You’ve written the novel, edited it, edited it again, and now it’s time to get it published. But unless you’ve got a long publication history behind you, knowing where to begin can be extremely daunting.
Generally, there are two main routes to publish your novel:
- Getting a Literary Agent
Most large publishing houses will not accept unsolicited manuscripts, which is why you need an agent to help you get your novel through the door.
Some smaller publishers may accept unsolicited manuscripts, which I suppose would be route three. However, these are increasingly uncommon. Check individual publisher’s guidelines to be sure, otherwise your manuscript will only end up in the virtual bin.
I try to base my blog posts on my own ups and downs as an aspiring author, which is why this blog post is focusing on the literary agent route. That doesn’t mean I’ve completely rules out the self-publishing route, but for me there’s some comfort in knowing somebody else likes my work enough to want to represent me.
So, you’ve picked your route. What next? How do you actually go about getting a literary agent?
Do your research
There are numerous sources out there which list literary agents, but I recommend the Writers and Artists Handbook. This lists all literary agents in the UK, their contact details and a little bit about what they’re looking for. For instance, there would be no point submitting your love novel set in space to an agent who only represents cookery books.
Draw up a long-list of agents you think might be a good match, then take to the internet to further your research. Most agents will have a web page letting you know if they’re open for submissions, and exactly what to submit.
Get together your submission package
This will vary between agents, but generally consists of a cover letter, synopsis, and an extract from your novel. This is typically the first three chapters, but make sure you double check!
Format your submission package exactly as the agent wants it – double or single spaced, font size and style. Do they want the writing and synopsis attached or in the body of the email? Agents look for any reason to get rid of manuscripts out of their inbox, so don’t give them a silly reason to get rid of yours.
This is (usually) a one-page summary of your novel. It should highlight your key plot points, and give the agent a good understanding of your story’s arch. However, it doesn’t need to go into too much detail, or explain every single character or sub-plot.
It also doesn’t need to read like a blurb and can be slightly ‘boring’ in style. It can, and probably should, give away spoilers.
Again, make sure you check the agent’s submissions guidelines as they may specify a length or style for the synopsis.
The Cover Letter
This should also be under a page. It should introduce your novel and yourself, and unlike the synopsis you can write the cover letter so it’s a little more ‘blurb-like’ to entice the agent.
Make sure you personalise each cover letter you send out to each agent by using their name and a short explanation about why you are submitting to them.
A good, basic structure is:
Dear ADDRESS AGENT BY NAME,
I am submitting my novel TITLE, GENRE, WORDCOUNT. Include WHY you chose THEM.
1 paragraph about the novel.
1 paragraph about yourself. Include relevant writing experience, what you do for a living, etc.
Finish by letting the agent know if you’re submitting to multiple agents and thank them for their time.
I also include my contact details at the end of the letter.
Keep a record
I find it useful to keep a record of which agents I’ve submitted my novel to and when I submitted it. I also record their expected response time, and any other useful information such as ‘assume rejection if no response in 8 weeks’.
How many agents should I submit to?
There’s no rule, but I read somewhere once 7 is a good place to start. I’d say between 5-10, then wait a few weeks. If you send off more than 10 in close succession only to discover there’s a typo halfway through your synopsis, you’re going to be pretty disappointed.
Why not try to pass the time by working on a different project, like a short story?
I’ve had a response, what next?
Congratulations! When I received my first ever response from a literary agent, it was super exciting. What you do next very much depends on the nature of the response. They may have asked for the full novel, or you may get a form or personalised rejection. You can find out more about how to interpret different kinds of rejection emails here.
An agent wants to work with me
It’s the news we all hope for! Just take a moment before you sign on the dotted line to make sure the agent is right for you. You can read more about this on my post ‘How to decide whether to work with a literary agent’.
As for me, I’ve recently started sending my rewritten novel out to literary agents. I’m therefore in the waiting stage.
Do you have any tips for how to find a good literary agent? If so, please let me know in the comments!