk. There was no way to contact the author despite a story on our website and some tweets … That was the end of that.

2) Your own cover design

They almost always look very amateur. A publisher will produce a professional design that takes account of the current market. Even thinking that they might take your design marks you out as amateur.

3) Any kind of jokey letter making fun of the publishing business

I bet this won’t get read etc. In the cold morning light of a busy office – not funny. See no 1.

4) Don’t trash other authors

They might be my clients!

5) Don’t send a first draft

Let it sit for some weeks after finishing. Then read & revise. Better to do that before you get a rejection.

6) Don’t keep sending further corrected versions

Revise first & let it sit before you submit your manuscript.

7) Don’t send again

Once your manuscript is rejected, that’s it …  unless I invited you to, of course!

8) Don’t send in overly elaborate packaging

I am thinking of a full manuscript, in a lever arch file (duh!) wrapped first in plastic film. Then in 2 layers of corrugated cardboard, then brown paper sellotaped around the ENTIRE package. Then in more brown paper. By the time my office had fought our way in to it I hated it already. See no 24.

9) Don’t mark it “private & confidential”

It’s not: it’s a business transaction. I don’t want to come back from a trip abroad to find an unopened unsolicited manuscript on my desk.

10) Don’t make spelling mistakes in the covering email or letter

Or the ms. And don’t rely on spellchecker: read it all the way through several times. See 5 and 6 above.

11) Don’t write the covering letter or email in the voice of one of your characters

I recently received a letter written in the voice of a gorilla. It’s annoying.

12) Don’t send 3 mss with one submission, all in different genres

It shows you’re not thinking about the market and how it works.

13) Don’t have a silly email address

I recently had a submission from someone whose email address was ‘blahblah’. And don’t share an email address with your spouse. This is business correspondence: you need to look professional. Your own email address costs nothing.

14) Don’t Say you’re sending your ‘fiction novel’

If you don’t know how to use language, you shouldn’t be writing a book.

15) Don’t send me abuse after I’ve rejected your ms

Publishing is a small world. And bad manners won’t make me want to work with you. See attached, from an author complaining that we won’t take his work which is in a genre our website makes it clear we don’t work with.

16) Don’t lie!

Don’t say you’ve read my book from cover to cover and then proceed to offer me a manuscript in a genre I’ve clearly stated I don’t work with.

17) Don’t send your ms in a fancy font

Don’t make it difficult to read. Keep it simple.

18) Don’t email with a peculiar colour background

Keep it simple!!

19) Don’t forget to use ‘BCC’

Don’t openly email 50 agents at once (I’ve had them!), with all the email addresses shown. At least try to pretend you’ve selected me because you think we would make a perfect team.

20) Don’t lie # 2

Don’t tell me you’ve been recommended by a friend of mine and then mention someone I’ve never heard of.

21) Don’t compare your own writing to literary greats

This will only provoke me to disagree. Modesty is more attractive, and allows me to form my own opinion.

22) Don’t plead for individual feedback once I’ve rejected your ms

I receive 1000s of submissions a year: there just isn’t time. And I do have to spend some time working for the authors I do actually represent.

23) Don’t tell me your family and friends love your ms

They love you: they are biased.

24) Don’t send me a paper ms

Not any more. See no 25.

25) Don’t ignore the submissions guidelines

This perhaps ought to be No 1: do NOT submit to me until you have checked out our agency website and read the submission guidelines. Do NOT. Just do NOT. It’s in your own interest.

26) Do NOT pitch your novel to me at breakfast during a writers festival

If I have to explain why, you may not have read the previous 25 points properly.

27) Do NOT slip your synopsis under the door of the ladies loo I am occupying

It happened. Once. I suspect that woman will never do it again.

28. Don’t repeat yourself!

If we are chatting at a cocktail party and you have pitched me your novel, I may say, ‘I can’t take in verbal pitches, I need to read storylines, but please do send it to me.’ Do not – under any circumstances – tell me the story all over again. And then do the same thing at the next 3 parties we both attend. This happened to me. I will never knowingly occupy the same room as that novelist ever again.

29) Do NOT submit to me on Facebook or Twitter

Chat, yes. Become friends perhaps: but social media is social. It’s not for stalking or submitting. I block people for doing that.

Why 29 tips on how NOT to submit?

Because if I don’t stop there I might go on forever, instancing all the time-wasting submissions I’ve seen over the years. But – you know what? I still get a tingle when I open new submissions … there is sometimes gold in those emailed submissions mountains!

Thanks Carole!

Here’s one of those offending cover letters Carole mentions … YIKES!!!


Share this: