Writing Tips - Chapter 7 - Pitching to Agents or Publishers

Writing Tips - Chapter 7 - Pitching to Agents or Publishers

If you want your book published, you can send it to an agent, or you can pitch it directly to a publisher. However, most publishers say they only work with agents - some are flexible, but others stand fast and you won't get your script near the commissioning editor unless an agent has sent it to them.

So, what is an agent?

An agent acts on behalf of an author - a kind of business partner. An agent will take a manuscript and send it to an editor - but some agents have better connections than others and their recommendation can carry serious weight.

But that's just the tip of what they do. An agent negotiates the contract - and publishing contracts can be 50 pages long and crammed with legal jargon. They will get a deal you could never dream of on your own. An agent can also sell TV and movie rights, merchandising, audio and performance rights. They can organise auctions and get publishers bidding against each other. They can be a sounding board and steer you through the hoops of a market they know well. An agent is so much more than someone who sends out your script. So even if you do pitch directly to the publisher, and you get a deal, you might still want to contact an agent to take over.

How (not) to make a submission

I sent off my first attempt at a novel when I was 13 years old. This was back in the early 80s, so it was written on a typewriter, on A5 paper, single spaced and dotted with Typpex. I even drew a picture of a dragon on the front cover. I couldn't have looked more like an amateur if I'd coloured in the envelope with smiley stickers.

When I was 18, I sent a manuscript off in a ring binder and paid for recorded delivery. Amateur!

I once recorded myself reading out a submission and sent it to an agent on a cassette tape. AMATEUR!

There was the time I included a giant chocolate bar... that was just plain silly.

Whether you are sending to an agent or a publisher, don't do the amateur stuff. Be professional. And don't use recorded delivery - it means someone has to trail downstairs to sign for one of fifty other scripts that have been delivered that day. Don't worry - no one is going to steal your book.

How to make a sensible submission

Write a covering letter. Keep it short and to the point. Include your name, title of book, word count, genre and who it would appeal to. If you can get the point of the story into a single sentence, include that - it's called an Elevator Pitch. ("Goldilocks meets Night of the Living Dead"). Also, if there is something about you that gives you an edge, in relation to the book, then include that. For example, I write children's fiction, and I also work in a primary school. That's a relative link right there. If I was writing space opera, it probably wouldn't have the same impact. Don't write a full bio in your cover letter - that comes next.

Write a short biography. This goes on a separate sheet. Keep it short, around 200 - 300 words. It isn't a CV or a memoir, just a little bit about you.

Write a synopsis. Remember that plan you wrote way back in Chapter 2? That. Include that - but clean it up a bit, yeah?

Include the first 3 Chapters. Don't go for the best, or cherry pick three - if you feel the need to do that, maybe you should rewrite your book and make those great chapters the opening. It's standard form to include the first three, or the first 10,000 words, whichever is shorter. Proof read them a few times first - I've sent some stinkers out, full of typos. Don't do that.

Multiple submissions: Nothing wrong with that, but if someone requests the full manuscript then you might want to let the others know.

Request for the Full Manuscript

You have written the full manuscript, right? If they request it, send it. It doesn't mean they'll take you on, but it does mean your pitch was great.

The call.

The agent loves it! Next thing is to meet, discuss things and see if you get along. This is important, you are about to embark on a business venture with this person - make sure it feels right. Take time to look over their contract. Think it over. You don't need to go with the first agent who contacts you.

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