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Be Your Own Literary Agent and Get Published

So you're one of 20 million Americans who want to write a book. If you've already written a manuscript, chances are you're looking for agent representation. In the past few years, as an editor and literary consultant for, I've had the opportunity to read more than 1,000 book proposals. Most, I'm sad to report, were inadequate because the author did not follow a few, very simple guidelines.

Before you complete your manuscript and send it on its way to prospective literary agents or publishers, take the time to make sure you have a professional query letter and (short) synopsis, and that you have edited your manuscript. If you can not do these chores, then find someone who can.

Also, make sure you're able to distinguish your manuscript from other books on the same subject, that you can identify the audience for which you are writing, and determine the marketability of your finished book. These are the most important questions agents and publishers will ask, and it will impress them that you've done your homework.

You should already have researched the market to determine how many books on the same subject are currently available. A handy tool is to use the Internet and search the large booksellers online. These services not only provide a list of books on the same topic, but often a synopsis and the book's audience as well. Your book needs to stand out, not duplicate what's already available.

Agents and publishers also want to know your ideas for publicity and promotion of your book, including how you intend to reach your target market, and any helpful contacts you may have.

Another common mistake is to assume agents and publishers will respond at their own expense. You need to include a self-addressed, stamped envelope so companies can acknowledge receipt of your proposal. If you would like to have your material returned, be sure to send an envelope that is large enough and has enough postage for them to mail your proposal back to you. Proposals that do not include an envelope and postage generally will not be acknowledged or returned.

Some companies will accept e-mail submissions. Because of the threat of viruses, they usually won't open e-mails with documents attached. Many will read e-mail queries that include a short resume, a synopsis and sample chapters that have been copied and pasted into the body of the e-mail.

As mentioned, for security reasons companies do not like to open attachments without prior contact with the writer, and prefer you follow regular submission procedure. If prior contact has been made by e-mail, response and acknowledgments often will be made by e-mail.

If you are submitting book proposals by e-mail, it is wise to advise the companies in your cover letter the type of word processing program and version of that program that you used. Text is best transmitted through e-mail by converting it to Plain Text Format, ASCII (with no hard returns).

Take the opportunity to edit the work, correct misspellings, improper word usage, etc., before submitting it. It's not a good idea to send complete manuscripts by e-mail unless they are requested.

Let's break it down:

How Your Book Differs from Others
* What is your book is about?
* What is the reason that prompted you to write your book?
* Why is your book needed by others?
* What are its unique features?

Identify Your Audience
* Describe the audience you are targeting with your book.
* What is your level of expertise (no experience, beginner, intermediate, advanced)?
* What are some specific applications or uses for your book (e.g., sports, education)?
* Who would be the most likely candidates for purchasing your book?
* Why should they buy it and share it with their friends?

Beat Your Competition to Market
* List three to four books that compete with the project you are proposing.
* How do they compare to your book in length, spectrum, format, and visual appeal?
* Are there any that seem remotely comparable?
* What are the differences among your approaches?

* Gather a local, regional, state and national media contact list.
* Consider contracting a company to make a website for your book.
* Do you have access to any authors who may provide a "blurb" for your book?

Don't Forget the Postage
* Include a SASE with all queries.
* If you want your manuscript back, include enough postage for its safe return.

Electronic Submissions
* Check if the company accepts electronic (e-mail) queries and proposals.
* Make sure you're not spamming hundreds of agents/publishers at a time.
* Only include a short query, a bio, a synopsis, and the first three chapters in your e-mail.
* Don't send attachments.
* If you are asked to submit an attachment, let them know the software program.
* Consider sending the file as Text only.

Robin Van Auken is the owner of and is an author with four published books, two eBooks, and several books in the planning stages. She acts as her own literary agent and works directly with all of her publishers.

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