5 Tips for Approaching an Agent

Ready to start submitting your novel to agents? Be sure to read through these handy tips from Laura Macdougall of United Agents first.


Edit, edit, edit

Unless you’re very lucky, you will only get one chance to have your work read by a particular agent. Make sure your novel or non-fiction proposal is as good as you can make it before pressing "send". Don’t send an unfinished novel or proposal. There’s nothing more frustrating for an agent then reading a great first three chapters, then finding out that the author has only written the first third of a novel and is looking for feedback!

Research, research, research

Make sure you address each agent you’re contacting correctly

Before submitting your work, think carefully about which agent(s) you are going to send your novel or non-fiction proposal to. A good place to start is by finding out who represents books you’ve really enjoyed or admired, or books that you think occupy a similar position in the market to your own. You should be able to find out who has represented which book via a Google search, or by reading an author’s acknowledgements at the back of their book.

You can also look carefully at the writers particular agents represent. You can usually find this information on the Agency’s website, by following the agent on Twitter, or by reading the Writers & Artists Yearbook. It might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many fantasy and YA novels I receive, despite clearly stating that I don’t represent SFF novels or books for children and younger readers.

Make sure you address each agent you’re contacting correctly. Again, you would be surprised how many people write to me as Dear Sir, or spell my first name or surname wrong, or address me as ‘Hey, Laura’ when we’ve never met. You need to strike the right balance between being respectful and polite, but not overly formal. Remember you only get to make a first impression once.

Follow guidelines

Once you’re ready to submit and have chosen your ideal agent(s), make sure you follow their personal submission guidelines. Many agents will ask for a synopsis and three chapters of a novel, but some might want the full script straightaway, or the first half, or the first 100 pages.

If you’re submitting to ten agents, you might find it frustrating having to create a separate document for each one, but think of it as time well spent. If you email an agent saying ‘I know you only asked for three chapters, but my story doesn’t really get going until the fifth chapter’, then don’t send the first five or six chapters, but maybe ask yourself if you need to do another edit if nothing is happening at the beginning.  

Polish your accompanying documents

Tailor your covering letter to that particular agent

Most agents will also ask for a covering letter and a synopsis to accompany your novel or non-fiction proposal. Tailor your covering letter to that particular agent; it will stand out more if they feel like you have chosen them for a particular reason, rather than employing a scattergun approach.

Yes, writing a synopsis can be difficult, but it’s necessary. Don’t put it off or do it half-heartedly! Keep it brief (it should be no more than a page), and make it interesting. It has to work hard to pique our interest alongside those opening chapters and make us believe in the rest of the story.

Work on your Elevator Pitch. This should be a maximum of three sentences and make clear why your book stands out against the competition. Consider your reader here – who are they and why they would want to read your book over all the competition.

It’s about your work not about you

One of the most off-putting things as an agent is receiving a submission where the writer talks about themselves and doesn’t let their work do the talking. If you have complementary life experience, skills or qualifications which are directly relevant to your work (particularly in non-fiction), or have been nominated for writing prizes, you can mention them, but ultimately we are interested in the story you are telling on the page, not your life story. Spend your time polishing your book instead.


Need a little help making sure your book is as polished as it can be? You might want to add our blog about proofreading your work to your reading list!

Image by khamkhor on Pixabay.

Laura Macdougall

Laura Macdougall portrait
Laura Macdougall joined United Agents as an agent in the book department in the summer of 2017, after two years as an agent at Tibor Jones & Associates and five years in the fiction department at Hodder & Stoughton.

Her list represents her own broad tastes as a reader, from commercial fiction to cookery, from historical fiction to nature writing, from books on feminism and parenting to gardening and music. She has a particular interest in LGBTQ writers and stories. Follow her on Twitter or check out her Instagram.