How to Pitch to a Literary Agent
For aspiring writers, the next big step is to try to publish your manuscript. But where do you start? Here is a quick breakdown:
Finish your manuscript
It first-time novelists should finish their book before applying to agents. Literary agents work on commission: when the book sells, they get paid, so they want to make sure your project is an idea ready to be sold (not a half-completed dream).
Spend some good quality time on perfecting ever single page. Get feedback from impartial readers. Put the book aside for a few weeks so you come back to it with a fresh mind.
Edit again. Revise. Edit. Make it the absolute best that it can be. By the end of every paragraph you should ask yourself: can I write it any better? If the answer is no, then you’re ready.
“Your querying an agent should not be viewed as an opportunity to enter into a back and forth. It’s not a dialogue: it is a one way conversation. You are requesting representation and he is responding yes or no.”
Every agent has their own preference. Do your research. Make sure the agent you’re writing to is looking for representation in your genre.
Take a look at their clients. Most importantly, make sure you know what they want from you: some will ask for a cover page with a blurb and a short biography. Others will just ask for a synopsis. Others will ask for all three. Don’t send them unnecessary stuff and certainly don’t forget to send them stuff they need.
It’s important to show your commitment in the form of research; this lets them know that you’re serious.
“If you’ve gone out to 12 agents and haven’t yet found someone who loves your book, that’s 99% likely – probably 99.5% likely – because your book isn’t yet strong enough to sell, in which case you need to address your manuscript, not chase after more agents.”
Perfect your synopsis
A synopsis is not a blurb. A blurb is what you write to entice readers to open your book; a synopsis is a summary of your whole story, spoilers included. The catch is that most agents prefer it to be 1 page long (roughly 700 words), with 1.5 line spacing.
Yep. Some would say it’s the hardest part of the process, because how on earth do you condense a 300+page book into a single page?
Well, there is no specific formula, but there are steps you can follow. Remember that in this case you are not trying to sell the book, but conveying a clear, neutral recount of the story. If this means skipping over subplots or finer detail, that’s okay – agents know it’s all an “approximation”.
“Most agents will look at your covering letter first, then turn to the manuscript. If they like the first three chapters, they’ll be thinking, “This looks great, but is it going to hold interest? Is it worth making that investment of time to read it all? That’s where the synopsis comes in.”
Though sometimes used interchangeably, it’s important to note that there is a difference between the two. In the US, a query letter is a one page, single shot chance to get them interested in your book. If they like what you have to say, they’ll request your manuscript to read.
In the UK, you need a cover letter – an accompanying document to the manuscript. The cover letter is a quick way to introduce yourself and the book. Most agents agree 3 paragraphs is long enough.
It includes: the agent you are writing to, why you are writing to them, a quick blurb of the book (mention the word count, and whether it’s part of a series or by itself), whether or not you are also pitching your books to others agents , your target audience and maybe a couple of books it can be compared to (but be careful. It’s better to say “it emulates the tone of J.R.R. Tolkien…” as opposed to “it’s the next Lord of the Rings”. Be confident, but don’t oversell yourself).
You can find some examples here (if they are formatted for posting, just ignore that; nowadays most agents ask for email submissions).
“Something that introduces you and your work in a courteous and professional manner, and makes me turn to the work with interest, not dread. If emailed, it should be in the body of the email so it’s the first thing I see and doesn’t take time for me to open.”
Know your market
What genre is the story? What is the target reader? These are not questions agents ask just to get a better feel for your story. This is a necessity. You must convince them you know your niche and that you know your book can sell.
At the end of the day, it’s a business. There is no such thing as a novel for “everyone”. Agents roll their eyes at stuff like this. You don’t have to write an essay on the statistics, but you do have to convince them you know what and who you are writing for.
“And spoiler alert: Your story will not appeal to every reader. It’s just not possible. As scary as it might sound, there will be readers who will hate your book and that’s okay! Your goal as an author is to delight your target readers and no one else.”
It varies, but your safest bet is:
Font: Times New Roman/ Arial/ Calibri
Line Spacing: 1.5
Header/Footer: title of novel, your name (A Life in the Day, John Doe) – centered
Page Numbers: lower right hand side of page
Yes its daunting, but you’ll never progress unless you get your work out there, and you’ll never know what can happen unless you try!
Inspiring Interns is a recruitment agency specialising in all the internships and graduate jobs London has to offer. Xiomara Meyer is a drama and creative writing graduate with an interest in psychology and the slightly bizarre. Samples of her prose can be found here