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Do Literary Agents Want to See a CV?

You may already have a CV on file. If so, it’s probably left over from when you last had a proper job, so begins with your formal education and progresses through the jobs you did, in order, concluding with your interests.

Start again. As an author trying to engage interest, you need to tempt them with fascinating and relevant details. Neither agent nor publisher is the least bit interested in how you did in your school exams. What they do need to know is what makes you a compelling proposition as an author. Remember that everyone is interested in how ‘promotable’ any potential new author is.

Marketable is a very debatable term; I know many authors dislike it, and of course the quality of the writing is the most important thing. But I have to think of a way of talking about the client to a publisher that will engage their interest.
Clare Alexander, agent

This could be your job, your family commitments or your past experience. Don’t assume that what you consider boring or mundane will be viewed in the same light by those you are approaching.

Take an imaginative approach

A background working in the City is not the normal path to becoming a novelist and so may be well received by an agent. Similarly your domestic arrangements may be ordinary to you, but interesting when combined with the fact that you have written a book. Take an imaginative approach to your past and think creatively. A friend of mine once used a revolving door in an American hotel at the same time as a well-known actor and would proudly boast that she had ‘been around in New York with Cary Grant’. I have four children and have always moved house mid-pregnancy; hence the scan and the birth never took place in the same hospital. Whereas this is entirely a function of my husband’s peripatetic job, my publishers got quite excited when I told them. What have you done that can be made to sound interesting? (For more advice on how to get noticed, see chapter 10.)

Your own marketability as an author is also very important to the decision-making process. A publisher may be unduly swayed by whether they think you will obtain publicity at the time of publication, so if you sound interesting here it can be a great help.

Trawl through your CV, thinking about what you have done in the past that is relevant – this could be something you have written, or taken part in. For example:

  • Have you spent any time in a retail environment? This will have taught you that people can be very fickle!
  • Have you had letters published somewhere relevant?
  • Have you had to research or write reports (perhaps as part of your job) for a wide circulation? This shows you can get to the bottom of a tricky situation and explain it clearly
  • Have you spent time in a playgroup? This, and/or being a mother, will have taught you how to manage your time, and that trying to keep the attention of small children is difficult
  • Have you had any experience of PR? This will have revealed how important it is to identify and then get through to certain taste barons who have huge influence
  • Have you given any interviews on local radio? This is very good practice for promoting a book.
  • Professional CV writers specialise in turning quite ordinary work or life experiences into significant-sounding events, so try to do the same.
  • In particular, be sure to indicate:
  • Your previous published writing, if you have any
  • Any awards you have received, or acknowledgements of your literary judgement (e.g. being asked to judge a prize)
  • Any information relevant to your writing, for example if you have visited the country you are writing about or have a personal insight into your subject (e.g. you are writing about post-natal depression, having suffered from it yourself)
  • Your commitment to your writing – be sure to mention it if you have already started on your next novel.

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