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). 

How to Write a Novel (Psychologies Magazine Column)

31 Aug 2017



goldsboro window

Click on the links below to read my first six Psychologies Magazine ‘How to Write a Novel’ columns. They are short and basic but maybe they’ll give you a few ideas:

Month 1: How to Write a Novel

Month 2: Don’t Lose the Plot 

Month 3 Make Time to Write 

Month 4 Looking for Trouble

Month 5: How to Cut 

Month 6: Tricks of the Trade






Psychologies Magazine How to Write a Novel column

23 Feb 2017

Here’s my first column for Psychologies magazine. I’ll be writing one a month for a year.

Tips and discussions of techniques, overcoming blocks, facing fears and all that…. Have a read of column 1 here. 

proofs TNV

How to Write a Novel (without losing the plot)

19 Nov 2016

psychologies-workshopI’ll be talking about writing, with novelist Elizabeth Heathcote and my editor at Quercus, Stef Bierwerth at an event for Psychologies magazine. It’s for all writers-to-be, in London on 7th December. Come!

More info here: How to Write a Novel workshop tickets

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 create tension

7 Mar 2016

I thought a lot about generating the right amount of tension at the right time, when writing The Other Child and I just did this piece for booksbywomen.org: my tips on how to create tension in your fiction and why it matters, whatever genre you’re working in (come to think about it, tension matters for a lot of non-fiction too).

Other Child US:UK covershttp://booksbywomen.org/how-to-create-tension-by-lucy-atkins/

Win a free novel writing mentoring session!

2 Oct 2015

‘I write because….’

Are you writing a novel? big writing clubDo you need support, information, a boost? One winner of The Big Writing Competition, launching today, will get a FREE one-to-one mentoring session with me worth £225. Five runners up (UK only for these) win a signed copy each of my new psychological thriller, The Other Child. 

The winner gets:

– expert appraisal of 10 pages of your work in progress
– 1 hour Skype or phone call with me to discuss your writing
– tips on developing your writing career, finding an agent, and getting published

Prize draw will take place during the Big Writing Club’s first session on Monday 5th October at 8pm

To enter, click here and go to my Facebook page  to answer the million dollar question *I write because…….*

The Big Writing Club is the brilliant brain child of Suzy Greaves (editor of Psychologies Magazine​). Click here for more information about the competition and Big Writing 

Want to write a novel? Join The Big Writing Club

1 Oct 2015

SuzyGreaves Suzy Greaves

This is for any unpublished writers (do please forward this to any friends who might be interested).

The Big Writing Club is an inspired endeavour just launched by Suzy Greaves (who also happens to be the editor of Psychologies Magazine​) to encourage, support and develop new writing talent.

There are conference calls, tutoring sessions and you can sign up for one-to-one mentoring to develop your writing. There will also be a competition to win a one-to-one mentoring session with me (more details of that coming soon).

Suzy will be interviewing me for the first conference call next Monday, 5 October, 8-9pm. We’re talking about How to Write a Novel (& get it published!). Anyone is welcome to listen in.

#creativewriting #novelwriting #mentoring

To find out more go to The Big Writing Club


Get Published Masterclass at Guildford Book Fest

8 Sep 2015

Fanny & Lucy at Blenheim Lit Fest


Fanny Blake and I will be running our How to Get Published masterclass at this year’s Guildford Book Festival. We talk about everything you need to know to get your book (non fiction or fiction) published including: dos and don’ts of finding a literary agent (do you even need one?), what editors do, should you self-publish, and much much more.

Fanny Blake is terrific –  a successful novelist, Woman & Home literary editor, and publishing expert (she was a really big cheese in publishing for many years). She also happens to be a marvellous person. So – come and see us!

Wednesday 14th October, 2015.  7.15-8.45 pm

Book your tickets here: Guildford Book Festival

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