What to Submit to Agents, Publishers and Producers

Last time I talked about how to know when you’re ready to stop editing. Today I want to talk about what to submit when you approach agents, publishers or producers.  

If you’re submitting a manuscript to publishers, it’s a little bit different to submitting a screenplay to producers. But there are some commonalities between the two.

General rules for submitting to agents, publishers and producers

No matter who you’re approaching, I recommend that you put together the following:

  1. Logline – this is a 1-sentence outline of your story (roughly speaking, 25 words or less)
  2. One page outline – summarising the plot of your story
  3. Covering letter – this should include your logline as well as some brief background information about you as a writer, highlighting any success you’ve had.
  4. And, of course, your work (or a portion of your work, as appropriate)

You’ll have obviously spent a long time crafting your piece of writing, but I highly recommend investing plenty of time and attention on all the other items on this list. How your logline, outline and letter come across affects whether or not the recipient chooses to read your work. So it’s really important.

Submitting to publishers and agents

Most of the big publishers will only accept work via an agent (unless you have a contact). However, smaller publishers will accept work directly. If you’re approaching a smaller publisher or an agent, always check the guidelines on their website first, as they usually explain (sometimes in great detail) exactly what they want and how they want it, and it can vary a surprising amount from company to company.

Some will specify exactly what they want in the covering letter, and how they want you to pitch your idea; they may also say how you should send the work, whether they want word or pdf documents, or even if it should be pasted into the body of the email. Some won’t want a full page synopsis, but a single paragraph. Others won’t accept work by post.

Get it right!

Putting together your manuscript submissions is a time consuming process, but it’s important to put in the work. Most agents and publishers are inundated with submissions. So if you send in the wrong thing, and you catch them on a bad day, they could well reject your application out of hand, simply because you haven’t paid attention to the instructions!

When it comes to submitting to agencies, some will want you to submit to a named agent, in other cases, you’ll just be submitting to the company in general. Whatever the case, I recommend that you read up about the agency and the individual agents, to get a good insight into their taste and what they are looking for. Some will be very specific, others will be quite vague. You also obviously need to check that they are open for submissions. It will almost always say this on their website. If they are open for submissions, you don’t need to write to them to ask if it’s OK to send them your work. Just go ahead and do it.  

If you are going to submit something to a named agent, double check the website right before sending your work, to make sure they haven’t suddenly closed their submission window, or updated the information about what they’re looking for, in terms of genres, formats and general taste.  It’s really annoying to suddenly find that they’re no longer looking for thrillers or picture books or whatever it is you’ve been working on. This happens more often than you might think.

Submitting a screenplay

If you have a film or TV project that you’re trying to ‘sell’, you can try the traditional method of approaching agents, though this is hugely competitive, so I wouldn’t recommend this approach if you’ve only written a script or two. However, if you have a few scripts under your belt, if you’ve won a prestigious competition or scheme, or have got a producer interested, agents will be more open to considering you. But still, not necessarily.

When an agent takes on a new client, they are making a big investment of time. And it’s generally a huge leap of faith. So think about how you are going to convince them that you are a good bet. If you’ve just written one script, it’s unlikely it will to be enough to persuade them to take you on, unless they are bowled over by your writing. However, they might not even read your work, unless you can persuade them that it’s worth it. Also, film and TV agents don’t always have an open submission policy like book agents. Often, they will want you to come via a producer.

On the other hand, agents are impressed by writers who have really worked on their craft, and completed at least 2 or 3 scripts. Perhaps you’ve had success with a competition or two, or you have simply been proactive about your career, taking steps to make contacts and try to get productions off the ground yourself. So, when approaching agents, think about anything and everything that will make you stand out.

Go direct!

You might be surprised to hear that many producers will be more than happy to read work, have a chat or even meet up, whether or not you have an agent. The exception is really big, established production companies. However, there are many independent production companies and freelance producers who are looking for writers to collaborate with. So be bold, and approach them directly!

Start by dropping them a casual, friendly note. Contrary to what I said about approaching pubishers and agents earlier on in the article, don’t send a lengthy covering letter. Just a brief email in the first instance, introducing yourself, to see if they might be open to reading a synopsis or script or even having a chat. 

Look for people working in the same medium and genre as you. They don’t need to be at the top of the ladder, however, ideally they’ll have some sort of track record, and you will like, trust and respect them. This is really important as you may be working with them for years, if they option your script.

Don’t go directly to broadcasters (unless they are running a scheme), as they generally commission work from producers, not writers.

How do you find people to approach?

If you’re looking for agents and publishers, the Writers and Artists Year Book is a great resource, Twitter is useful (start by following other writers), you could also sign up for Jericho Writers, or of course, just do some general old fashioned googling – but be specific, and search for agents and publishers working in your medium, genre and country.

To find producers and production companies, I find Linkedin is a brilliant tool. Twitter is useful too.

You can find out more about online networking for writers in this earlier article that I wrote.
And for more on how writers can make progress without an agent, take a look at this article.

I hope you found this useful, do let me know how you’re getting on if you’re in the process of submitting your work.


Before I go – I need your input! At my recent London Writers’ Meetup, one issue kept being raised, and that was – How do we avoid distractions, stop procrastinating and finally get ourselves to knuckle down and write? 

I thought it would be fun to do a deep dive into this topic and get you all involved! So, can you please drop me a quick line and let me know what works for you? Do you have any special strategies for getting yourself to write even if you’re not in the mood? I’ll put all the answers together and share them in a future post.

I can’t wait to hear from you!  

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