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How To Get A Literary Agent

Audrey Niffenegger submitted her book The Time Traveler’s Wife to 25 agents and every one of them turned it down. The Help by Katheryn Stockett was rejected by 60 literary agents. Even Stephen King, one of the most successful authors of all time, faced rejection from 30 publishers for Carrie. We now know that these books went on to be hugely successful but rejection is very much a part of the author journey. However, the good news is that with a well-thought out submission strategy, you can maximise your chances of getting representation.

This is exactly what I focused on when my debut novel submission, The Good Mother, was selected (out of hundreds of entries) by a renowned literary agent who then went to secure me a three-book deal with a major UK publishing house.

Submitting your novel to literary agents might feel daunting however, if traditional publishing is your chosen path - and the benefits of this route are significant - then crafting a winning submission is certainly worth investing your time in, especially as agents can receive up to 6,000 manuscript queries a year but only take on a handful of authors.

To get you started, I’m sharing my tips on how to write a winning literary agent submission that stands out from the competition and showcases your writing style, characters and plot points, and genre in an impactful and memorable way.

Most agents require three documents; a synopsis, a cover letter, and the first few chapters of your novel so I’ve covered these three areas with the techniques I used when securing representation with my literary agent which you can then apply to your own submissions. I will share my own synopsis for The Good Mother so you can see exactly what part of an award-winning submission looks like.

1. Chapters

If you feel like your book only gets going in chapter five or the best bit is in chapter ten, you need to re-write your first few chapters to the best of your ability. This is where you will be judged on the quality of your writing so it needs to be exceptional. Good writing is always going to capture attention so make sure yours is visible from the very first line of your novel. If your opening scene starts with a dream, the weather, or a long, rambling description, you may want to revisit them. If you want to know more about writing a brilliant opening, check out last week’s post, How To Write A Great First Page or you can watch my latest video on how to write a powerful opening line.

2. Synopsis

When I’m writing a synopsis, I imagine I’m telling the story to young children, keeping it as clear and concise as possible. The synopsis is a factual statement of the key information of your book - the setting, the main characters, conflicts, and plot points (including the ending) - and shouldn’t be confused with the sales copy. Neither should it be a detailed account of each chapter and scene - limit your synopsis to one page (or two pages at the most) and edit ruthlessly. The aim is to create a summary of your book; a quick tip is to check out some of the top book reviewers on Amazon. Many of them do a great job of summarising to give context to their book review. Other tips are to write in third person and include the category of your book (thriller, crime, historical fiction etc.) To give you a better idea, you can download my own synopsis below which won me agency representation.

3. Query letter

After doing your research about which agents you would like to pitch to, check their company submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. If the guidelines state Calibri font, double spacing, size 12, don’t deviate and only submit what they ask for. Address your identified agent personally by name (not: To Whom It May Concern) and share knowledge of the agent’s existing list (be sure to spell author names correctly.) There is lots of information out there about what to include in a querying letter but again, I would advise keeping it clear and concise. If the submission guidelines don't dictate, then start with why you want to work with the agent, information about the book such as your elevator pitch and hook, and some brief personal information. You should also include the genre, title and word count of your manuscript. Remember, your main goal with a query letter is to get them to request the rest of your manuscript, so focus on the elevator pitch to sell your book.

A final piece of advice: make sure you have a finished book before querying. Nothing is more frustrating to an agent than requesting the rest of the manuscript and it’s not available. This is not an opportunity you want to lose!

Don’t forget to download my synopsis for The Good Mother to give you an idea and if you know of any writers who would find this information useful, then please feel free to share using the icons below.


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