Tag Archives: representation

The Agent Secret

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There’s a crackle in the air this morning, kids are back at school, autumn is here and it’s time to take stock. I’ve had a high gear year so far. Having won the Escalator Award – a professional development scheme for writers – I was determined to use 2013 finish my novel with the encouragement and direction of my Escalator Mentor, the novelist Tobias Hill. And I have.  The time and investment the scheme afforded me has not only resulted in a completed MS of ‘The Hole in the Moon’, but also a screenplay of the same (and the screenplay has now been selected for further development with the Script Hot House scheme).

Next step for the novel is to find an agent. This is not the easiest step. As an Arts Council funded Escalator Prose Artist and a UEA Creative Writing MA graduate, who is also an award winning writer with a long list of short-stories published, plays broadcast and staged – you might think that I’ve automatically acquired the secret handshake that allows entry into the exclusive world of agented writers. This is not the case. My track record makes it likely that my submission will achieve some attention when submitted, ie I might make it to the top of the slush pile that week, but only the quality of my writing will result in an agent contacting me re representation. 

I’ve been researching the subject of agents over the past week and it makes for sobering reading. Most agencies in London will receive an average of 450 manuscripts a month. From this figure, they might contact 3 or 4 regarding representation. And from those, perhaps one will go on to be published. Yes, it’s that competitive so don’t approach an agent lightly and send them you work only when you feel it is perfect. Tips on approaching agents include the following:

1)      Finish your novel before you contact an agent.

2)      Buy the lastest Writers and Artists Yearbook (if in the UK or Ireland) or the US/Can/Aus equivalent and make a list of agencies/agents who might be interested in your work. Think of an author whose work yours resembles and find out who their agent is (usually mentioned in “acknowledgements” page in a novel.) Research – make sure the agent you contact is interested in the type of book you are proposing. Check the “Yearbook”, if the agency states ‘no Romance’ don’t send them your love story. If they say no email submissions, do not submit by email etc… Make a list of twenty suitable agents.

3)      Most agents (but do check first) should be approached with a cover letter of not more than a page in length, outlining your project and a brief bio. Also attach a one page synopsis and the first three chapters (or first fifty pages) – but as I said, do check with the submissions guidelines on their website.

4)      Be polite and business like. Don’t adopt a grovelling/humorous/aggressive or any sort of extreme tone in your cover letter. Don’t send pictures of your cat or try to be cute.

5)      It has now become acceptable to send out multiple submissions to various agents however, if you are doing so, it is only polite and respectful of agent time to let the agents know you are doing this. You might want to limit this send out to three agents at a time.

6)      Some agents will get back to you within three weeks, others might take up to six months. Some you’ll never hear from at all. I feel that if you’ve not heard back after three months, it’s unlikely they’re digging your manuscript. It is acceptable to send a nudge email at this point to clarify but don’t be terribly surprised if you don’t even get a reply then. This happens, don’t take it personally.

7)      If a number are interested in your work, make a list of your specific needs and choose the agent who might best meet them. However, your choice may all come down to chemistry in the end. Do meet them personally.

8)      If you’re turned down across the board (say 20 or 30 rejections) you might want to rethink your project, put it in a drawer and get started on another. Some agents may have been generous enough to give you feedback re why they didn’t feel the book was right for them. Take note and come back to their comments in a few months when the raw disappointment has eased. If it is any consolation, I don’t know a published author who hasn’t got at least one unpublished novel languishing in a drawer. Put it down as part of your training as a writer and get cracking on your sophomore MS.

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Sending off baby

Taking the leap; letting baby fly

Now, you have your completed, proofread manuscript in hand (or on file). It’s time to send baby off to the agents, or at least ask the agents if baby can come visit.

You will find agency contact details in the Writers and Artists’ Yearbook. There are many listed, read through carefully as there is no point in sending a historical romance off to an agency that specializes in SciFi. It might be a good idea to do further agency research online. Take note of who accepts email submissions, or hard copy only, and make sure you meticulously follow any guidelines.

In terms of choosing an agent to approach, I suggest thinking of an author whose work yours most resembles and then finding the agency or agent who represents them. Read through the acknowledgements in a book by that author and you’ll probably find the agent’s name listed, as writers usually thank their agents in the credits.

Initially, you ought to send a single-page inquiry letter to the agency. Outline your writing credentials. Include, in a few lines, the plot, genre and theme of your work. Ask if the agent would be interested in reading the first few chapters. You could attach a brief synopsis with this inquiry but I wouldn’t advise sending on your chapters until invited to do so.

Be aware that agents can take months to get back to you. Aware of this fact, many writers, understandably, send their work off to multiple agents at the same time. However, these multiple send-offs don’t sit well with the agents themselves. It’s a tough call, and the few agents I’ve spoken too say that although they’d prefer if you didn’t simultaneously approach other agents, they understand it happens and in such cases they appreciate it if writers let them know the work is under consideration by others too (and don’t send to more than three agents in one go).

If the agent likes your proposal, they may ask to see the first three chapters. If these fly, you may get a request for the full manuscript. The wait can be nerve-wracking. The best advice I’ve received is to start working on your second (or third or fourth) novel the day the first one goes off to the agents. If nothing else it gives you a new focus and if you do get picked up, you’ll be ready with a second book by the time the first goes to print.

 And as a final check :

1)       Make sure all your pages are numbered.

2)       Make sure your name and the title of your work appears on the header of every page.

3)       Use a standard serif typeface (Times New Roman or Georgia) in 12 point. Avoid weird or wacky fonts.

4)       Print double-spaced and single-sided on (non-scented) white A4 paper.

5)       Don’t send pictures of your cat’s kittens or glitter or a poem. You won’t look cute, you’ll look weird and desperate and you’ll never make it past the slush pile.

Here is a sample letter (email) of inquiry:

Dear Mr Agent,

I am a published poet and I have also written some articles for local papers in my home city of Ipswich.

I have recently completed my first novel, ‘The Big One’. I believe the genre and story-line accord with many represented by your agency and I would like to send my manuscript to you for consideration. The novel is approximately 78,000 words long, is set in contemporary Ipswich. It is a crime novel.

The plot centres around three old prison friends, recently reunited on the outside. The trio plan a jewel heist in order to help a fourth friend fund a medical operation. The heist is bungled and the former inmates discover they have been duped by the very person they had risked all to help. The novel explores friendship and betrayal and the battle between revenge and forgiveness.

I am attaching a more detailed synopsis and will forward my manuscript at your request.

Please let me know if you are interested in reading the same.

Yours faithfully,

Joseph T. Doe