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. 

Advertisements

A year ago today I signed a book deal. So what’s it really been like?

img_9242

A year ago today I signed a book deal and the past 365 days have been a whirlwind of highs and lows; pride and anxiety; celebrations and tears. I tried to imagine so many times what it would be like to sign my name on the dotted line, how I might feel, what the process might be like. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Emotions tumbled as I read THAT email at 7 am offering me a contract for three psychological thrillers. Euphoria was nudged aside by fear, did I have more than one book in me? What if I let my publishers down? Was I too old for a career change? A long chat followed with my commissioning editor Lydia Vassar-Smith, and to this day I still remember how I felt as I signed my name. Euphoric. Sick. Grateful. Afraid. I had no idea what publishing entailed and I was about to find out on a digital publisher’s schedule, which are known for being tough.

The publication date for my debut The Sister was set for 7th July 2016, less than five months away. In my naivety I’d envisaged spending those five months picnicking in fields, drinking champagne, and perhaps working on book two in-between long lunches and cream teas.

The reality was my edits came back straight away. My beautiful prose on the crisp white background was covered in red lines and comment bubbles. I made the first of many panicked phone calls to Lydia ‘I thought you liked my story?’ I gasped out in horror, convinced she had read it again and changed her mind. She assured me this was normal in the first round of edits and I tried not to cry/hang up/laugh hysterically as she explained she would work with me on the structural edits before I would be passed to a copy editor where it would happen all over again. The process could take weeks and in the meantime how was book two shaping up? This was when I stared longingly out of the window, bid goodbye to the outside world and pretty much my family, and got stuck in to making my lifelong dream a reality. When I first spoke to Lydia in February I didn’t realise how important it was that we got on. The author/editor relationship is very close and it’s important we shared the same vision for the book and I trusted the changes she wanted to make implicitly.

The edits for The Sister, although they felt huge at the time, were actually very light (when I compared them to The Gift later) which I was thankful for as this is the stage the fabulous Marketing Manager for Bookouture, Kim Nash, came in. Social media was something I’d occasionally dabbled in, blogging was something I already loved. Kim set up magazine and blog interviews and arranged for me to appear on local radio. Twitter has been an amazing support, not only for my books but I’ve met so many lovely people, some of whom I’ve now met in real life, and with a writer’s world being so isolated the interaction has been a real lifeline some days.the-sister

Soon weeks had flown by. I’d seen and fallen instantly in love with the cover for The Sister, the editing and proofreading were finished, I got to hold my paperbacks in my hand, listen to the audio version and see my debut go onto Amazon for pre-order. There were days to go before my story went out into the world but throughout the edits, the marketing, I hadn’t had much of a chance to work on The Gift and that has been a huge learning curve for me. The amount of time in a contract between books isn’t always writing time. When an author delivers a book it is far from finished and after talking things through with my family we made the decision to cancel our summer holiday so I could write every day. I was so grateful for the chance I had, I wanted to do everything possible to make my follow-up book as good as it could possibly be and I am lucky I had the understanding and support of my family to do this.

During the next few weeks, The Sister went to No.1, was nominated for The Goodreads Best Debut of 2016 and despite being released more than halfway through the year became the 6th biggest selling book on Amazon last year, it’s still in the UK top 100. The Gift was published in December 2016 and also hit the No. 1 spot and has currently spent over 10 weeks in the UK top 10. Both books are on the USA Today Bestseller’s list.

 

the-gift

There is much to celebrate and be grateful for but throughout this journey there has also been the inevitable ups and down of life to factor in. A family illness, a bereavement, the bittersweet feeling of finally being published and the one person I wanted to share this with no longer being with us. The stress of financial instability as I wasn’t able to carry on working and hit my deadlines. But there is an underlying excitement for the future. I now have the support of an amazing agent, Rory Scarfe of Furniss Lawton, and I’m very much enjoying writing my third book. I can’t wait to see what the next 12 months bring. I’m living the life I’ve always dreamed of and although it’s exhausting at times, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Big thanks to the team at Bookouture for taking a chance on an unknown author. I am eternally grateful.bookouture-web-logo-3

 

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.