Three Words of Advice: Research, Research, Research

Publishing veteran Scott Pack offers advice for authors planning to submit to agents and publishers. Don’t submit anything before you read this!


One of the top complaints from agents and publishers about the submissions they receive is lack of research: authors not doing some simple groundwork before submitting. Here are some things you can do to avoid being that person.

Trade press. Spend time getting to know the industry you are attempting to enter. If you are successful then you are effectively taking on a new job, a new career, even if only part-time, so do the same sort of research you would when going for a big job interview. Read The Bookseller magazine, the main UK trade publication, and over time you will learn who the up-and-coming agents, editors and publishers are, who represents or publishes whom, what books have sold for big advances. Understanding the mood of the industry, what appears to be working and what isn’t working, will prove helpful in your quest to become a published author yourself.

Agent and publisher websites. If an agent or publisher would welcome your submission then it will say as much on their website. If they are not going out of their way to tell you this then they probably don’t want to hear from you. Their website will also hopefully tell you about the authors they represent or publish, who their key staff are, etc. They don’t take too long to navigate and you can learn a lot from them.

Acknowledgements pages. When looking for ideas as to where to send your manuscript, the Thank Yous at the beginning or end of published books can be a good start. Most authors will thank their editors (sometimes tricky people to pin down online) and agents. An hour spent browsing through your own bookshelves and jotting down names will be an hour well spent.

Who represents the authors you admire? This is an extension of the previous point but is still worth making. If you consider Author X to be an influence on your work, why not try submitting to their agent? If the agent likes their work they might like yours too.

Hang out on Twitter. Lots of agents, publishing houses and editors are online these days and Twitter is a great way to, quite legitimately, hang out with them and find out what they have to say. Sure, they’ll spend lots of time plugging their books and cooing over cute photos of cats, but they will also offer insight into their work. Feel free to interact with them but don’t become a stalker. No one likes stalkers. Not even other stalkers. At my classes, when I ask for a show of hands from people who use Twitter, usually only about half of the attendees put their hands up. Now, there are lots of great reasons not to be on Twitter, and I would love to use it less myself, but it is undoubtedly a place where the people who might end up publishing your book are hanging out on a daily basis so if you are not there amongst them then you are probably at a disadvantage.

Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. This classic resource is well worth purchasing as it contains contact details for pretty much every agent and publishing imprint that matters as well as heaps of extra content and essays on all manner of issues relating to the book world. It is also a tax deductible expense, so that’s nice.

Workshops and festivals. Hardly a week goes by without some literary festival in Upper Throtting, or somewhere similar. Not only that, lots of them have workshops, opportunities to hear agents and publishing folk talk about the industry and other useful content over and above the usual authors droning on about their books. Better still, come to the Winchester Writers’ Festival where you can get hear from a range of agents, editors and publishing professionals and even book 1-2-1 meetings with some of them.

It is best to spend at least a few weeks doing this research, and I advise you to make a note of potential agents and publishers as you do so. You can then hone this down to a shortlist of perhaps 5 or 6, and they can form the first wave of your submissions.

For more useful advice on the submissions process, and many other aspects of publishing, you can sign up to Scott’s Friday course at the Winchester Writers’ Festival, A Writer’s Guide to the Publishing World (Booking Code FC02). Or if you can’t wait till then, you can always download his ebook, How to Perfect Your Submission.