Writers' & Artists' "How To Hook An Agent" Workshop

On Saturday, I went up to London to attend a Writers' & Artists' workshop all about finding an agent. Run by Bloomsbury, and hosted in their beautiful central London offices, it was an amazing day. I find events like these well worth investing in, because it's not only a great chance to meet industry professionals and hear them share their wisdom, it's also fantastic just to be in the company of writers in a similar stage of their journey.


The agents talked us through everything a great submission package needs, from when you can be sure your novel's ready to send out (after lots of edits and input from beta readers), to how to accept an offer. We had a pitch exercise and the opportunity to have a one-to-one with an agent.


I thought I'd share some of the advice agents Hannah Sheppard, Sarah O'Halloran, Juliet Mushens and Sallyanne Sweeney had for us.

Cover Letter

We had examples of good and bad query/cover letters, some of which were real, others of which were amalgamations of a number of bad practices some authors have.

One of the key points that all four made was to ensure your cover letter is confident, but not boastful. In other words, don't say "I have no idea what I'm doing, but I think this book might be okay" or "this is the greatest book yet to be published, and if you take it on, you will be taking on a future bestseller guaranteed." Be polite, professional, and respectful. Believe in yourself and your book. You wouldn't apply to a job saying you'd be no good for it, so ignore the urge to be self-deprecating.

A few other key points to remember when writing your cover letter/query letter:
  • Never write 'a fictional novel' as a way to describe your book.
  • Make it as easy to read as possible, with spaces between the paragraphs. Avoid gimmicks such as writing in the main character's voice or, with postal submissions, sending gifts or packing lots of glitter into the envelope.
  • Treat this like a job interview - be professional, but show relevant personal details, such as previous publication history or relevant qualifications. And don't worry if you don't have any!
  • Do not lie about having met the agent, or having a referral from another agent. It really won't help you.
  • Be patient! Agents are very busy people. You can follow up with a polite email after the allotted time stated on their website. 
  • Always personalise - so the agent's name rather than Dear Agent, Dear Sir/Madam, To Whom It May Concern, and be prepared to adapt your cover letter (and your entire submission package) to each agent's preference. 
Synopsis
Hannah and Sarah also spoke about how to put a good synopsis together.  Their biggest tip? Don't stress out. It's a tool for the agent to see if your story is going to work further in. They may not even read it. That being said, if an agency website requests it, you still need to include it.

Sarah suggested using a three act structure in your synopsis, so your paragraphs should run something like this:

Paragraph One: Set up the main character and their 'world'.
Paragraph Two: What's the inciting incident, and what happens if the character fails.
Paragraphs Three-Five: Summarise the turning points and the mini-climaxes.
Paragraph Six: The moment the character might fail.
Paragraph Seven: Success!
Paragraph Eight: Tie up the plot and show how the character has changed.

The other important synopsis points were:

  • A synopsis should be 1 side of A4, single-spaced, but with blank lines between each paragraph. The absolute longest it can be is 2 sides of A4 double-spaced.
  • Don't cram the whole book in there. This needs to be the bare bones and not overly wordy. Focus on key plot points and characters.
  • You must include the ending. Yes, spoil it. You have to. This isn't like the blurb you'll have in your cover letter/query letter.
  • If possible, have someone who hasn't read the book read over your synopsis and then tell you what your book is about. If they can do it, your synopsis works. If not, edit, edit, edit.
The agents had so much great advice, and I am so grateful for their time and knowledge. It really reaffirmed my choice to stick with traditional publishing. As Juliet and Sallyanne said, an agent's job is to take care of the business side of publishing while you, the author, write the actual books. An agent is there to provide you with a voice in the publishing industry.

A few other miscellaneous but equally important points I wanted to share:

  • Do your research - target an agent for a good reason and be sure they represent what you're offering them.
  • Always be professional.
  • Your cover letter - and your entire submission package - is every bit as important as the book itself, so take time putting it together.
  • Be aware that an agent may Google you, so if you're active on social media or have a blog, think hard about the content you're putting up. 
  • Be prepared to do more edits. Agents have so much market experience behind them. If they suggest your book could use a few tweaks, chances are they know what they're talking about. That said, if you don't agree with the suggestions, or you feel they perhaps don't see the book the same way you do, don't accept the offer of representation.
  • Agents do not have a magical quota - they aren't rejecting you because they already signed their allotted number of authors in a month.
  • A great title is your book's initial pitch.
  • Persevere, persevere, persevere.
This was an amazing workshop and I'm so glad I went. If you live in the UK, or can find a similar event wherever you are, I think it's well worth attending. A huge thank you to the agents and the organisers for such a brilliant day!

Comments

  1. I'm a little jealous...sounds like a great day and so much good information. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. That sounds like an absolutely amazing day! I've had the pleasure of meeting Ms Mushens at cons in the past -- she's absolutely fantastic, a real dream agent. :)

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    Replies
    1. It was brilliant and yes, she was an absolute delight. All the agents were. So knowledgeable and professional. I'd be lucky to work with any of them!

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