Thursday, 1 November 2012

Don't Do This! Do That!

Today, Rose McClelland, a fellow author of Frances di Plino over in Crooked Cat Publishing, gives us the benefit of her advice. Rose doesn’t want others to make the same mistakes she did.

How to approach an agent/ publisher
So, you’ve written your first novel. You’ve typed The End, you’ve given yourself a massive pat on the back and you might even have gone out for a night of dancing to celebrate (good girl!). Now what? Well, it’s time to send it off, of course!
“Off? Off to whom, exactly? And how do I go about that?””

Well firstly, let’s go back to that opening sentence - You’ve written your novel. Just to be sure, you have definitely finished your novel, haven’t you? Sorry to ask, but if you’re a bit over-keen like myself, you might be tempted to submit your novel before it’s even finished. So I’m going to offer you a little “Don’t do as I did” advice. 

Big Mistake #1
You’re halfway through your first novel and super excited about how well it reads. Don’t decide that now would be a good time to submit your first three chapters. Don’t reason with yourself that “by the time the agent gets back to me, I’ll have finished writing the novel” because actually what happens is this: 

You get an email from an agent saying: “Thank you for your first three chapters. Please can you send the remaining manuscript as soon as possible?” 

What then happens is that you have a rush of two extremely conflicting emotions at once: 

(i)                “Oh my good god! This is Amazing! An agent wants to read my book!” and
(ii)             “Oh my good god! This is Amazing! But how can I write half a novel as soon as possible?”

(Yes, this happened to me.) I naughtily sent my first ever (half-written) novel Bottoms Up to an agent and then had a rush job to finish the rest. This is not a good idea. As a result, I have never really felt that book was ready for publication. It’s a case of the cake having risen too early. 

So, let’s say your book is as ready as it will ever be. You have edited it to within an inch of its life. You have asked someone to proof-read it. You may have even arranged for a beta- reader to check it. Perhaps you’ve even hired an editor. Now you’re good to go. What now? 

This is where (I’m embarrassed to say) I need to warn you off Big Mistake #2. (What’s that saying about learning from your mistakes?) 

Big Mistake #2
Don’t pick up a copy of The Writers & Artists Yearbook 2012. Don’t randomly choose 20 agents. Don’t write a standard submission letter to all twenty, simply changing the name and address of the agent. 

Tip: Agents can smell a standard submission letter a mile off.

Be specific.
Who do you want to represent you?

Look at other authors who write in a similar genre to you. Find out who their agent is. (Authors usually thank their agent in their acknowledgements.) 

Research the agent. Do you like the look of his/her work history? Is your work similar to his/her other clients? Then write and tell them so! 

Make your submission letter specific to the agent. Tell them why you are approaching them. Tell them you like the work they do with author X, Y and Z. Tell them why he/she might be interested in your book – because it’s a similar genre. 

Give them a brief taster of your novel – enough to pull them in and make them read the first three chapters and synopsis. 

First three chapters
For God’s sake, make it good! The first line should pull the reader in. There should be a hook in each chapter that should make the reader want to read on. There should be an issue of conflict which will make the reader wonder how it will be resolved.  And it should be written in your voice; your own easy style that you write in effortlessly – not one that you are trying to emulate. You are YOU. 

Next, the synopsis: Make it brief; plot points only. E.g. Rose writes blog. Rose posts blog. Rose attaches photos. It does not need to be funny or clever or smart. All it has to do is tell the agent how the novel moves along. 

And that’s it! Your letter is ready, your first three chapters are ready and your synopsis is ready. Pop them in the post and wait and see! Next thing is – don’t give up. If it’s not this one, try another. I would say good luck, but I don’t believe in luck. I believe in making things happen. Just keep trying. It will happen eventually. 

Lastly, having no joy with an agent? Why don’t you try to approach a publisher directly? There are some publishers and e-publishers who now accept submissions without needing to go via an agent. Research these on Twitter or Facebook. Keep your ear to the ground. I do have an agent, but I also approached Crooked Cat Publishing directly (who didn’t require me to go through an agent). 

Another tip: If you keep looking, eventually you’ll find the agent/ publisher for you!


Rose writes chick-lit and is published by Crooked Cat Publishing. Her two novels The Break-Up Test and How to Look Like You are available on kindle and in paperback. 

Find out more about Rose:

Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition


Nancy Jardine said...

Nice post, and sadly too true that too many people try to submit without knowing the best way to do it.

Lorraine Mace said...

Thanks for commenting, Nancy. Rose makes some really useful points to ponder.