In the attempt to help you find an agent, here are some top tips for securing their attention.
Do your research
Consult the list of agents in industry yearbooks; look carefully at the kind of writers each agent represents, and note their specialities.
If they say they do not take science fiction, do not assume that you are helpfully extending their range by offering it. Send an email outlining what you have in mind and ask who is the right person within their firm to send it to.
Don’t assume that if the agency is called ‘Snodgrass and Wilkins’ you must talk only to one of the two key names (who may in any case be long dead): the chances are that their books are full already. A more junior member of staff may be hungrier for new authors, and don’t forget that their judgement will be backed – because they are a staff member and presumably have been taken on by the partners to widen the range of those they represent. And one day they too may be on the letterhead. All agents assume a far greater awareness of their own firm than a well-educated individual may have through simple general knowledge, and are fond of referring to it swiftly, and in abbreviated form.
‘Do your research. Even though I clearly state my preferences on www.pfd.co.uk I still get letters saying things like, “Dear Simon – I know you don’t like science fiction but I thought you might make an exception in my case,” or “Dear Mr Terwin [sic] – I am sending you my whole 180,000-word manuscript instead of a sample as I want you to read the whole book now.” This isn’t helpful! Check Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook for which agents represent your kind of writing and seek them out. Find out who represents authors you admire and approach them: www.google.com should give you the information you need, and BookTrust’s information line also has a fantastic database.
Check contact details and make sure your letter
is sent to the correct address. Spell names right – I am plagued by Terwins,
Trewits, Truins and Treewins or even sometimes Strewin! These may seem like
small points but they are all about presenting yourself professionally.’
Simon Trewin, United Agents
Send in what they ask for, not more or less
Submit your material in exactly the format they ask for: three chapters and a synopsis means just that; it is not code for ‘anything over three chapters’ or ‘as near as you can get to three chapters’. And ‘three chapters’ means three sequential ones, preferably the first three, not just any old three.
Some agents want to be sure that what you are submitting has been sent to them alone – and that you will wait until they respond before you offer your work elsewhere. If you are doing this, make it clear (add the phrase ‘this is a sole submission’ to your accompanying letter). Others take a more market-focused view, and will understand that submitting sequentially to one agent after another may take ages. But all of them expect straightforward dealings from those whom they might represent:
‘Be honest. If you are sending your work to more
than one agency at a time, then let me know that in the letter. If I was
looking for an agent I would most certainly write to more than one person at a
time. All I ask is that you let me know this is what you doing. It is
soul-destroying to spend a weekend reading a full manuscript that I have called
in only to discover on Monday morning that I have missed the boat because
another agent signed the author up on the Sunday. If it is a race, then let me
Simon Trewin, United Agents
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