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Thursday 9 April 2009


For those of you planning a submission to an agent,
or wondering why your previous submissions haven't got anywhere yet, here's a quick nudge in the direction of some very useful and common questions and answers on lit agent Rachelle Gardner's blog today.
It's also worth looking at other bits of her blog, such as her submission guidelines. Different agents will have slightly different preferences (for example, she is happy for you to submit simultaneously elsewhere, whereas some are not) but it's worth reading lots of different guidelines because then you get a real sense of what agents in general need. You'll see many common themes, the main one being how overwhelmed they get by volume of slush, and how keen they are to be bowled over by a brilliant idea/book.

Your aim when submitting work to any agent or publisher is
  • to make their day far better than they thought it was going to be when they got up and saw that it was raining.
Your aim is NOT:
  • to end up way down the slush pile with all the dross written by arrogant fools and deluded idiots (not forgetting the sweetly but hopelessly misguided and also the ones who can actually possibly write but haven't yet written something that someone outside their family would want to read). Because that is a seriously enormous slush pile.
  • to make them grind their teeth
  • to make them yawn
  • to make them wish they were anything but an agent
So, how do you make their day? You do this by:
  • offering them a proposal which even from the cleanness of the envelope and tidy way you stuck the stamp on, proclaims (but modestly, not in a shouty way) that you are efficient, decent and that you want the process of opening and reading it to be a beautiful one for the agent (or, indeed, publisher)
And by presenting them with a query/synopsis/sample/proposal which:
  • shows that you understand the market in which you are writing
  • (if fiction) describes a finished book
  • is perfectly written and constructed from the first line of the covering letter to the last line of whatever you are including
  • presents you as rational, modest, talented, amenable, NICE, intelligent, willing to learn and with a career ahead of you (but doesn't SAY any of these things - "show, don't tell"...)
  • is simply a fab idea for a book, written with such a well-controlled and/or (preferably and) fresh voice that the recipient will be droolingly desperate to read the whole thing - that above all is what will brighten their day.
Agents get REALLY endearingly excited when they find The Right Book. (They won't tell you what it is before they get it but they know it when they see it. Don't blame them for that - you're exactly the same as a reader.)

Of course, following submission rules is (or should be) the easy part. But you'd be amazed how many writers simply ignore them when submitting their masterpieces. Writing a brilliant book brilliantly is the hard bit. But you'd also be amazed how many people think it's easy. If you think writing is easy, I strongly suggest that you think again, because you almost certainly haven't done it well enough ...

And on that typically crabbit note, I'm off to try to write something myself. In an unusual attempt to be a disciplined writer, I have today made a time-table for myself. A set of rules for the day. Let's see how good I am at following my own rules ... Now, what's the first task? Ah yes, make coffee. That, I can do. Second task? "Write. For an hour. Without looking at the internet." Now that's hard.

But worth it