Submitting to a Publisher: Submitting to a Literary Agent

We asked Janelle Andrew from the Peter, Frasers and Dunlop literary agency some questions about submitting to a literary agent.

At what stage should a manuscript be before you submit it to an agent?

You should only send your manuscript to an agent when it is in the best possible shape it can be. What does that mean? It may seem obvious as a concept, but in practice it can feel kind of vague, especially after a while when you may not be the best judge. To an agent this means a few things:

1) That you have finished the book. You may have an amazing first three chapters, but for an agent there is no point reading those first three chapters when you haven’t completed the novel: what if the rest of the novel is terrible and those three chapters are the only good parts of it? You need to show commitment to the project by finishing it.

2) It isn’t a first draft. This means you haven’t written the last word, filed it in an envelope and sent it to us. You have actually re-read your work and made it the best it can be without external input. That’s the stage when you send it to us, because you feel you’ve done all you can with it and now it’s time to get someone else involved.

We need to know that you are a nice person to work with, with a talent that can be honed, have the will to succeed, and will listen to our advice

What is the best way to find an agent?

The best way to find an agent is to use the internet. Look on our websites; look on Agent Hunter which has a lot of agents and more personal information about their tastes. A good trick is to Google authors you love and admire, who you feel your work has an affinity with and find out who their agent is. Another resource is The Writers and Artist’s Yearbook.

How can a writer make the best first impression?

Think of a job interview. When you go for that job you present all the best aspects of yourself and you project an image of the person you hope your future boss wants you to be. Finding an agent is the same process. If you wouldn’t do it in an interview (be overly informal, sloppy grammar, poor spelling, display an obnoxious attitude), don’t do it with an agent. You have to be courteous, respectful and committed. We need to know that you are a nice person to work with, with a talent that can be honed, a will to succeed and that you will listen to our advice.

Think about what you want from an agent. If you want someone to make you the next JK Rowling, chances are you’re going to annoy us because you’re likely to be a bit arrogant and demanding. If you want an agent who will believe in you and champion your work, chances are you’ll be humble but hard working. Who doesn’t like that? Lead by example and don’t behave with us the way you wouldn’t with anyone else. Just because we are a creative industry doesn’t mean we don’t expect professionalism.

Is a writer’s social media presence an important consideration for an agent?

No. Your work is the most important consideration. You could have 40,000 Twitter followers but if you can’t write for toffee then what’s the point? However, you do need to be aware of social media and if you do get published be prepared to get involved with it for publicity purposes.

What are the most important ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ for submissions?

Do: be courteous, polite and write a good cover letter. If you can’t write a cover letter why would we think you can write a novel? Do your research. Tailor each submission to that agent – what is it about us that makes you think we would be a good fit for you? Be yourself.

Don’t: be rude, chasing us every day to read your work. Treat us with respect and send your work to a lot of agents, not just one at a time. This will help your chances and give you a greater playing field. 



If you're at the stage of writing your cover letter, here is some excellent advice right from the mouth that feeds you: Lucy Luck from Lucy Luck Associates and Aitken Alexander Associates.