Last week I attended a writing event and shared key writing lessons on this blog. As promised, this week I’m focusing on the publishing lessons, which formed a huge portion of the day.
1. Do your research
There are loads of agents and publishers out there, each with different preferences. If you don’t do your research and find out more about these preferences you could waste your time, and theirs, by sending manuscripts to people who simply aren’t interested in your genre/style.
2. Make sure your query letter has a “point of contact”
It’s not uncommon to submit to a number of agents, in fact it’s expected. But that doesn’t mean every query letter should be the same. Work out your “point of contact”, your reason for submitting to that particular agent (or publishing house). It could be that you saw them do a talk, you met them at an event, you’re a huge fan of authors on their list or you read an interview where you found some common ground. Make sure it is sincere and personal. Don’t just say, “I’m a fan of your authors.” You could say that to any agent and it would have no meaning.
3. Expect longer wait times around big events (book fairs)
Something I’d never considered before this event was that certain big events such as book fairs take up a great chunk of an agents time. Expect longer wait times for replies to submissions around these dates (The London Book Fair for example). Don’t nudge or push agents for a response. They are busy people who will get in touch at their own pace. You don’t necessarily have to avoid submitting around book fair times, just be extra patient.
4. Help agents figure out your market
An agent needs to sell your book, and giving them the clearest idea you can in your query letter will help them decide if your work is relevant and has a place in the market. Make sure you state your genre. If you can’t niche it down describe it as accurately as possible. For example, saying you’ve written a “historical murder mystery” offers more insight than not stating it at all simply because you can’t decide between whether you’re writing historical fiction or crime fiction. You can also use humble and genuine comparisons, by comparing your book to either other books or even TV shows and films. Don’t say “this book is the next Game of Thrones!” Say “This book will be enjoyed by fans of Game of Thrones.” You can be confident, but humility is important too.
5. Mention writing experience in your query letter
Do you have any previous writing experience or accomplishments? This can be anything from full education to short courses, attending events, publishing short stories in a publication, winning competitions…if you’ve got it, mention it. You don’t need to go into this in great depth, keep it short and sweet. What it does is show off that you’re taking writing seriously, and this is good for agents and publishers to see.
6. Craft a brilliant synopsis
There’s no doubt that you need a brilliant synopsis. Craft a synopsis by starting with the bare bones of your story and adding context. Keep it concise; there’s no need for minor characters or sub-plots to get a mention. But do make sure it includes emotion and character arcs, to truly show off the heart of the story. (This may take time and several drafts!)
7. Try to meet agents at events (but respect boundaries)
Attending events is a great way to meet agents. Whether you choose to pitch to them on the spot or just use it as a “point of contact” for your query letter. But make sure you respect their time and boundaries. Don’t grab them as they’re in the queue for the toilets. Don’t take up too much of their time. It’s often worth preparing an opening conversation piece, to avoid awkwardness and to get to your point right away.
8. Keep writing
The first book you write/submit won’t necessarily be the one you publish. Keep writing. Keep learning. Keep improving. The more you write, the more material you have to work with and your chances of being published increase.
I hope these tips are helpful. Do you have any you’d like to add? If so, please comment below.