19 January 2018

How to submit your novel to literary agents

Books from former CBC novel-writing students
by Jack Hadley From the Agents, How To ..., Writing Tips

The literary agents at Curtis Brown and C&W get hundreds of submissions each week, so how do you – as a writer – make your work stand out? We asked the literary agents for their top submission tips for new writers who are trying to find an agent. Here’s a selection of their responses…

  • Good writing is the best way to grab our attention. We’re not interested in tricks, gimmicks or marketing ideas. If you write well, you’ll stand out.
  • We don’t take kindly to grammatical and spelling mistakes. Make sure you proof-read your work before submitting it.
  • Pitch your book concisely, elegantly, punchily. Avoid too many adverbs.
  • Keep your synopsis short and to the point. We want a glimpse into your story and an idea of the plot and characters, not a five-page, blow-by-blow account of each chapter and scene. That’s what the novel itself is for.
  • Don’t confuse a synopsis with a blurb. A synopsis is an outline of the book’s themes and plot. A blurb is written by the publisher to attract readers to the book. A blurb will feature words such as ‘exhilarating’ and ‘exquisite’. One shouldn’t find them in a synopsis.
  • Avoid disingenuous self-deprecation in a covering letter (‘I know you won’t have the time for a lowly writer like me…’). We want to work with writers who value their work and aren’t embarrassed to say so.
  • Show knowledge of the agent’s existing list – and spell their authors’ names correctly.
  • Avoid pitching your book as something meets something else, as you might send the agent down the wrong path.
  • Your pitch/cover letter shouldn’t be any longer than a page.
  • It isn’t wise to brag. Let the agent be the judge of the quality of the material. But do highlight in your covering letter why you think your book is distinctive and special.
  • Think carefully about who your target audience is and what books your work would sit alongside – don’t just randomly pick an author we represent in an attempt to flatter us.
  • Please don’t attempt to fashion your own book jacket cover or marketing material: a team of professionals will address that when your work is published.
  • Think about whether your book idea is suited to be a novel; it might work better as a blog or an article.
  • Only send through relevant CV information. We don’t need to know about your A-level results, no matter how brilliant.
  • If you’ve been referred to a Curtis Brown agent by a contact at a publishing house, please let us know in your letter.
  • Please do mention if you’ve submitted to or been in touch with one of our agents before.
  • If your work is rejected, then please don’t reply pointing out that we’ve made a mistake. Reading is subjective and there are all kinds of reasons for agents turning down proposals. Don’’t be downheartened. Other agents might feel differently.
  • Target people who would be appropriate for your work rather than submitting to all agents at Curtis Brown or selecting somebody at random.
  • Don’t address a submission to Mr Curtis Brown. He died some time ago. When researching who to submit to, you should have discovered that.

For more expert advice on submitting your novel to agents enrol on our 6-week online Edit & Pitch Your Novel course.

As well as expert teaching from published authors, all our three- and six-month novel-writing courses offer dedicated modules on submitting your novel to literary agents – and include sessions on writing a synopsis and preparing a covering letter

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