This is the final part of a three part series on hooking an agent, based on the excellent advice given during the Writers & Artists event I attended a few weeks ago. In part one I discussed the role of an agent and why you need one. In part two I wrote about how best to approach an agent.
I have to be honest, it was pitching to an agent face to face that made me want to attend this event. I have never sent work out to an agent before, but I know that if your work is rejected in most cases you won’t get any feedback explaining why that might have been. I guess I was eager to test the waters before I attempt to make any submissions.
I explained straight away to her that I knew it needed another draft but that I would welcome some advice on my pitch.
So what happened?
Well, the very first thing I was asked to do was pitch my novel using the one sentence pitch. In my case, ‘a young girl uncovers a sinister cult in a seaside town.’
The agent liked the idea and then asked me lots of questions about it:
What makes your book YA fiction and not adult fiction? (the age of the protagonist and the themes)
What genre is your book? (erm…historical gothic fiction? I guess, although there are some Lovecraftian style monsters in there.)
Is there a love story? (not exactly. Some sexual tension maybe. I was trying not to be too cliche’)
If you saw your book on a table in a bookshop, what are the other books or authors would you expect it to be shelved next to? (Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children)
To explain some of these questions: Firstly, the one sentence pitch is what is used to sell your book. The agent will use this with publishers. It needs to get the idea across quickly so that the publisher can say whether it sounds like something they would want or not.
The genre, again, as above. The agent explained to me that historical fiction for children is a hard sell, so it is really important that the character is someone that they can relate to, with the same teenage angst as a modern setting.
Which is why the love story is important. As a woman in her thirties, I might find a love story cliche’ but a 14 year old girl will not. It is something that will keep her interested in what happens and will give her something to relate to. She said that at the Frankfurt Book Fair, this is the first question the agents were asked about a YA book and if there wasn’t a love story, publishers were not interested.
Thinking about books that are similar will also help an agent to visualise it and help sell it, which is ultimately what you are trying to do.
I then told her a bit more about it and she took a look at my first three chapters.
This was a little nerve-wracking but ultimately very positive. She said the narrative voice is spot on for a YA narrator but that by chapter three the pace has slowed a little and that you cannot afford to do that with YA. She said it was well written and wished me luck with the next draft.
The ten minutes went very very quickly!
However, it has given me a lot of things to think about. I’m going to be doing a massive rewrite taking her advice on board and hopefully in a few months time I’ll be ready to submit to an agent for real!
One of the things the day made me realise (and I know this sounds very naive) was that whilst authors often write for themselves, if you really want to write as a career then you have to remember that ultimately you are not writing for you at all. You are writing to become part of a business. One that needs to be profitable. In order to hook an agent your writing has to be ‘sellable’ as well as enjoyable to read.
What I’ve learned about hooking an agent Part Two: How to avoid ending up in the slush pile – advice on submitting your work to agents.
This is the second part of a three part series on hooking an agent, based on the excellent advice given during the Writers & Artists event I attended last weekend. Last week, I wrote about the role of an agent and why you need one.
This week, we are looking at how to avoid the slush pile and what makes a good submission. The submission package usually consists of your first three chapters, a synopsis and a cover letter.
First question to ask yourself: is my novel actually ready for submission?
The main reasons the agents said they rejected novels were structural issues (it would work better using a different structure) or issues with character motivation (characters behave in a way not in keeping with their usual behaviour). The rather fabulous agent Juliet Mushens (she represents Jessie Burton who wrote The Miniaturist) suggested many first novels neglect the minor characters. To use her words ‘they act merely as window dressing for the main character.’
They suggested that your novel should be in at least the third draft before you even consider sending it for submission. And make sure it is finished (this sounded odd to me but apparently they regularly have people sending them sample chapters when the book isn’t even complete!!)
The cover letter
The cover letter introduces your book and you.
The most important thing (and what you should introduce it with) is the one sentence pitch e.g. The Fault In Our Stars as a one sentence pitch would be ‘a love story between two teenage cancer patients.’
You should also include the genre of your book, the word count, and a longer pitch (a paragraph) explaining a bit about your book, perhaps comparing it to other similar books on the market. You only need a small bit about you, including writing credits if relevant. The aim of the cover letter is to enthuse the agent reading it!
In terms of presentation, it should address the agent by name, have been proofread for errors and be professional in tone.
If you are sending it by email, all the above still applies in the body of your email.
The dreaded synopsis
The synopsis should be a page of A4 in length and outline the main ‘beats’ of your plot, including all plot twists and the ending of the book. The agents stressed it is a technical document, purely outlining what happens and therefore shouldn’t be written in the same tone of your actual writing.
The agent will be thinking the following as they read it:
Does it sound interesting? Does the plot make sense? Does this sound like they have actually finished the book?
Your sample chapters
The first three chapters is the usual request, however, send whatever the agent asks for no more! Don’t pick and choose which three chapters – they want to see if the opening has enough there to hook the reader.
In terms of format, the usual approach is to use Arial or Times New Roman, size 12, double spaced with page numbers. Don’t go for crazy gimmicks like coloured fonts. Let your writing speak for itself.
Remember to view your submission like you would any other job application.
All agents were keen to stress that the whilst all aspects of the submission process are important, the writing is THE most important part of all of it. If they don’t like your opening chapters then they won’t ask for the rest of the book. However, if your cover letter isn’t perfect it won’t put them off reading your work.
I hope you have found this useful. Next week, I’ll explain what happened when I got to pitch my novel to an agent.
What I’ve learned about hooking an agent. Part One – What is the role of a literary agent and why do you need one?
Yesterday I attended the Writers & Artists ‘How To Hook An Agent’ event and I can report that it was absolutely worth every penny, not only for the opportunity to pitch your novel face to face with an established literary agent, but also for the opportunity to meet other writers and learn about how to jump through the fiery hoops of the submissions process.
I learned too much to write about in one post, so I am going to split into into three separate posts.
Part One: What is the role of an agent and why do you need one?
Part Two: How to avoid ending up in the slush pile – advice on submitting your work to agents. (To be posted next Sunday – it would be earlier but Life Is Strange Episode 5 is released on Wednesday and nothing, not even writing, is getting in the way of me playing the finale!)
Part Three: What happened when I pitched to an agent.
Do note that these posts can *in no way* replace attending one of these events in person. There was so much information that I won’t be able to replicate it all here – think of this as a very brief summary. Besides, you can’t pitch to an agent through a blog post.
What is the role of an agent and why do you need one?
An agent is both a cheerleader and a ball buster!
Let me explain…
One of the other writers there asked why she would need an agent when she could just contact a publisher during their ‘open submissions’ period.
As the agents explained, if you submit to a publisher without an agents help, the first person to read your work is usually an intern. Now this is no disrespect to anyone on an internship but firstly they are unlikely to have knowledge of the current marketable trends or the experience to spot a bestseller. If they like your submission, they will then pass your submission on to their supervisor, who passes it on to someone else, who passes it on and so forth. Your submission could be rejected at any of these points before it even makes its way under the nose of someone who can make a definitive informed decision.
An agent already has a working relationship with the person who makes the informed decision. This is who your agent sends your manuscript to as the first step of their process.
The other role they have is to get the very best deal they can for you! They do all the difficult financial negotiation (this is where the ball busting comes in) so that you don’t have to. They also can recognise a bad deal when they see it and will stop you signing contracts that will not benefit you.
Yes, an agent takes a percentage but they are worth every penny. As one of the agents put it: they are investing in you, not just for the release of one book. They are there to support you throughout the whole of your writing career.
It’s like a marriage – they are in it for the long haul!
So how do you choose which agent to submit to?
Research, research, research!
The agents had lots of stories of people sending them submissions with the wrong name or sending them cookery books when they only deal in fiction.
- Use the Writers and Artists Yearbook to make a list of agencies you are interested in and then google every one of the agents and find out about them.
- Follow them on twitter (this sounds suspiciously like stalking but its not, its research)
- Make sure that the books they publish are books that are similar to yours in terms of age, genre etc.
- Another way to find an agent is look at the acknowledgements in the back of books. An author will always thank their agent.
Send out your submission to ten agents at a time. Be patient.
If you get an offer of representation let the other agents know. Meet/speak with all of them before making a decision – it is important that you get on with them. Remember this is like a marriage.
If all ten reject you, take another look at your manuscript. Maybe it is not ready yet (something to discuss in Part Two) When ready, send it out again to another ten. Repeat process.
So hopefully you can see the valuable job an agent does. I hope you have found this post helpful. Part Two will be posted next Sunday.
If you want to check out the other events that Writers & Artists run you can find them here. As I’ve said, it was worth every penny and I would absolutely recommend them.
In a moment of madness a few months ago, I booked myself onto a pitching event ‘How to Hook an Agent’ through the Writers&Artists website.
It looks really interesting and the idea is that you learn what makes an effective submission, thereby hopefully reducing your chances of ending up on the slush pile. The most important/nerve-wracking part of the day is getting 10 mins one to one with an agent with the opportunity to pitch your novel.
I’ve never done ANYTHING like this before.
Anyone got any tips or suggestions on how to prepare for it?