Pitching To An Agent – 20 Tips for Success

30 Oct 2018

I’ve put together these tips because at events people often ask me how you get a literary agent (someone who will represent you, nurture your writing, and ultimately sell your book to a publisher). 

Literary 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 so don’t feel intimidated. Literary agents  – the people who will sell your book to a publisher – are just people who love books. A literary agent can offer valuable feedback on your writing, understand how it will fit into a market, know which editors will love it, and which publishing houses might take it. They do things like negotiate contracts, and fight your corner – for instance, my agent recently worked with my editor to rebrand all my books with new covers (see image above). Agents are also almost always looking out for new talent, but make sure your book is the best you can make it before you send it. They get a lot of submissions.

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. 

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 – 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, eg Times New Roman, 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. Don’t use coloured paper, visual aids, emojis or anything in your submission that you think will make it stand out. The only thing that will do that is great writing. 

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

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

14. Mention 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 genuinely 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 writing 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. Keep your fuure options open.

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. It can take a long time and involve a lot of rejections or silences until you find the right person.