Follow the rules.
This may sound simple enough, but you’d be amazed at how many people don’t follow the instructions laid out before them. Every agency will have its own guidelines, all probably very similar, follow them. If they ask for 10,000 words, send as close to 10,000 as possible. If they ask for the first three chapters, send them. Don’t send what you feel are your strongest chapters. Don’t tailor the rules to suit yourself. You put yourself on the back foot from the word go if you do. Why would an agent want to represent you, (and this is a close working relationship built on trust remember), if you can’t follow simple instructions?
Don’t submit to every agency you find. But if you’re going to, tailor the submission and don’t have a list of recipients viewable.
No agent is going to take a submission seriously that has been sent to fifty other agencies, and all those other recipients are staring at you from the screen of one email. In fact, I guess in some places you’d be lucky to get a reply. At the end of the day I’m not going to be able to stop you sending your manuscript out to as many agencies as possible in excitement at having finished it, but I can tell you this. You can tell when you receive a submission which is just a template for every other one that has been sent, usually because there are careless errors like a different font or font colour for the addressee, or name of the agency. It doesn’t look good. It certainly doesn’t imply that any more care is going to have been taken over the contents of the document. You’re probably not going to receive an offer of representation.
This leads on to my next point…
Find the right agent for you.
It really is better to do your research and find someone, or a choice few, that you think your novel will be most suited to. Don’t send it to everyone in blind hope. You’ve put in the hours writing your novel, now do it justice and try and find it the right home. What’s the point of sending a brilliantly written YA novel to someone who primarily, or exclusively even, takes on literary historical fiction, just because you saw their name online? Even worse, at that very same agency there could be an agent scouring the slushpile in search of the next big YA novel, yet they never even received it. So, check the agent takes on your genre, check their list and see who they already represent, and in your mind see where/if you fit on it. Don’t just send your manuscript out all over the place, carefully select those who will be receiving it. Make sure it is getting in front of the right pair of eyes.
Write a strong cover letter.
Don’t roll your eyes, of course you say, this goes for anything. But when it comes to a submission there’s a ‘right’ way of doing this, and unfortunately a very wrong one. You’d be surprised how many people get it so wrong. Stand up for your work sure, make yourself stand out, but don’t tell us you’re the next Stephen King or Ian McEwan. Don’t tell us your novel is a guaranteed commercial success. We’ll decide that. Inevitably, having compared yourself to a famous novelist is only going to come back to haunt you when your work doesn’t live up to the comparison. (P.S. If you are the next Stephen King or Ian McEwan, please do get in touch…) Be interesting, polite and explain your novel briefly, but powerfully. Mention only what is relevant. This is how you pique an agent’s interest, at the end of the day, your writing will do the talking, don’t put us off before we even get to it.
If your novel does get rejected, don’t give up hope. But certainly don’t reply saying what a mistake the agency is making.
First things first, everyone has different tastes. One person’s trash is the next’s gold. If you don’t immediately succeed, don’t give up. If your work is good enough it will eventually find its place. But if you do receive a rejection, and you do want to reply to it, a simple ‘thank you for your time…’ is sufficient, and personally I welcome the good manners it shows. DON’T reply saying what a mistake we are making, and that we should reconsider. Don’t say you will see us at your autograph signings shortly. Don’t tell us how commercially viable your work is, and that film studios will be all over it. There’s no reason to be rude, the decision has been made and this should be respected. You’d be surprised at the memory agents have when it comes to remembering the names of people who’ve been unnecessarily rude during the submission process.
Publishing looks big and scary but it’s a very small world where word of mouth travels fast. You don’t want to get yourself a bad reputation before you’ve even got off the ground…
In a joyous end to this note though, I do invite anyone who has finished their manuscript to have a browse through our agents, and see which one might fit you best. We are always on the lookout for fresh talent and are ready and waiting to embrace your submission. I look forward to hearing from you.
View DHH Literary Agency’s Submission Guidelines here
Follow Harry on twitter: @harryillers