Pitching To An Agent – 20 Tips for Success

30 Oct 2018

From the ‘How to Get Your Book Published’ masterclass, by Lucy Atkins and Fanny Blake.

I’ve put together these tips because agents are busy and small (or big) mistakes can put them off reading your work. There is no ‘type’ of person who gets published, other than a person who can write well. Do not feel intimidated. Literary agents  – the people who will sell your book to a publisher – are just people, generally really nice people, who love books.

Pitching to a Literary Agent – 20 Tips for Success

1. Good writing grabs an agent’s attention and nothing else – don’t make your own book jacket or marketing material or perform any attention grabbing tricks or gimmicks eg. shiny wrapping, free gift enclosed.

2. Follow the instructions the agent gives on their website for submitting your work. ONLY do this. Nothing else.

3. Target ONE agent per agency (and not at random – select them carefully according to their list, their stated interests, whether they are taking clients). Try five at a time, from the The Writers & Artists Yearbook, which has a comprehensive list of agents. Keep a spreadsheet or up to date list so you don’t infuriate anyone with multiple submissions.

4.   Proof-read EVERYTHING – grammatical and spelling mistakes can get you on the ‘no’ pile even if you write well.

5.   Most agents want something like the first three chapters plus a synopsis. Make sure those first three chapters of your book are your absolute best work and that they plunge your reader right into your story.  Double space, justify, sensible font, 12 pt.

6. Write a snappy but sensible introductory email. Avoid adverbs, gushing, exclamation marks, emojis, showing off or modesty, false or otherwise. Simply state who you are, any relevant credentials, what your book is, and that you hope they will enjoy it.

7. A  synopsis is a summary of your book. It needs to be short and to the point – just a glimpse of your plot and characters – NOT a blurb (ie. lots of excitable language ‘selling’ the story). Usually 1-2 pages of double spaced 12 point type, max.

8. No silly fonts, coloured paper, visual aids, emojis or ANYTHING in your submission (unless it’s part of your experimental novel).

9. Target an agent according to who their authors are (authors who are writing similar books to you – their agent will be name-checked in their acknowledgements).

10. Show you are familiar with the agent’s existing list of authors (& spell their authors’ names correctly!).

11.  Look on Twitter/other social media/agent websites for agents who are actively requesting submissions. These may be young agents building a list. They tend to say what kind of books they want.

12. Your covering email shouldn’t be any longer than a paragraph or two. Make sure it highlights why your book is distinctive and interesting.

13.  Don’t pitch yourself as ‘the new…’ or ‘x meets x’ because that will probably irritate them.

14. Mention any writing credentials but only if they are solid and relevant. eg. if you’ve won a serious short story prize (the high school English prize isn’t going to swing it).

15. Mention any contact who has referred you – but don’t worry if you have no contacts. Agents don’t care! Plenty of writers with no contacts at all in the literary world get publishing deals.

16. Mention if you’ve previously submitted to them or being in touch with one of their other agents (ie with a previous book).

17. If your work is rejected don’t write back telling them why they’ve made the mistake of their lives.

18. If they want to see more, don’t gush or do ‘OMGs’,  just send them the book in the format they ask for, with a dignified ‘thank you for your interest’.

19. Accept that you will almost certainly get LOTS of rejections and that this does not mean you will never be published/have no talent/are wasting your time.

20. Keep trying. Don’t give up!

 

For more tips, see my other ‘How to Get Published’ blog posts here (some will repeat some of the info above though). 

June Events: Kibworth Bookfest Killer Women

4 Jun 2018

Tuesday 12th June, Kibworth: Amanda Jennings & Lucy Atkins give tips for writing mysteries.  Tickets here

How to Get Published Masterclass: further info for writers

29 May 2016

This was a great evenGreenwich Book Fest with FBt, a big lively audience with lots of questions.

I said I’d put some of the links up, so here goes:

A few Good Creative Writing Courses:

We talked about some high-impact (though not cheap) creative writing courses that can boost your writing skills and help with contacts:

The Faber Academy

Arvon Foundation 

Curtis Brown 

This is the weekend Festival of Writing in York  – a great place to meet agents, get critiques from editors, and generally find out about the business of getting published.

We also talked about pitching to an agent on Twitter. You can read more about that here in this Bookseller article 

Good luck with your book – do feel free to ask me any questions. And I’d love to hear how it goes for you.

How to get a literary agent to read your submission

27 May 2016

Finding a good literary agent is vital if you want to go down the conventional publishing route. But it can be really hard to get noticed. When I was starting out the literary agent world seemed deeply intimidating. To save you from going through such paranoia and stress, my literary agent Judith Murray of Greene & Heaton and I put together some myths and tips to help you approach the agent of your dreams.

First, the MYTHS….

judith murraypic Judith Murray

 

Myth 1: ‘I don’t need a literary agent, I’ll just go straight to the editor/publisher’. Reality: You could, but your chances of getting an editor to actually read your book let alone buy it are teeny (unless they are a small publisher actively seeking submissions, which is rare, or unless you are planning to self-publish in which case you’re free of all this trauma).  Agents save overburdened editors time. Editors trust good agents – they take their submissions seriously: ie. they actually read them.

Myth 2: ‘Agents get too many submissions, they don’t want mine too’. Reality: Agents are indeed inundated. Judith gets 30 submissions a day – but they do WANT to hear from you.  They are always looking for the next talented, marketable writer.

Myth 3: ‘Even if I do send it to an agent it’ll probably go on a slush pile’. Reality: Judith looks at every single one of those 30 daily submissions.  

Myth 4: ‘Only people with literary connections get published, there’s no hope for an unknown like me even though my book is a work of genius’. Reality: Agents take on unknown writers all the time. It’s their job to spot talent. The key is not to put them off with an inept first approach (see below).

Judith says: ‘We’re looking for a reason to stop reading…’

Don’t give them that reason!

 

knodd-bin-with-lid__57402_PE162985_S4Five quickest ways to make Judith stop reading your emailed submission:

1. Make spelling or grammatical errors

2. Write more than a paragraph or two in a waffly or clumsy style.

3. Use emoticons, different fonts, colours or any other silly gimmicks in your email.

4. Make inflated comparisons ‘I’m the next JK Rowling/Proust/Salman Rushdie’ or diss other successful writers (‘I’ve always felt JK Rowling’s prose is flabby. My own, in contrast…’)

5. Send a ten page synopsis or otherwise ignore the guidelines for submissions set out clearly on the agency website.

 

And…five ways to make her read on:

1. Avoid all the pitfalls above

2. Be succinct, polite, clear and articulate in your covering email

3. Mention any professional writing you’ve done – journalism, screenplays, documentary film making (that piece in the Church Gazette in 1998 doesn’t count)

4. Mention any prizes, awards, or competitions you have won or been shortlisted for (again, the Parish council short story comp, no; the Bridport or another big short story prize, yes.)

5. Briefly – one sentence – give the ‘elevator pitch’ of your novel (ie. convey its genius). You can if you want to mention where you think it might fit the market, but don’t be inflated or mad (for instance, just say something like ‘my influences include…’)

 

Literary agents WANT to hear from you. You are not inconveniencing them by sending them your work. But they are extremely busy. So approach them professionally and stick to their submissions guidelines or you could lose out, however good you are.

FullSizeRender With Judith in a copper tunnel last month

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And…if you can get to London tomorrow (Sat 28th May), come to the Greenwich Book Festival for a masterclass on How to Get Published  

How to get a literary agent

18 Dec 2013

film cameraIt’s almost exactly a year since my literary agent, Judith Murray of Greene & Heaton, called to say she’d got me a two book deal with Quercus. Judith has been an incredible source of support, information and skill (both practical and editorial). I’m very lucky I found her. Finding a good agent is really vital for any writer.  So, this week, we filmed an interview together, aiming to demystify the process – and with luck, save people some time and anguish.

When you’re starting out, with no contacts, getting an agent can seem like a hopeless quest.  People often ask whether they really need one anyway. Well, yes, you do.  Without an agent it’s extremely hard to get your book published (basically, you’d have to self-publish it first, then somehow sell a ton of copies to get a mainstream publisher interested). A good agent like Judith has strong relationships with editors at publishing houses. They trust her judgement. If she sends them a novel, they will definitely read it. Your agent, then, is your hotline to the editor who will offer you a publishing deal. Editors don’t have time to read unsolicited manuscripts – but they do have time for good agents.

There’s the small matter of writing a really good novel, of course, but even good novels can get overlooked by agents. So, how do you make sure yours isn’t? Do you carpet-bomb fifty agents with your unfinished manuscript? Do you send them the whole book or just a ‘teaser’? Do you find out where they live and stalk them? Here are short versions of Judith’s answers to some key questions.

Q: How do I choose which agents to approach?

A: Look in the acknowledgements pages of the novels you love or admire, especially ones that appeal to the kind of readers you would like for your own book. If authors think their agents have done a good job for them, they often thank those agents in the acknowledgements pages – and from this you can draw up a shortlist of agents you want to approach.

Q: What sort of novels do you want?

A: I want a combination of powerful writing and story-telling that grabs my attention and holds it. I want a book that makes me miss my tube stop (The Missing One did that, and that’s how I knew it was for me).

Q: How do I get you to read mine though? Should I phone to tell you about it first, or do something else to make you read it?

A: Phoning doesn’t help. Nor do gimmicks like coloured paper or funny fonts. It’s all about the writing. I get up to 30 submissions every week, but I look at every one of them.  If you are a journalist or someone else who writes or tells stories in other media (eg documentary or film maker) and/or if you have done a creative writing course, do mention that in the first paragraph of the covering email you send with your submission – that will make your submission stand out for me.

Q: So do I just stick my novel in the post then?

A: No, don’t send the whole thing and do send the submission via email if possible (most agents have websites on which you can find our submissions guidelines). Lucy sent me a short email introducing herself, attaching the first three chapters of The Missing One, and a one page synopsis. This is exactly the right approach. If I am interested, I ask to see the rest of the book.

You’ll able to watch the full video interview online here in January.  Judith and I are also doing some talks in the New Year (see Events) where we’ll expand on these questions, and talk more about the process of editing and revising your novel for publication.  You may think that as an artist you should be above this sort of thing but the truth is that there are a lot of unpublished books out there. Knowing the basics can make all the difference.