Help for writers
Given the difficulty of getting agents and publishers to take on your work, it’s really important to make sure that you present it in the best possible way.
The guiding principle should be that less is more, so don’t send a full manuscript, as it’s very unlikely to be read. Far better to tempt them with a submission package that will leave them wanting to see the rest of the manuscript. You cannot sell your work at this stage, only engage their interest in considering it properly.
Your submission package should consist of:
- A concise and attention-grabbing letter. Do mention anything of real interest or relevance, but don’t dwell on how much your mother liked your book, how many drafts you’ve done, or who has already turned it down. Include brief biographical details, and a paragraph or two which makes your manuscript sound as intriguing and original as possible. If you can customise the letter to say why you are sending it to them (because they represent or publish a certain author, for instance), then this shows that you have chosen them, rather than just moving on to the next name on the list.
- A succinct and clear synopsis of your work in the form of a chapter-by-chapter outline. This should be no more than three pages in length and some American agents specify a one-page synopsis. It is an outline of what happens in the story, if it’s fiction, and a chapter outline, if it’s non-fiction. This is not a selling blurb, so even if you think you’d rather keep the ending secret, put it in the synopsis.
- Two or three sample chapters of your manuscript. If it’s fiction, it’s better to send the first three, but with non-fiction you can choose the strongest or most interesting chapters. You should always include the first chapter, as how your manuscript starts is very important in terms of engaging readers. If your chapters are very long, send just one, but in any case 5,000 words is quite enough for the agent or publisher to judge your style and writing ability.
- If your manuscript is a non-fiction book, it might make sense to include a brief biography, which should concentrate on showing your qualifications for writing the book.
- Similarly, if it is a non-fiction project, it might be appropriate to do a market breakdown, analysing the existing competition and saying how you think your book would fill the gap you’ve identified.
Also make sure that:
- Your material is well-presented, with a well laid-out letter, and that the rest of the material is cleanly presented in double spaced type.
- Go through the whole package carefully before you send it, to correct grammar and spelling errors.
- Do not email it unless the agent or publisher specifically asks for emailed material. It creates extra work for them in printing it out and many of them just won’t bother.
It’s worth remembering that agents and editors usually read submissions in a certain way. First they’ll look at the letter, then, if that catches their interest, they’ll read the synopsis and only after that get on to the sample chapters. Don’t forget that they are busy people and have a lot of submissions to get through, so you need to make sure you get their attention right from the start.
If you feel you need help with getting your submission package ready, you could consider using our Submission Critique service