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How to Get Your Foot in the Literary Agent’s Door

There is a great myth that agents and editors spend our days sitting quietly in our rooms, reading the voluminous numbers of query letters, proposals and manuscripts we receive daily. In this fairy tale, the phone never rings, bills never need paying and authors never need hand-holding. Nothing to do but read wonderful writing all day. Lovely.

In fact, we almost never read submissions during office hours. We read at home in the evenings, on the train or on weekends. Our time is limited and time is money so we can’t afford to read every word of every submission. We read in snatched moments so can be easily lost in long and rambling dissertations.

So the would-be author must make an impression or catch my attention with his or her initial letter. Some basic rules:

1.    Type everything and use a high-quality printer.

2.       Always use A4 paper. Number every page and don’t bind it, or print on both sides of the paper. Always double space manuscript copy.

3.    Carefully proofread your submission material. An occasional typo is overlooked but too many misspellings or wrong grammar can make you look unprofessional.

4.    Always include an SAE if you need the material back. No agent can afford to pay for return postage of their submissions. Don’t send cheques or postal vouchers.

5.    Neatness counts… greatly! Don’t give me a quick reason to reject it because it’s too difficult to read.

Look at your query letter as a piece of advertising for you and your material. It needs to say concisely what your book is about, your credentials for writing the book, who the market is, and any USP (unique selling point) you have. If it’s non-fiction, how is yours different from others on the market?

Don’t tell me it ‘will appeal to everyone’ or that it is ‘a guaranteed bestseller’. Or that all your friends/family have read it and think it should be published. That screams novice to me.

Be brief, be succinct, be enthusiastic and be tantalising. Make me want to read and know more.

About Judy: Judy Chilcote opened her literary agency in 1990 after five years working in London with a large US marketing firm. Her focus is very commercial, so what she takes on ebbs and flows with the market. She is currently interested in popular psychology, nostalgic memoirs, historical fiction, women’s fiction (no chick lit) and crime fiction.

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