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). 

July Events: Blackwell’s Oxford Crime Writers Panel

9 Jul 2018

Blackwell’s new Westgate shop has a big tree in it (see pic). I am envisaged us gathered round it with ukeleles…Here’s the info:


Blackwell’s Westgate is thrilled to host a panel of fantastic crime writers to discuss their new books on 24th July 2018. The authors will introduce their books and writing, as well as discussing crime fiction.

Lucy Atkins – The Night Visitor

JP Delaney – Believe Me

Cara Hunter – In The Dark

Olivia Kiernan – Too Close To Breathe

Crime Fiction is booming in the UK and sales of crime writing and thrillers growing faster than other fiction genres. Much of this growth has been driven by psychological thrillers. We look forward to listening in on the authors’ conversations and hearing why they think British readers love crime so much!

The event will be chaired by Barry Forshaw.

At the end of the discussion there will be an opportunity for questions from the audience and the chance to have your books signed by Lucy, JP, Cara and Olivia. A free glass wine will be served to customers in the bookshop during this event.

Tickets are £5. You can purchase online but if you buy your ticket at Blackwell’s Westgate or by phone 01865 980380, you can save the online fee.

The finished copies are in

13 May 2015

finished copies TOCThis morning I ripped open a package: the finished copies of The Other Child. Am now trying not to look to see if there are any remaining typos and – even worse – to read any of it as I will want to change it all. So, it’s less than a month till pub day (4th June) and the book launch party at the Story Museum (6th June). I know how very lucky I am to be holding this book in my hand – and how easily things could have turned out different.

Publish – then let go?

16 Jan 2014

The Missing One is published today, and I’m thinking about an email I had this week, from a well-known writer – a woman whose work I admire enormously. She sent congratulations and then she said that she really felt for me right now, because publishing a novel can actually be quite daunting. In fact, she went on, warming up somewhat, ‘there’s nothing worse than having a book out (except of course, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, not having a book out).peter's foggy island

I love this honest appraisal of a longed-for situation. I could not possibly – not ever – complain about seeing my novel on the bookshelves. But it’s true, this feeling is not as straightforward as I’d imagined.

I’ve published non-fiction books before but this feels different. Seeing The Missing One in print feels like the end of a huge, and complicated journey (or maybe – if the email from this writer is to be believed – the beginning of one?). And it is definitely a bit disconcerting that this thing, which has been incubating in my head for so long, is now actually going to be out there – being loved or loathed, talked about, or (worse still!) ignored.

This summer I went to the South Bank Center to hear Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) talk about her writing career. She was smart and funny and wise. Someone asked her what she felt about writing a novel after Eat, Pray, Love, and she sort of shrugged, and said, ‘Well, you have to send it out there and then you have to just let it go. You can’t control how people respond. It’s nothing to do with you any more’.   She’s right of course, the only way to do this without going totally bonkers is to try to let it go. But I’m guessing that level of detachment might be easier to achieve if you already have a multi-billion dollar blockbuster under your belt….

Beautiful pacific northwest image copyright Peter Harris.

‘How to Get Published’ Talk & Wine at Blackwell’s, Oxford

3 Dec 2013

judith murraypicWednesday 19 March 2014, 7-9pm.

Have you got a book in you? Then get it out there! Lucy and literary agent Judith Murray (pictured) of London-based literary agents Greene and Heaton will be discussing the process of getting your book published: what do agents and editors actually do? How do you find and approach an agent? (What are agents for? What do agents love and hate?). How does your book evolve from first idea to published novel? (Why rewrites are not a sign of failure). Can self-publishing really work? Are creative writing courses actually useful?  Lucy and Judith will also discuss the evolution of The Missing One from first submission to publication.


Talk, then a glass of wine, then lively discussion –  £3.

Tickets from Blackwell’s Bookshop, 51 Broad St, Oxford, OX1 3BQ (or on the door). Tel: 01865 333623