Danielle Zigner, literary agent at LBA Books, discusses what she looks for in fantasy fiction submissions and gives advice on how to pitch your ideas effectively.
What draws you into a fantasy world?
This probably goes without saying, but for me it’s all about the world-building. When I pick up a new fantasy novel I want to feel transported into a world that not only makes sense, but that feels rich, intuitive, and full of history. It’s important to me to feel as though the author has thought long and hard about the setting they’ve created, the magic systems in place, and the past that has led the characters to the place they’re starting in. The magic should make sense and have rules and restrictions, and above all I should feel like I’m in unchartered territory; exploring a world unlike any other I’ve come across.
What are you looking for in fantasy submissions?
The dreaded question! To which I must give the dreaded answer: it’s impossible to say. Without a doubt a fantasy submission would need to have a brilliantly realised world, great characters and an exciting plot in order to get my attention. And it would need to be different to all the other fantasy novels I’ve read, in some significant way. Fantasy is a tough market to crack – it’s hard to get publishers on board unless the book is doing something unique. Beyond that though, it really depends on the writing, the voice, and whether an author can make me want to continue reading on.
How should authors pitch their work if they’re submitting a series?
A good thing to keep in mind when pitching a series is that Book 1 must work and be interesting enough on its own, regardless of what may come after. Especially with fantasy novels, where word counts often far exceed the standard 100,000-word mark, each book must have its own driving plot that keeps the reader interested.
So when you submit a series, start by pitching Book 1 as though you were submitting a standalone. The pitch section of your covering letter should be short anyway (ideally only three or four sentences), so keep to the story of the first book. After this you can tell the agent briefly ‘this book is the first in an intended duology/trilogy etc.’, but for the purposes of the covering letter you don’t need to go into any more detail.
Similarly with the synopsis – focus on Book 1, giving a detailed outline of the plot. Then, ideally at the end of your one-page Book 1 synopsis, give the agent one or two sentences about each of the sequels so that they know roughly where the story is headed.
I’d recommend submitting to agents once your first book is ready, rather than waiting until you’ve completed the whole series. Agents and editors will want to have the freedom to have editorial input on the story, which may well change the intended course of a sequel.
And always submit just one book at a time. All agents will have an overwhelming reading pile, so you stand more of a chance of getting them to devote their time to one manuscript than to two!
What are some of your favourite fantasy novels?
As a kid I was obsessed with the Harry Potter series, and that obsession hasn’t ever really left me. But when it comes to epic fantasy my favourites are The Black Magician series by Trudi Canavan, which I could read over and over; His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman, which had a profound impact on me when I finally read them aged sixteen; and both of Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle books, which are beautifully written.
I’m also currently obsessed with the A Darker Shade of Magic series by V.E. Schwab, having just got my hands on the latest release.