genre stuff writing & publishing

Tips For Getting A Novel Deal #2

Continuing from the previous post, here are some more rough notes. This time, on submitting to agents and what kind of things to put in a synopsis.

The submission stage

• Use professionalism, first and foremost. Treat this like you would other business – that means, be polite to people.

• Lose your ego! You’d be surprised at how many people think they deserve and demand publication, and kick up a right old fuss.

• Know what an agent and publisher are looking for with respect to the genres they represent. Look at what they have already bought, or on their list. Look and see if they’re accepting any submissions.

• If in doubt, just get in touch with the agents. (Most publishers ask for submissions only from agents; some will allow unsolicited manuscripts to be sent in.) Email or phone; they’re usually very helpful. Or send a covering letter.

The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook—contains thousands of names and addresses of publishers, agents etc. It’s the best resource for this. Alternatively, use Google to find out information. Look at their clients. But also, beware of some bad agents…

Never part with cash for an agent before a deal is done with a publisher. Agents work on commission from what they sell. Don’t be too desperate for an agent to represent you that you make this mistake.

• Make sure your work is formatted properly. That’s in a legible font—no pictures, no fancy colours, please—and that is double spaced. Make sure you have a significant amount to send in the first place, even though they’re most likely to ask for the first few chapters and a synopsis.

Be prepared to be turned down dozens of times, but don’t take it personally. Publishing is one of the most subjective businesses around. It’s an art, not a science. Agents and publishers will take work on that they have a passion for, personally and commercially. Rejection is the norm. If you ask any writer, they’ll have been turned down dozens of times. Don’t let it upset you.

What to put in a good synopsis

• Be concise as you can for the length of the work. Three or four pages should be the limit, although it’s useful to include a general one paragraph summary at the start.

• In this first paragraph, compare your book to others which are selling well—this will help the editors (more importantly the marketing department) understand how to sell it. That’s the most important decision at the back of their mind. Make it clear what it is you’ve written. Think of this as a brief sales pitch.

• If you can help it, don’t compare your work to something too obscure, or something that has bombed recently. This comes back to market awareness.

• Just write about what happens in the book, what the characters go through. Keep it simple.

• After you write everything that happens, take out all useless commentary. Be brutal. Make sure all that you describe is key to the story, nothing more. If an editor likes the concept, they’ll start reading. They’ll most likely judge you by the first page of what you’ve written.

By Mark Newton

Born in 1981, live in the UK. I write about strange things.

6 replies on “Tips For Getting A Novel Deal #2”

Hi Mark. None of these questions are pressing for me (still stuck on the writing) but here’s a few that crop up from this post.

With regards to agents and money; you don’t pay them anything until the deal is done? Ic ould see how they may charge for sending things out etc – although I would be hoping that the good ones think your book is worth waiting for the % cut down the line.

It’s maybe a personal question but what roughly was your “sales pitch” for NOV? No worries if you don’t want to divulge that but just interested in seeing an example that worked.

No, agents take a cut of the deal they get you. So my agent gets a percentage on everything I earn (which is submitted via him). Not one reputable agent I know of asks for a fee up front.

Sales pitch… well, there wasn’t really much of a pitch I don’t think. I had a synopsis and a completed novel – I did a brief paragraph giving an overview of the novel and who I thought it would appeal to. Nothing fancy. Peter, the editor who bought the series, was probably one of those guys who just wanted to see the writing anyway.

Cheers, Mark.

As someone who works in the industry and probably knows a fair bit about it already, did you ever consider going it alone?
To me it sees like extra hassle on top of trying to write a book, so would welcome the agent. I’m sure they’re worth it – the good ones anyhow.

Well, when I started out, I was fairly fresh to the whole scene. Agents are essential in representing new authors – publishers won’t really accept anything unless from one.

And even now, I wouldn’t want the extra hassle – there’s enough to do (not just the writing) without having to worry about all the contractual stuff!

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