(First published on my old blog, 12th October 2013)
Right, after my lazy attempt last night, I feel I should deliver some substance today so here is the next installment in my York FoW13 chronicles.
This seminar was run by the lovely Julia Churchill and Penny Holroyde (both well known agents). It focused on what you can do to make your manuscript stand out of the slush pile, giving you the best chance of being picked up by an agent. As I said in an earlier post, agents are serious book lovers (and don’t have horns) so don’t go in with the attitude that they are your enemy, out to prevent your book from connecting with its audience.
It was extremely interesting and heartening to get the take of two agents on this. They didn’t talk about specific genres – why would they? It’s not their job to write the book. That’s our job! But there are special annoyances to avoid when submitting your manuscript to an agent. I’m going to list what I gleaned from this seminar but I will mention Nicola Morgan at this point. She is a published author and self-styled ‘crabbit old bat’, who writes brilliant, helpful posts on how to get published on her blog. I strongly recommend checking this out before you submit anything, I found her advice really helpful in preparing for York.
Ok then, hints, tips and other gleanings;
– Finish the book! Do not submit your manuscript until it is finished. I heard a lot of agents say this over the course of the weekend. Nothing is more annoying to them than reading the first three chapters of something, loving it, calling up the author asking to see the rest – only to have the author say ‘ oh, but I haven’t written that yet. Can you wait?’ Well yes they might wait and they might still want to see the rest of the manuscript when you’re done but the chances that they are still going to be as excited about it, as they were when they first read it are very slim. If you write non fiction, sample chapters, an outline, synopsis and CV are fine. If it’s fiction then finish it first! Remember, though publishing moves slowly, agents and publishers actually move very fast; they have to in order to be a step ahead of various literary fairs and book lists.
– One at a time. Perhaps you’re massively prolific in your writing or the planets have aligned and filled you with strange energies so you have finished off half a dozen novels that have been lying around in various states of undress for some time. Pick one and submit. The others have to wait their turn. You might be really good and highly marketable but if you bombard an agent with submissions you’re likely to get a no, just so you’ll leave them alone.
– Do your homework. Make a list of possible agents, checking into them a bit to see if you think you’d like to work with them. These agents should be people you want to work with and they should handle books in your genre. The ‘pray and spray’ approach to submissions, rarely works. If you send your historical romance to an agent who only deals with yachting biographies then the answer will be ‘no’ and everyone has wasted time.
– Formatting. Most agents have a list of formatting guidelines with their submissions policy. Read them. If you don’t, you are going to appear either lazy, as if you haven’t checked out the agent (which by the way the agent expects) or that you don’t bother to read. None of that is attractive to an agent. Most agents nowadays use Kindles to read submissions. So don’t send PDFs as they are illegible on kindle. Title your files clearly – if an agent has two dozen files on a kindle and eighteen of them are titled ‘sample chapters’, she is going to read the one titled with the books name first. Remember, when the files are loaded onto a kindle, only a certain amount of the title appears in the list. So if you title something ‘sample chapters; [title of your book]’ then the only bit that appears is ‘sample chapters’.
–Submitting you MS. Have a great title; they’ve seen a lot of it before. A great title makes them more likely to pick up your book first. In the covering letter, use a reasonable sized one paragraph pitch. Include a bit about yourself. Agents are interested in building careers not just one book, if they are thinking about representing you, you will probably be asked what you’re working on now. Agents don’t really care about previous publishing credits. They don’t need a CV of published short stories. Ultimately they want good debut authors.
– Resubmissions and Replies. Yes you might get a rejection. Everyone does at some point. What you never ever ever do under any circumstances, is write a rude reply to the agent. We saw some in the seminar and I felt horrified and embarrassed for the people who sent them. Publishing is actually a fairly small world and they DO all talk to each other. On the other hand if you’ve done significant work on your MS and really feel you’ve improved it (especially if you got a ‘no thanks but think about looking at this’ sort of reply) then it’s encouraged to resubmit to the same agent. Agents usually only leave feedback if they are interested in your book – they are not a critiquing service. So don’t expect some in a reply. And don’t be a pest. Your MS is getting read. They can’t take the chance that a gold nugget is getting swept away in the pile of rocks. Four weeks is about the right time to send a friendly inquiry about your sample chapters. Six weeks, if they’ve asked to see the whole MS.
Finally, here are the Submission Bootcamp Dos and Don’ts;
– ‘I have submitted this to a handful of carefully selected agents but will of course inform you…’ Big don’t. In reality agents know that you can’t submit to them one at a time but highlighting it at the sample chapter stage is foolish. At worst it smacks of trying to force their hand.
– Don’t use silly email addresses; agents want to know they are dealing with someone professional.
– Do drop the names of authors on their lists that you admire. This doesn’t mean saying that you are the next Philip Pullman, but you can say ‘would appeal to fans of Philip Pullman’ about your work. Also showing that you know who an agent represents proves you’ve done your homework about them.
– Don’t include copyright pages. What you’re saying when you do this, is that you don’t expect an agent to act professionally. And of course your MS is copyright protected. The minute you write it and send it (even if you only email it to yourself) it’s under copyright.
– Do re-submit
– Don’t submit unfinished manuscripts.
– Don’t request a receipt on your email. Agents hate this kind of trickery!
– Don’t direct an agent o dropbox, Yousendit, a link or amazon.
– Don’t lie. Ever. They will find out. They are spooky like that.
– Do mention if you’ve met the agent before.
– Do highlight if it’s a resubmission, but this isn’t essential.
– Do submit your next book, even if the first is rejected. They still want to see what you write.
And there you have it. Much of it is business courtesy but these are all important points. Remember. it’s just as big a deal for the agent to call an author and offer to represent them, as it is for the author to receive that call!