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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Sponge Cake & Self Doubt – The day before publication…

Today I’m distracted, unable to settle. I’ve opened and closed my wip, started and abandoned a short story. The puppy has trailed me as I’ve paced our overgrown garden, the cat rolling his eyes as I’ve stalked the places he thinks of as his own. I’m edgy, excited, easily distracted. It’s a little like waiting for Christmas, except it isn’t. It’s better.

Tomorrow is the paperback publication day of my debut, The Sister and even with a pile of paperbacks sitting on my desk and less than twelve hours to go I still can’t quite believe it’s happening.

This morning I’ve collected the bookmarks for my Waterstones launch tomorrow night, resisted the urge to dive into my cake and bought enough wine to fill the boot of my car. Each time I’ve been out I’ve darted into Asda and stood staring blankly at the books for so long an assistant came to check if I was ok and I couldn’t bring myself to tell her that tomorrow, nestled amongst the other titles, my story will sit. It doesn’t seem real.

It’s been a long road to publication, and after signing with the digital phenomenon that is Bookouture I never dreamed that a year on I’d also have a contract with Sphere (Little, Brown). After all those no’s finally two yes’s.

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I feel so emotional today. So thankful that even when it seemed utterly impossible anyone would take me on I never gave up writing and submitting. Tomorrow in-between two radio interviews, I’m planning to visit WH Smiths, Waterstones and the supermarkets to reassure myself it’s really there. I can’t imagine how I’ll feel when I see Grace and Charlie’s story on a shelf although there’s still a part of me, a larger part than I’d like, that is half-expecting a last minute ‘sorry we’ve read the book again and changed our minds’ email. I’m not sure when this self-doubt will go, if it ever will, but in the meantime I’m watching the clock and waiting. Endlessly waiting. And for now, still resisting the cake.

 

 

 

 

15 stages you go through when writing a first draft

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Obviously I am at stage 6 right now, how about you?

1. Brilliant – I’ve had the single BEST idea for a book. EVER. I’m so clever. It’s going to be AMAZING. Readers will love it. I can’t wait to write it all down.

2. Research – I’m still enthusiastic about my story but while researching I’ll just open a tab for Amazon – we could use some more towels. Oooh Twitter. Wonder what’s going on over there.

3. Not enough plot – How can I have run out of plot? I’m not even half way in. How did I ever think my incredibly stupid idea was enough to fill a book? This is going to be the shortest novel EVER.

4. Rubbish – Even my cat cringes as he curls on my desk and reads what I’ve just written. Nothing remotely interesting is happening. I need to throw in some twists.

5. Too much plot – There are so many different storylines running I have no idea who is who. There are too many twists. This is going to be the longest novel EVER.

6. Procrastination – I can’t possible start writing today until I’ve dusted the skirting boards, pulled hair from the plugholes, rearranged the cans in my kitchen cupboard into alphabetical order, written a blog…

7. My characters are amazing – I am so in love with them. They are quirky and interesting. Everyone will remember them.

8. Excitement – I am genuinely thrilled about this story. This is the one. My big breakthrough. I can feel it.

9. Constantly talking about it – Everyone I meet I tell them I’m writing a book and even in Asda when the checkout girl’s eyes glazed over I couldn’t stop telling her how fabulous it is.

10. My characters are so boring – Really – why did I think that was quirky? No-one ever actually does THAT.

11. Disheartened – I am genuinely despairing of this story. This is not the one. It will finish my career.

12. Never talking about it – When people ask if I’m writing I shrug and look at my shoes, wondering statistically what the chances are of the ground actually opening up and swallowing me.

13. Wonder – I’ve written the most emotive piece of prose. I’m so proud of it. I’ve read it aloud six times. Even my cat looked vaguely impressed.

14. Shame – I can’t believe I wrote that over emotional drivel yesterday. What was I thinking? Delete. Delete. Delete.

15. The end – I’ve finished! I’ve written a first draft. Tomorrow the rewriting starts. Send wine. Lots of wine.

If you’ve enjoyed this you might want to hop over to ’15 stages you go through with structural edits.’

2016 – The year my story found a home

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I am absolutely delighted that within a week of its release my second novel, The Gift has reached No.1 on Amazon both in the UK and Canada, is No.2 on iBooks and is in the top 10 for psychological thrillers in the US. I want to thank everyone so much for all their support. the blogging community is phenomenal and I feel so privileged to be part of it.

It hasn’t been an easy journey to publication. This time last year I was constantly refreshing my emails, waiting for responses to my submissions, and I had that sinking ‘it will never happen for me’ feeling in the pit of my stomach as I read yet another ‘thanks but no thanks’ response. Each and every rejection knocked my confidence further and there were many times I questioned whether I should send out another query. Whether I was wasting my time. I was now in my 40’s and I still hadn’t managed any success at all. Was it too late?

img_0369Receiving an offer last January was such an incredible feeling, My story, The Sister, had found a home. I never dreamed that within a year I would have published two novels, both would reach No.1 around the world, I would sell over half a million books in my first five months as a published author and 10 countries would buy the translation rights. I had to pinch myself again when The Sister was nominated for The Goodreads Debut of 2016 Award.

It’s so easy, as a writer, to let the doubts creep in, to wonder if it is worth it, to wonder whether to keep on going. For years I have championed other authors, celebrated their successes, been a shoulder during their lows and pretty much resigned myself to never seeing my name on a cover but still I wrote. I just couldn’t stop.

Whatever stage you are at with your manuscript, never give up. You never know what is just around the corner.

Wishing you all a happy and healthy 2017,

Writing – Letting go of characters

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Writing The Sister was a real labour of love. I put my heart and soul into my debut and over the 18 months it took me to finish my first novel the characters became so real to me it was almost as though they were my friends. Last November I told my husband we were going out to celebrate Grace’s birthday, and as I was applying my make-up he asked ‘who is Grace?’ and I froze, mascara wand hovering in my hand, before whispering ‘she’s my main character.’ It struck me in that moment that I might have got a little carried away. Never one to turn down the chance of a dessert we went out anyway, and I raised a glass to the girl who had reignited my passion for writing. By the time The Sister was published I was so familiar with all of the characters they were as real to me as anyone else in my life.

img_0369After I’d finished writing The Sister I felt bereft. I missed Grace, Dan and Charlie horribly. At a loss to know how to occupy my time, I quickly started writing The Gift. Jenna, my main character, is very strong, independent, and has been through a terrible ordeal. But while I was getting to know her, my heart was still very much with Grace and I found myself idly writing short stories about what I thought happened to Grace and Dan after the epilogue in The Sister.

During this period I was lucky enough to sign a book deal with a publisher and with a publication date set for The Gift I knew that had to focus fully on my new book and let Grace go. In a way, it felt like I was abandoning her and it was hard at first, to not try to make Jenna a carbon copy. As Jenna took on a personality of her own there were times I found myself thinking ‘Grace would never do that.’

The Gift has now gone out to reviewers prior to its publication next Friday and after The Sister reaching No.1 and being so loved I have expected inevitable comparisons. To my surprise the feedback I have received so far indicates that some readers are preferring The Gift to The Sister. Although I am delighted, in its infancy stages, The Gift is being so well received, and the first review was thrilling to read, there was a small part of me that inexplicably felt a little saddened. ‘Poor Grace,’ I thought, with the feelings a mother has when one child is more popular than the other.

gift-1-spell-error-correctedWith The Gift being released next week I know now it is time for me to start writing book 3, and with such a tight deadline there is not the time to have a decent break and put some space between me and Jenna. If any writers have tips on how they let go of their characters I would be extremely grateful to hear them.

 

The Gift will be released Friday 16th December and you can pre-order the digital version here from Amazon UK or Amazon US. Paperback and Audio will be available from 16/12/16.

 

The Sister is available here (UK) and here (US).

 

 

How do you know when your novel is finished? Best selling authors share their tips.

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Writing The Sister took me 18 months. During that period I rewrote multiple times, changing the point of view, the tense, and even the genre. When I couldn’t write any more I paid for a professional critique, got feedback from beta readers, and still I wasn’t happy enough to submit it. After weeks of more tinkering there was absolutely nothing left I could do but I still hesitated in submitting it, was it ready? How do we ever know?

Writing The Gift has been a completely different experience. Writing to a deadline means I have not had time to go through the same process that I went through with The Sister. A process that involved putting in a drawer and coming back to it after a month with fresh eyes. Now I am coming to the end of my copy edits it is time for me to let go of The Gift and hand it over to my publishers to turn into a book. Is it natural to feel I am not quite ready for this? I enlisted the help of some writer friends to find out how they know their book is complete. I do hope you find this is useful as me.

 

51hdbnzkxnl“I think a book is finished when all the character’s stories and subplots are resolved and I feel like I have made some new friends, regardless of whether I have given them happy endings or not. I also know when I’m done with editing as I am so sick of the sight of the book. I’ve ripped it apart and put it back together again several times, looked up every word that I’m not sure of, cleared up all my research points and checked for accuracy, added as much drama as I can, read it aloud to see if it is pacey enough, and generally can’t stand reading it again. Then it’s over to someone else for fresh eyes.” Mel Sharratt

 

41u1a7rrnl“There are several markers I use to gauge when a novel is finished:

  1. Has the story been told? Have my characters gone from point A to point B as I planned?
  2. Are there any loose ends? Although this can depend on whether you’re writing a series or whether you want an ambiguous ending.
  3. Satisfaction. Regardless of #2 above, the reader must feel satisfied, their expectations when they finish the book must be fulfilled.” Sue Fortin

 

51GfU8XpvaL“My first book The Not So Secret Emails of Coco Pinchard took three years to write, and was a pretty agonising process. The book is 72,000 words in length, and for a long time this worried me. I thought it was too short, having read that a novel should be at least 90,000 words. At the time I was submitting to agents and publishers, and a few flagged this up, telling met it could ‘run a little longer’. I duly added in a few chapters, but they felt like padding. The book was submitted, then turned down by all the major publishers. A couple of years passed and I self-published the original 72,000 word version. It was a big success and continues to sell. No one has ever mentioned that the book is too short, or seems unfinished. I learned that you have to read your own work objectively, and every story has its own length. My subsequent novels have ranged from 53,000 words to 100,000. My first drafts are always finished in a rush, and I think the deadline dictates when the book ends, but I then like to build in time to put the book to one side for a few weeks, then read it back with an objective eye. Then I can work out the pacing and make sure that the book builds to a conclusion that is neither rushed or very drawn out.” Robert Bryndza

 

51i6rnaeunl“For me it never feels finished. Even after my own three drafts and then another three with my editor I am still left feeling that there was more I could have done.” Angela Marsons

 

51rxw1asmql“With my first draft, I know when I’m finished when I’ve reached my planned conclusion. That’s the easy bit. But at that point I know I will be editing, so it’s only the story that’s finished, not the novel. I tend to edit as I go, so once the first draft is done I do a read through to tidy up and check for consistency. Again, once this is done, it’s still not ‘finished’. My agent will read the manuscript and give editorial feedback (which is the stage I’m currently at with my second novel), then the changes will come. I will do my best to ensure that the plot holes are plugged and that the conclusion makes sense – once my agent feels I’ve accomplished that, then the novel is finished. Only it’s not, because then my editor will read it…

I think once you’ve had a few rounds of edits, and everyone is happy with it, then it’s time to let it go. You could go on and on with edits, because each read through I might think ‘ooh, that word would be better there’, or I will think of a bit of description, or information that might enhance a particular passage more. I think as you grow as a writer you look back at past work with a more critical eye. So, once it’s been decided that the manuscript is done – don’t look back, start a new novel!” Sam Carrington

 

51hyonm5tdl“As a new author, it can be tempting to rework your manuscript to death. Submitting to an agent or publisher is daunting, and it is common practice for new authors to keep manuscripts for longer than is necessary, reworking each sentence until all the words blur together and panic ensues. I work to deadlines, and after writing seven books, I have a good handle on my writing routine. I compare it to painting. The first draft is very rough, my canvas if you like. When I’ve dictated ninety thousand words, I begin to layer it with emotions and descriptive detail. I also remove the deadwood; words which are not moving the story forward. I do this several times, all the while keeping an eye on my deadline and working towards my daily goals. If you have time, rest your manuscript. Come back to it in a week or two with fresh eyes. Spend a little more time working through your words. When you come to the end, it should be ready to go. Don’t agonise over it, just be proud. Hit that send button and begin working on the next big thing.” Caroline Mitchell

 

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“I think the book is finished when your readers are fully engaged with your characters – when they’re sucked into the plot and the setting, totally believing in the story.” Lisa Hall

How it really felt to hold my debut novel

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Before I was lucky enough to land a book deal for my debut psychological thriller, I’d imagined the period spent after signing with a publisher would be a magical, sparkling time. Excitement and champagne bubbling. Each morning marking off the days until publication on a calendar. Afternoons spent frolicking in a field. Threading daisies into chains and biting into wild strawberries. The sun beating down from a blue cloudless sky. The smell of freshly cut grass lingering in the air.

That is not what happened. At. All.

After editing, it has been straight into writing book two, with barely a breath, and book one, The Sister, has faded slowly into the background where it’s become not quite real to me, despite its looming publication date. A vague memory of something I once did.

Until yesterday.

When my doorbell chimed I bounded to answer it with all the enthusiasm of our spaniel as she chases a ball. I was, after all, waiting for a delivery from Naked Wines.

‘Where do you want them?’ The UPS guy asked, three large cardboard boxes at his feet. I had a momentary panic. I was expecting six bottles. How much had I ordered? But it was hot. I was thirsty, and so I asked him to bring them inside.

On the breakfast bar, I sliced open the first box, but as I reached inside my fingers didn’t connect with cool glass bottles. Instead the box was packed full of paperback books. My books. And it was so unexpected I felt physically winded.

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As I stood silently in my kitchen a myriad of emotions washed over me. My first thought was the one person I wanted to show my book too, more than anyone else in the world was no longer here. I felt sorrow tempered with joy. Exhilaration mingled with despair. And then a creeping sense of pride. I’d done it. Despite the physical pain I endure when I write. Despite the loss I’ve experienced during this process. The story of Grace is now in print, and when, half an hour later, the wine did arrive, I felt I really had something to celebrate.

 

The Sister is due to be published on 7th July. The ebook is still available to pre-order for the very special price of 99p, the paperback is £8.99 and, from July, it will also be available as an audio book. Find on Amazon UK or Amazon US.