Hooking an agent part II – Agent Rory Scarfe shares his top tips for perfecting that submission letter

 

Last week I shared my submission letter for The Sister (originally titled Buried Memories) in the hope it might help those putting together submission packages. If you missed it you can read it here. Today I’m joined by agent Rory Scarfe, of Furniss Lawton, with his three top tips to give your submission letter a head-start.

1) Attention to detail 

As boring as this might sound, you would be amazed at how many letters fall at the first hurdle. This doesn’t just mean spelling the agent’s name correctly (though please don’t address me as Ms Scarfe), but also showing an understanding of what the agent/agency is looking for and why you have selected them particularly. That way you come across as focussed and thoughtful, rather than scattergun in your approach.

2) Show knowledge of the market

More than ever, it is the role of the author (as well as their publisher and agent) to have a commercial instinct and a long-term publishing plan. If you can demonstrate an understanding of publishing trends and give examples of recent comparable successes that you hope to emulate then you prove yourself a potentially winning proposition. And remember, agents want to publish authors, not just books, in the longer term.

3) Have a point of difference and originality 

The great irony of publishing (and frustration) is that publishers are constantly on the look-out for something that is exactly like a recent success but also completely original and totally different. But that is not as impossible as it sounds. If you have a killer concept that can be pitched to an editor while they have a million other things to do and get their attention, even though the lunch hour beckons, then you are on to a good thing. Never let your ideas be ordinary.

The best of luck to everyone subbing.

In the next instalment agent Rowan Lawton will be giving her top tips on tightening that synopsis. 

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Derby Writers Day

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Q -What is better than a day spent hanging out with other writers?

A – A day spent hanging out with other writers in a venue that makes the best scones I have ever tasted (and I have tasted a LOT).

 

The first annual Derby Writers Day on Saturday, at The Quad, was slickly run, meticulously organised with a huge variety of talks on offer. A huge thanks to Alex Davis of Boo Books for all his hard work.

There were three talks happening simultaneously every hour and it was really hard to choose between them. My day kicked off with a talk on crime and thriller writing by Stephen Booth, Niki Valentine and Steven Dunne. All panel sessions were a blend of author talks and audience questions; the atmosphere relaxed and informal. I love to hear published authors talk about their novel writing process.

Julia Murday was next on  my list. Her talk on promotion and marketing at Penguin Books was really insightful. So much happens between an agent submitting a book to its publication date.

Man Booker Prize nominee, Alison Moore shared her perspective on the life of a full-time writer. I managed to catch up with Alison later in the day where she gave me some valuable advice on transitioning between novels. I’ve ordered her books from Amazon on paperback, they sound so beautiful I feel they deserve to be read properly (sorry Kindle, I do still love you).

Alison Moore, Alison McQueen and Niki Valentine explained what the term ‘literary fiction’ means to them.

The day was rounded off with Alex Davis leading an interesting panel session discussing whether writers are thriving or surviving.

I love events like these, meeting other readers and writers is inspiring and I always come away, armed with new knowledge, new friends, raring to get back to my keyboard.

 

A shrinking synopsis

Keep Calm and Eat Cake

I’ve loved every second of writing my novel. My sample three chapters are polished and sparkly, my query letter concise.

And then came the synopsis…

I devoured every piece of information I could find on the Internet, met fellow authors for coffee where I sat them under a bright white light and withheld their cake until they shared their tips. And if they were too slow forthcoming with advice and I ate their cake (shrugs) that’s their problem, interrogating is hungry work.

My first attempt made my characters sound certifiably insane. They were doing What??? Why??? I read it back and I didn’t understand the plot, a tad problematic considering I wrote it.

I bought Nicola Morgan’s ‘Write a Great Synopsis,’ Kindle book. It sounded so simple. I was sure my second attempt would be the one.

It was better, but still clunky and at 1½ pages, too long.

This morning I’ve read Nicola’s book again, slowly this time, and attempt three isn’t, well it isn’t terrible let’s put it that way. Watch this space.