As writers, the most important thing we can do is read, right? But if you’re like me, you can’t remember what flavor rice cake you ate yester morn, much less the details of the 200 books you were supposed to read last year. Couple that with the oft-heard advice to “do your researchâ€ and “target your submissions,â€ and new writers everywhere can be heard mumbling, “What the denouement does targeting your submissions mean?â€
Say you’ve begun your search for an editor who would fall all over the slush pile to publish your manuscript. Does targeting your submission mean flipping open a market guide and picking the first names that want young adult fantasy? Maybe you’re scouring the planet for an agent to stand behind you when the winds of rejection threaten to blow the knuckle hairs off your writing hand. Does targeting your submission mean clicking on agentquery.com for anyone who wants middle grade historical fiction?
For me, targeting submissions means keeping a detailed reading log so you can get a sense of who likes what. Use a fancy-pants excel document if you wish, or use a Big Chief tablet. The point is to make it more than a list of titles and genre. Include the publisher, author, year of publication, intended age group, POV, and a quick description of the plot. That one-sentence library of congress summary on the copyright page is da-bomb for your plagiarizing pleasure!
Then dig deeper. Check the acknowledgements page to see if an agent or editor is credited for their stunning acumen. Record it on your reading log. Can’t find it? Google it, check the author’s website, join on-line communities and ask, or get your mother-in-law to call the publisher to inquire who the brilliant editor was behind Title Wunderbar. (Attempt this last one at your own risk!)
Now finesse your reading log. Analyze the book and note why you connected with the main character, or, um, why you used the book as kindling for Uncle Irwin’s bonfire. Note how that vast Alaska landscape almost became a character all its own, or how the protagonist’s external problems are beyond her control but she still manages to change her world through tiny acts of rebellion. In other words, get to know what agents and editors like by looking beyond genre. Look for emotional clues that tell you what triggers agents’ and editors’ heartstrings, something to which you can connect your own work. See how what you’ve written compares to other published titles.
And once you’ve done this research, it’s time to target your submission, not by saying “I read on agent query you’re accepting middle grade fiction,â€ but rather “My protagonist, like the character in This Other Awesome Book You Represent, finds solace outside her family as she struggles to connect with a disengaged parent. I wonder if you might be interested in my 180,000 word novel?â€ (Note to self: write article on word count).
Laura Manivong is the author of ESCAPING THE TIGER (HarperCollins 2010).
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