Wednesday, 20 March 2013
The Elusive Agent
The agent is the most elusive of creatures. In the UK agents seem to work on commission, they take a select number of clients a year. Some after building up a new list can go for years without having to take on a new client at all. The point that has been emphasized to me over and over is that if they don't think they can sell your work and by default get whatever their commission is (which is how they get paid) then your most likely to get a rejection letter.
Okay onto submissions. Most agents specify (in the book or on their respective website) what they want. But here are some general rules of thumb.
Enquiring/Covering Letter - A lot of agents want a letter before they ask you to send in your submission. Most will specify what they prefer. Either way your letter needs to sell you and your work without being demanding or cocky or pleading. Be diplomatic. Tell them briefly the important things about your book, what its about, where its set, how long it is and what genre it is. Be to the point as most prefer an enquiring letter to be only one side of A4. If you have trouble setting out a professional letter, the paper-clip tutorial in word can help you through it.
11/2 to 2 line spacing - Agents like to have manuscripts that they can read clearly. If they can't read what you've written then it will go straight into the bin. Harsh but true.
Spelling, Grammar, Punctuation - Read what you are submitting very carefully. Lots of mistakes, typos and such will put an agent off immediately. If your manuscript is going to take a lot of work to polish into a finished book, they often won't take you.
Length - A lot of main stream publishers will not take novellas from people who aren't already clients. They also tend to state the length of the submission, it can vary from the first three chapters, to the first three and the last chapter, to the first 50 pp (printed pages).
SAE - If you want to get your work back you have to pay for the postage. If you're not bothered about having to constantly reprint it then by all means don't include the self addressed envelope. Tell them they are free to shred it if they don't want it.
Details - Make sure your name and details on on the documents. Some recommend having it printed in the header on every page, some seem to think just on the first page is enough. This is entirely up to the individual.
Presentation: Do not staple, bind or enclose your work in a folder. The prefer loose pages, if you must secure them a paper clip will suffice.
Tip: You have to make your work stand out from all the others. One idea is to included a self addressed postcard that they can send back to you to let you know that they've received your work. Make sure to mention it in your enquiry/covering letter, else they might just think your weird.
Best of luck and if you do succeed, remember me fondly.