After seven days of writing about an otherworldly weekend away with The Silent Eye, it’s back to reality with a rather prosaic thud – this post is all about crafting the agent submission letter.
I’ve written before about submitting your manuscript to agents – while I don’t consider myself by any means an expert, I have had a bit of experience in sending the things out. I also attended a workshop some time back at Bloomsbury, where a couple of London agents shared their idea of a perfect submission letter, and several other agents have commented that my submission package stood out from the others (although no-one has taken me on board as yet – boo-hoo).
So, how do you structure the all-important letter? (I say all-important because it’s the first opportunity you have to make an impression, and we all know how important first impressions are). Well, here are some key points to consider:
- The tone of this letter should be professional. It is a business document, being sent to a professional person, and should be written as such. So no nicknames or rambling about personal information or bad language. I know we, as writers, love to get a bit creative, but the submission letter is really not the place for it. Also, address the agent by name – sending a letter which begins ‘Dear Agent,’ really isn’t going to inspire confidence that you’ve done your research into the agency.
- Start with your novel title, the genre and word count – ie I am seeking representation for Beneath The Stars, a romance novel of 75,000 words. If it’s your first novel, say so at this point.
- Follow this with a brief (back cover blurb size) description of the novel- ie Sally never thought she could love again, until a chance encounter with a stranger at a planetarium changed everything. But he holds a secret that could break them apart. Will she ever find a happy ending? Beneath The Stars explores the themes of learning to love again, and the secret world that hides within us all. (yes, I know this is awful, but it’s just an example – I’m sure you can do much better).
- Then follow with a brief paragraph about yourself, citing any relevant experience, books published, writing competitions won etc. Add in any current projects you are working on too.
- Finish with a paragraph stating why you think your novel would be a good fit for their list, reiterating the genre and the type of reader it might appeal to – ie After researching several agencies, and your agency in particular, I think Beneath The Stars might be something you’d like to consider. As a romance novel, it would appeal to readers of (bonus points for a title already on their list, but not too similar).
- Then sign off.
That’s it. That’s all an agent wants to see. They get loads and loads of these letters every week, so don’t want to wade through details about why your mum thinks you’re the next J.K Rowling, or the fact that you used to play baseball (unless the book you’ve written happens to be about baseball). Of course, whether you choose to do something completely different is up to you and, hey, it might get you noticed. But in an industry as over-saturated with writers as ours is, why give them any extra chances to say no?
Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.
That sounds pretty much like submission letters I’ve sent out in the past, but like you, I still don’t have an agent. I think if an agent recieves hundreds of letters like this every day, they must get so bored! They all sound the same! And so into the slush pile they go. I dont think these days it matters how good your letter, or even your novel is; it’s all down to luck and what side of the bed the agent got out of that morning!
Yes, I think luck is the biggest part of it all, really. And whatever mood the agent is in, as you say! 😀
Sounds like reasonable advice to me. I collected a few rejections myself at one time.
Thanks Craig – yes, I have a few too 😀
I SO agree with Ali! Even if you have a perfect sub letter, out-of-this-world synopsis and great first chapters (verified by agents in person), nothing guarantees you’ll even be asked for the full ms. Market forces, agent mood on the day, whether they don’t deal in your kind of book or have too many in the same genre at that particular time, whether they haven’t had coffee yet or had too much – I think luck plays a huge part in the whole thing…
Yes, I agree with Ali too – luck is a huge part of it! xx
Ha! Guess which button my finger was hovering over yesterday when this popped into my inbox! I hit the button eventually, and then did it again. Ten more still to go. And I can’t even say it was done in hope rather than expectation. I’m not that optimistic. It’s being done more because the book is ready and I can’t go on to the next thing until I have at least tried.
The balance has shifted since my first go three years ago. I won’t say I was submitting then in expectation of a result but there was more hope. I didn’t yet realise how unlikely the result I wanted was….. Probably, as you know, having a friend who was scooped off the slush pile didn’t help me keep things in perspective. But perhaps she is the (excellent) exception who proves the rule.
Ha! How’s that for timing? Apologies for taking so long to reply – the snot monster has become a full sinus monster, so I haven’t been sitting at the computer much these last couple of days. But yay! I’m so pleased for you that you’re hitting the ‘send’ button – fingers crossed that you get good news.
I must say I was the same when I sent out my first book – had no idea how small the chances were. Yet it does still happen – a friend of mine’s first book is going to be published by Allen & Unwin next year, which is very exciting. It is tough though, as you say, to keep things in perspective sometimes. I must say when I sent out ATR I wasn’t really expecting anything much back…
Sounds like excellent advice, Helen.
Thanks, Mick. It came out of reading a letter someone had posted on another site, asking for feedback, so I thought I’d write a post about it. I mean, as Ali and M.L said, it’s mostly luck anyway, but a good cover letter can help you at least get a toe in the door, I think 😀
I’ve wondered about doing something completely different to see if it works myself. But then I cowed away and did it the normal way anyway.
I’ve wondered about that too, but I have been told by agents that they just want a professional letter with all the info – you know what though, why not give it a try? Maybe I will too 🙂
Reblogged this on Suzie Speaks and commented:
For #ThrowbackThursday I thought I would share a really useful post from Helen over at Journey To Ambeth, which focuses on writing a submission letter to an agent. I know there’s lots of you out there that are in the process of writing your own books, and I think this may help. Please don’t like or comment on the reblog – hop on over and say hello!
Lots of great advice there Helen xx
Thanks, Ritu! 😊
Reblogged this on Susan A. Royal and commented:
Short and sweet…good information
Reblogged this on Writer's Treasure Chest and commented:
Helen Jones provides us with a great post about how to write an agent submission letter. Thank you, Helen!
Thank you for sharing! 😊
It was my pleasure Helen. 🙂
Great advice. In my more recent agent queries I’ve also attempted to explain why people would want to read my unusual book because I figure when they make their pitch to the publisher they have to say why people will want to buy my book.
Yes, that’s a good point. I recently attended a masterclass with a London agent and she said that, when it comes to the submission letter, it should be 90% about the book and only 10% about the author, and that if we’re not excited about our books, why should she be? 😊 thanks for commenting
You’re welcome 🙂
My queries are 98% about the book and 2% me, I’m shy.