You know how it’s hard enough to find time to write, not to mention time to research your best-fit agents, journals, or magazines? Author submission services make a living by performing some of the research and administrative work for you. There are several resources about author submission services, including some helpful warnings about particularly scammy situations. This post is not about those topics. Instead this is Part 1 of 2 about submission services from an individual writer’s POV. I’m working with Writer’s Relief, est. 1994, but this is not meant to be an endorsement.
If you want the quick take-away, it’s this: I haven’t convinced myself that this is the magical path to publishing because, well, it’s not. But I am feeling renewed motivation knowing that some other professionals are involved in helping me navigate the crowded and constantly changing publishing world. I’m also using the experience to further develop how I market and communicate about my work. Now for lessons I’m gathering about Writer’s Relief, Q&A style:
1. How did you learn about Writer’s Relief and decide to submit? Several months ago, I heard that a co-worker’s wife used Writer’s Relief services for her poetry, and is pleased with the results.
- TIP: If you’re considering author services, look for a testimonials page on the website. Writer’s Relief posts a range of feedback—from dripping enthusiasm to a pretty bland “I got an agent, so I guess you could say they helped me.” This honest representation of what different clients thought helped convince me of their sincerity. I also liked Writer’s Relief because they have a review process: they don’t accept all writing that authors submit, only work they think they has a reasonable chance of moving to the publication phase.
2. How did you become a client? When I visited their website in July or August 2013, I learned that Writer’s Relief was reviewing essays, poetry, and novel/memoir. My memoir wasn’t done, so I decided to submit three chapters adapted from my memoir into essay form. I don’t recommend this approach, because after 2 weeks, I received this reply:
Thank you for sending your work for our review process. Unfortunately, we are not able to invite you to join our Full Service client list. Because we do not charge a fee for Review Board consideration of your work, we cannot offer you specific critique. That said, we do invite you to send different or revised material in two months.
I then wrote to inquire about what this meant–was 2 months all I needed to become a polished author? (No.) I learned that they review material in 2-month cycles, officially. Which means any writer at any level can submit as often as every two months. But then:
3. What did you learn that’s not on the website? In early November, I noticed their official “deadline” to have work reviewed had passed on Oct 16. But when I emailed, I learned from Daniele:
Or next open call is in December. But if you’re ready now, we are still accepting new clients on a very limited basis. We’re not advertising this anymore, but we are allowing people to submit when they stumble upon our site. So, if you’d like to send your work along, I’ll be glad to have your submission read for you within the next week!
This perception of exceptionality—I assume calculated to make me feel special—nonetheless motivated me to prep my work for submission, this time in its proper genre of memoir. I submitted these elements:
– First 15 pages of book (required)
– Proposal (required but left open), which I interpreted as a 170-word author bio, 4-page synopsis, outline of chapters, and 3 pages about the market titled “Who will read this book and why”
– Mini ~150-word book synopsis (required)
– Short answers to several questions, including “What do you hope to achieve by working with Writer’s Relief?” (required)
– Sample query letter (optional)
Going through this submission process was valuable by itself. If I want to be a published author, I should be able to easily come up with all this.
4. How long did it take to have your work reviewed? I was impressed at the turnaround both times I submitted. The first round, the unsuccessful essays, took less than two weeks: from submission on Aug 13 to the form letter reply on Aug 26. The second round, the successful memoir, took less than a month: from submission on Nov 9 to an acceptance email on Dec 5.
5. What happened after your work was accepted? What does it cost? On Dec 11, I received a paper packet with a thorough description of a “Full Service” option. In the fine print and through a phone call, I learned that there are actually three price points:
- Option 1, Full Service: they research agents and appropriate publications, prep your query (or write it for you), send you submission materials that you then mail out yourself*, and track your replies from agents, I presume on a fancy Excel-style spreadsheet. This costs a $250 administrative fee plus a first-time cycle fee around $400, plus a regular 2-month cycle fee around $300 –the exact amount depends on your genre, and books are the priciest. If you want to take a cycle off, it still costs $150 in case agents reply during that off-cycle.
*This is because agents don’t want a middleman to deal with on top of the thousands of author emails and queries they handle. The fact I’m responsible for my own queries led me to choose the next option:
- Option 2, A la Carte, Research + Query: This is the option I chose, for $250. They research 25 agents that are likely to be interested in my work, and they also write the query letter. This option still required an extensive additional set of materials from me, including:
– One-sentence book description, e.g.: Anna, a young scientist, transforms the way she approaches life when a mysterious acne condition and a fear of Accutane lead her to seek the help of a local acupuncturist.
– A list of genre and topic descriptors; they provide the list, you select the ones that fit
– the region, religion if any, and demographics of characters in the book
– Previous publication credits
- Option 3, A la Carte, Research Only: For $150 I get the list of 25 agent names that they’ve researched.
I’m currently awaiting the agent list and query letter. Even though I have a query letter that I like, I’m eager to see what people who have seen and written tons of query letters will write.
Look for Part 2 in 4 months or so, after I’ve queried the first round of agents I get from Writer’s Relief. And keep writing…that’s what I’ll be doing with the time I’m not spending on research.
– C. E. Cameron