All it took was a trip to London and a Writers Workshop Masterclass
in May of this year to convince me that I needed to get an agent.
The event was held, one early evening in May, at Waterstones in
Piccadilly. Happily there was time for a day in the city to make the
most of my railfare. First I made a long anticipated visit to the
Foundling Museum in Brunswick Square – quite fascinating and a place
where many poignant stories could begin. A quiet lunch was followed
by a little browsing in Regent Street, before the heat of the
streets drove me early into Waterstones.
There can’t be many better places to use up time than in a
bookshop. Over numerous floors, this huge, art deco building housed
multiple layers of books. The enormous competition from so many
published authors was evident. I always knew that publishing was a
vast industry but on this day the extent of it was literally spread
before me. I looked closely at the names, stored for posterity on
the spines of books; some were famous, some unknown, some I’d read,
others were on my to do list. I watched other people drift like me
and wondered if they were writers too. Eventually about 45 of us
found our way to the top floor, coming together over a glass of wine
and polite conversation before the event began.
What did we discover?
- You need a good quality manuscript.
- You need an agent.
Well that seemed clear enough.
- Longlist professional committed agents with an open door, who like your genre. Do research on agent search sites such as Agent Hunter, Agent Query.com or Writers Market.
- Filter the list, looking for points of contact, similar tastes, common interests or a comment on a tweet that clicks.
- Approach a group of agents all at once (batches of 10 at a time).
- Carefully check their submission requirements, as all seem to want something slightly different (eg.3 chapters, 10,000 words, 50,000 words, attached or pasted …). Make sure your manuscript is ready.
This was starting to sound more complicated.
- Get name on query letter right, include title of book, word count, genre and just a short biography – the manuscript matters more than you do. Include one paragraph about your book, a hook, a USP.
- Get the synopsis right – what is the story? Make it clear and easy to navigate. Notation can be telegraphic. Include and highlight main characters, add a layer of emotion, maybe a sprinkle of spice. Is there an inciting incident?
- Allow at least 6-8 weeks for a reply. Be patient.
- Keep going with another batch. Keep trying.
Three individual agents generously gave their time to answer our questions. All confirmed the huge numbers of submissions they receive and the low acceptance rate. It’s now taken me three months to prepare to send my first batch of submissions, requesting representation – okay, family illness, a bereavement and a much needed holiday got in the way, but having a little space and avoiding the temptation to rush was actually helpful. I now feel ready for the replies and potential rejections. I feel ready to keep trying.