Literary Agencies receive hundreds of manuscript submissions every month from aspiring authors, and I am often asked what will make a submission stand out from the crowd. Ultimately, it comes down to the quality of writing and the idea for the book itself, but here are some tips for how to ensure that you give yourself the best shot at getting an agent’s attention.
- Make sure the manuscript is actually ready to send out. For fiction, we only want to see completed novels, so don’t just send us a pitch or a half-finished project! If possible, get someone you trust to read it and offer comments before sending it to agents, as there might be an obvious plot hole that you’ve missed and often a second eye looking over your work can be invaluable. We read first drafts all day long and we’re not reading expecting it to be perfect, but we do want to see something that’s as polished as you’re able to make it without industry input.
- Do your research on who you’re sending the book to. Every agency has a list of their agents on their websites, with specific information about what type of books we’re looking for. Don’t send your non-fiction proposal to a children’s agent. Do tell us in your covering letter why you think your book would be appropriate for our specific list, based on the research you’ve done on the individual agent and their agency.
- Follow the guidelines each agency sets out. Again, every agency will have listed on their website what they want to be sent initially – for us, it’s a covering letter, a full synopsis, and the first three chapters, or about fifty pages. So don’t send us the whole manuscript, and don’t send us three chapters from somewhere in the middle of the book. When we’re reading so many submissions every week, make it easy for us to review your work by giving us what we’re asking for.
- Make sure your covering letter serves its purpose. I could give advice all day long about what makes a good covering letter, but the most basic points are: give us a brief introduction to you and your book, keep it brief and polite, and make sure that you proof read it before you send it – if you want a working relationship with us as a writer, nothing is worse than us seeing spelling and grammar mistakes in the very first words you send us!
- Have patience. As I’ve said, we have a huge volume of submissions to look at, and although we all try to get back to writers as soon as possible, sometimes it takes a little while for us to take a look. When we submit books to editors, we go through the same hellish waiting period, so we appreciate that the feeling of limbo while your work is being considered is difficult to deal with. Remember, agents are actively looking for new books – so keep your fingers crossed that an agent will fall in love with your story, and your path to publication will begin.
Laura Williams is an agent at Peters Fraser + Dunlop, representing a wide range of fiction and non-fiction authors. Peters Fraser + Dunlop is one of the longest established literary and talent agencies in London, representing clients with expertise across a range of media, including books, film, television and radio, public speaking, digital platforms and journalism.