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The Covering Letter

by NMott 

Posted: 13 March 2009
Word Count: 5576
Summary: Please be aware that it is a little 'snarky' in places. I could clean it up but then it would be far too boring to read (or write). (Google "Miss Snark" for the origin of the word). Feel free to disagree - I may even amend it if you can persuade me to - but this isn't about writing the best covering letter in the world; it's about NOT writing one that'll get your submission rejected before they've read the all important sample chapters.
Related Works: A round-up of synopsis tips • Synopsis Examples • 

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A frequent question on WriteWords is "what should I put in my cover/covering letter?"

Here's an example of a successful covering letter sent by WWmember Freebird:

These are the letters (single spaced, 12pt, TNR) that go with the submission to UK agents, along with your first 3 chapters (or first 10K words if you have exceptionally long chapters) and 1 or 2 page synopsis (preferably 1).
They bear a striking resemblance to Query letters, written for the US market, but there are significant differences, which I'll come back to another day, but if you can't wait then check out Nathan Bransford's blog (Since writing this I've added some Query tips to the bottom of Synopsis Examples, plus a comment about whether or not to include the prologue).

Firstly find out the agents names so you can address the letters to them, personally - unless an Agency specifically requests unsolicited manuscripts to be sent to The Submissions Department, or similar.

Covering letters give the Agent the important information of:
Your name and contact details.
The genre, title and word count of your completed manuscript (mss).
A couple of lines summarising your novel - preferably making it sound fresh and original, and not a tired, clichéd, old plot or a clone of the Da Vinci Code. If you can carry the 'voice' over from the novel then so much the better. A US Query-style 'hook' is permissible but if you thought a synopsis was difficult to write, try writing a one line Query hook!

eg. From Nathan Bransford's blog:
[protagonist name] is a [description of protagonist] living in [setting]. But when [complicating incident], [protagonist name] must [protagonist's quest] and [verb] [villain] in order to [protagonist's goal].

Target readership: In most cases this is summed up in genre, so if you've called it 'Sci-Fi', or 'Chick-lit', you are saying 'this will appeal to readers of Sci-fi', or 'Chick-lit'.
Sometimes, however, you need to qualify the genre. So, for example, if you've said it's Childrens fiction you'll need to include the age band it's aimed at - this information can go next to 'genre' in the opening paragraph. And don't make the same mistake as me and make up a age band simply because the children of friends and relatives between the age of 6 to 11 read it and liked it.

You might consider adding a line about 'themes', especially if you've plumped for the non-generic General Fiction tag, but this is not a subject for the novice as it is all too easy to slip into cliche, and not all agents like 'themes' - from a blog:
Don’t state themes. For example: “the story will consider the effects of global warming and demonstrate what readers can do to help.” Or “the story looks at the serious issue of bullying.” Statements like these may make the reader think that the theme will be too heavily handled in your story.

If you are calling it 'Literary fiction' then a discussion of themes is a must. If you can't pull it off then call it 'General Fiction' or pick a genre. Personally I hate the tag 'literary' because you are setting yourself up for a fall. It means writing an A1 covering letter and synopsis to support it, along with having publishing credits and competition wins to your name. To an agent & publisher it means small print runs and low sales figures and so won't take it on unless they think it's a potential prize winner. Most 'literary fiction' started out as general or genre fiction until it got shortlisted for the Man Booker prize or equivalent. Ultimately, it's your agent, publisher, respected book reviewer/columnist's call, not yours.

Below this have a paragraph listing your publications (writing credits), competition wins, creative writing degrees, and personal biography as it pertains to your writing. If you have none of these, then it is permissible to leave it blank, although, since you are reading this it means you are a member of a writing community where your work is being critiqued, and so that is one thing you could put in, if it’ll make you feel any better. It won't mean anything to most Agents, though. It's just a space filler.

I get into trouble for saying this, but, if possible, avoid saying this is your 'first' novel. Practically everyone uses the phrase but 'First novel' carries with it negative connotations. Some agents do not take on writers who have only written one thing - this is different from a writer who has a bottom drawer stuffed with short stories, poems and unfinished mss. Yes, this may be the 'first novel' you've actually managed to complete in the 12 years, or 6 months, since you caught the writing bug, but it's best not to be too specific with the details.
'So', you might ask, 'should I mention I'm writing my second novel - so they know I'm not a one horse writer?'
You can if you want, but try not to say 'second novel', because that implies you haven't been writing for very long. Say 'next novel' and have a hook line (a summarising sentence or two) to describe it in the covering letter (eg, pinched from WW member, Saturday, 'I'm already at work on a new novel called 'Mrs Somebody', about a woman who accidentally - and unwillingly - becomes famous.'), then, if they like your writing but not the novel you're submitting, they may ask to see your next one when it's finished. For 'hook lines', see 'US-style Queries'
- But this is not for the inexperienced writer (ie, someone who has only just started submitting), so, personally, I would advise against it at this stage.

Last but not least, thank them for their time, and say you include an SAE for their reply. If you do not want your submission returned, then say you are happy for it to be recycled and you enclose a small SAE for correspondence.

The Do's:

Do read the submission guidelines very carefully as laid out on each agent's website, or in directories such as the Writers And Artists Year Book. I am just talking generalities here, don't take then as law. Do your homework - eg, there are differences in submission criteria for childrens fiction, and not all agents and publishers need to be queried first, as this quote from Snowbooks will attest to:
...please don't query Snowbooks. Just follow the instructions on this website and send your script in. There are about 50 queries in my junk [spam email folder] - I think they got there because they are all three or four pages long, using every trick in the book to try to get me to request the script. You don't have to use the tricks! We accept submissions! Nothing is more likely to put me off a book or author than your inability to follow simple instructions, I'm afraid.

Do mention if you've had any publications (writing credits) in respectable magazines or ezines. If you are a journalist this can include some of your more creative writing efforts, posted online or commissioned for magazines or suppliments. However, a lot of Agents see non-fiction newspaper articles as a different writing skill to fiction, so it's a double edged sword.

Do mention any competition wins or placements (2nd, 3rd, 4th prize, honourable mention, runner-up, etc) - assuming these were properly judged competitions, as opposed to a POD published anthology full of typos, where you were expected to buy 10 copies for family and friends (- see self-publishing, below), or you were 10 yrs old and won a Blue Peter badge for your efforts.

Do mention if you have a blog or website where you showcase your work - make sure it is suitable viewing; imagine that a potential employer-cum-marriage partner is reading it.
If you are writing children’s fiction and putting x-rated content on your Facebook page, then it is best to remove it before you start submitting your work.
If, however, you have several writing credits to your name, then a webpage showcasing this writing would be a distinct advantage, since it provides the internet-savvy agent with access to additional samples of your writing, and allows you to expand on your biography (just make sure there it is well written and proof-read).
However, some agents see this as self-publishing (if it is viewable and googleable by the general public), so do not put up any part of the novel (or short story) you are submitting.

Do mention if you met the agent at any of the writing festivals that take place around the country. If you were lucky enough to attend one of their seminars/workshops and they said 'sure, send me your mss' remind them of it because they will probably have forgotten you and your work in the interim. This brings it into the hallowed ranks of a 'solicited submission', not an 'unsolicited' one.
Not that it matters if it goes into the slush pile - it'll still get looked at if it does - but it just means you'll get a 'yay' or 'nay' a little sooner than the 3 month average it takes for most slush pile submissions to be processed, and you might even get some personal feedback as to why they are rejecting it.

The Don'ts:

Don't write your bio. in the 3rd person - Agents are liable to assume you've had an editorial agency do it for you, and it makes the subject matter hard to read.

Don't forget to include an SAE. Don't leave it out expecting them to email you - they won't, mainly because they don't want to give out their email address to a potentially angry rejected writer.

Don't send your submission by registered mail. It's a waste of money and I've known some to come back by return post - probably because the receptionist had better things to do with her time than to sign for unsolicited mail, or go down to the post office to collect it if they were in the loo when the postman knocked twice.

Don't mention self-publishing in any way, shape, or form - and, yes, that does include POD (print on demand) publishing, unless you can prove otherwise, ie, you've got an agent.
There are specialist, genre, independant (indie) publishers in the US who use POD printing technology and dislike being lumped in with the self-publishing crowd, but they are few and far between and the agents know who they are.
Don't bother setting up your own imprint so as to publish your own book - agents can see through that ruse too.
Trust me on this one: been there, been rejected in double quick time. It gives your submission a distinct whiff of failure, even if, like me, you found it great fun at the time. It is not a step up on the publishing career ladder, but rather a smack in the face from the chewing gum-strewn tarmac underneath.

Don't say your friends, relatives, bank manager read it and loved it. The Agent will be thinking 'I'll make up my own mind about that, thank you!' - to be honest, this also goes for any personal recommendations you may have wrangled from your CW tutors and author friends.
Probably the only advantage of trying to get a personal recommendation from someone in the industry is it may get you some feedback from the agent as to why they didn't like it - as opposed to the slightly smudged photocopied rejection slips that everyone else papers their loos with.
Also, asking author friends to recommend you to their agent is a sure fire way to lose those friends. Far better to beg and bribe them to crit your submission chapters and help you with your synopsis.
Just an amendment, based on an interns blog post. If they are working through the Uber-Agent's slush pile and see a recommendation for the mss from another agent who has passed on it, they will forward the submission to the Agent even if they, themselves, would have rejected it.

Don't think that now you are at the stage of submitting your novel you need to start a website or blog, you don't - but ask me again in 5-10yrs time.
Ditto creative writing degree courses. The only advantage of taking a CW degree at this stage in the game is you might persuade your CW tutor to recommend your work to any agents they know and help you polish your synopsis and first 3 chapters. Otherwise your time would be better spent writing Novels 2, 3 & 4, by which time you'll know far more than any tutor could teach you about the basics of creative writing. You'll probably be lacking in confidence by then so it's worth joining a writing group purely to hear them praise your work, as they tear it to shreds, and encourage you to keep submitting. Also, the money saved could be spent on an editorial report on your mss. It probably won't help it get published, but will provide you with a number of useful writing tips which you can carry over into your future work. And keep reminding yourself that with grit and determination someday you will be published.

Don't use a pen name in a covering letter, unless there is something wrong with your real name and you don't think an agent will take you seriously if you use it - eg, it's Barbara Cartland or Joanne K. Rowling. You could always use your middle name (your parents always thought it would come in useful someday) or your maiden name; there's nothing wrong with Kay Rowling.
More on the protocal of using pseudonyms here: http://www.writersrelief.com/blog/post/Pseudonyms-Using-A-Pen-Name-In-A-Cover-Or-Query-Letter-To-Agents-Or-Editors.aspx

Don't submit a 50K mss and call it Adult fiction (as opposed to YA or Children's fiction). The Agent will take one look at that figure in your covering letter and reject the submission. Aim for +80K and stop well before you get to 200K. Publishers don't like publishing novellas or doorstops, so Agents won't bother to take any on unless you're already a prize winning author or Susanna Clarke.

Don't include a list of publishing credits you may have picked up in your line of work, if your line of work has nothing to do with writing fiction: eg, a technical magazine, or in-house training manual, or an article entitled Compound Interest Calculations for Accountants.

Don't submit until the mss is complete; don't submit a first draft; always proof read it - don't expect them to correct your spelling and grammar for you. Don't use dyslexia as an excuse in your covering letter for such typos in your mss - if you know you can't do it yourself then get it professionally proof read by a third party even if you have to pay for it.

Don't mention cross-over. Even if you think it is cross-over, don't say that in your covering letter - leave it to the agent to decide. (This also applies to crossover between Literary & genre fiction).
If you are sure it is crossover - which means comfortably sitting in either genre, as opposed to being somewhere between the two - I would suggest preparing two sets of covering letters and synopses for the two genres you think it'll fit into, and send them out separately. That way you'll achieve a greater number of submissions, and so have a greater chance of finding an agent who 'gets it'.
Most times, writers who think it's crossover have actually written a novel that falls between the two genre stools, making it an un-commercial proposition as far as the Agents are concerned because they "don't know how to sell it".
In such instances you are liable to get a letter back asking "where do you think this novel sits on the bookshelves?" which is a polite way of asking you to do your homework so you know and understand the conventions of the genres you are attempting to write in, and either do a drastic rewrite of this one so it fits in one or other genre, or avoid making a pigs ear of it with your next novel.
But that's not to say you shouldn't stick to your guns and persist with the current mss. Mark Haddon's Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, was written as an adult fiction novel, and although he was quickly signed by an agent it languished on her desk for a year or two as she struggled to sell it to a publisher. It was only when a niche was found for it in the up and coming Young Adult genre was it finally taken up and went on to become a bestseller. It helped that it was picked up for the schools curriculum reading list, as an insight into the autistic teenaged mind.
Jasper Fforde, writing the humorous/satirical Thursday Next series, had similar problems with his quirky plots which did not fit comfortably into the crime or humour genres, nor into general fiction.

If you don't have any publications (writing credits) to your name - and, to be honest, most of us don't, or they are so minor as to be not worth mentioning - then Bookends (a US-based agency) suggests you say something like, '“While I don’t yet have any writing credits to my name I am a member of RWA, etc.” [or even, "I am a Group Host on the WriteWords online writers community"] and bury it at the bottom of the letter.' (And bear in mind that anyone can apply to be a WW Group Host if there is a vacancy - although preferably someone who as been active in the Group forum, critiquing and getting to know people for a few months first). This is really just a small plug for WriteWords and little or nothing to do with covering letters.

Don't make this a pitch letter, unless you know for certain that that is what this particular agent wants to see (check their blogs).
Pitch letters are what your Agent writes to a publisher when they are trying to sell the mss. They are similar to US-style Query letters, but are targeted to the needs and wants of each editor being approached. So, eg, one may currently be looking for a darker type of chick-lit, while another will want Woman’s Fiction. The Agent may compare your novel to several published novels/authors which have sold well in recent years. And an experienced agent will change the pitch accordingly.
If you're asked by an agency to write a pitch letter, then write a US-style query letter with a good hook, and, most importantly, show that you know the conventions of the genre you're writing in - if you don't know what I mean by that, then you're not ready to submit to these agents.

However, you can write a targeted covering letter.
You will probably only be able to do this for a small handful of the dozens of submissions you'll be sending out (in batches of ~10), but it is worth putting in the time and effort as it tells the agent that you are an experienced writer who is serious about their craft. Targeting basically means knowing which authors are on that Agent's client list - these show you the agent's personal preferences in terms of styles of prose and types of plot/genre, and the area of the market which they know best. By targeting your covering letter to this agent, you are telling them that you believe you and your novel and your future novels are likely to 'fit their list', and that you are a suitable author to join the illustrious ranks of their alumni.
You do this by picking one author from their client list who's prose style is most like your own, and a second author, preferably from someone else's list, which is also similar in style to yours, (or maybe the plot/technique is similar). By picking two it shows the agent that they are not just getting a clone of the first author.
Bear in mind, though, that some agents have a pretty eclectic list of clients, so it may be difficult to decern their preferences, and really you are just flattering them and trying to appear less like a newbie writer and more like someone who is serious about their craft. It also gives you something to chat about should you be in the lucky position of being called in for an interview with the agent, and can point to one or two books on their shelves that you've actually read or at least heard about.
Avoid comparing your novel to authors who are multi-selling individuals (JK Rowling), are multi-award winning authors (Salman Rushdie), or sit in a genre all of their own making - especially one that is decades or millennia out of date (Enid Blyton, Tolkien, Jane Austen).

If you're submitting a Query to a US agent then they like you to compare your mss to two published books, so long as they're relavent.

The thorny problem of Personal Biographies:

I'm of the opinion that if you've got nothing to say then don't say it - it's the quality of the writing in the first 3 chapters that will be the deciding factor as far as a UK agent is concerned.
First and foremost you don't want to risk giving them any reason to reject you, so don't sound like a lunatic or an idiot. And avoid writing something that makes you sound like an amateur simply because you think there's a space on the covering letter that you have to fill as though it was an exam sheet. Not filling it with 'puff' will do more to show that you are an experienced writer than including any of the following:
"I'm a 35yr old housewife and mother of four children: Anna 10, James 6, Toby 3, and Tabatha 6 months, and this is the first book I have written. My husband is an accountant and he, my mother, my two oldest children, my aunt who is a librarian, and my bank manager have all read my novel and absolutely love it, and my bank manager advised me to submit it directly to you. I apologise for not getting round to typing it up on the computer but it's difficult to find time to get to it when the children need it for their homework, but I enclose an SAE for it's return because it's my only copy"...or words to that effect.
Also don't put in un-necessary information which you think makes you uniquely qualified to write this novel, eg, "The theme of the novel is about the death of a loved one, which happened to me recently when my father died of lung cancer." That's sad, but the majority of people have lost loved ones at one time or another, and it doesn't mean one is any more qualified to write about it than someone else, or even someone who has not gone through the experience. Lionel Shriver didn't need firsthand experience of a shooting spree at a campus university to be able to write We Need To Talk About Kevin. Sally Nicholls didn't need to suffer from leukaemia to write Ways To Live Forever. Also, you risk giving the impression you are a one book author. If you needed this strong emotional experience to write the novel what are you going to do for book two? Agents don't want to invest their time and money on a one book author.
This is my snarkiest comment in the whole piece as I know a lot of first novels are based on personal experience and were cathartic to write, and for that reason the writer has a lot invested in it emotionally, but at the end of the day it's maudlin and mawkish, and covering letters are supposed to be up-beat - you can't guilt an agent into reading the sample chapters or requesting the Full mss - so maybe it would be better to get on with writing that second novel and keep this one in the bottom drawer.

But, if you do have anything that is relevant to your writing, eg, you're a teacher, writing Children’s or YA fiction; you are an experienced public speaker; you're a policeman/detective/forensic pathologist writing Crime; you're a bank/hedgefund manager writing a fictionalised account of the credit crunch; you're Mick Jagger's love child (and you can prove it!), etc, then by all means put it in.

Humour - is it ok to share a joke with the agent?

There is a fine line between the brand of humour which makes you seem a fun-loving and easy going person, but also one who is committed to their writing, whom any agent would love to sign up on the spot; and the type of personality which makes the agent cringe, or sigh in despair, or seal it in a police evidence bag.
I hate to say that Agents are pretty jaded individuals, but if you're getting well over a hundred submissions a week, you've probably read the joke several times already and it's starting to wear a little thin.
Juvenile pranks like loose confetti or glitter in the envelope or writing in green ink are not going to help your submission - or any future submission for that matter. An agent is not going to forget glitter any time soon, and for all the wrong reasons.
If you write, eg, chick-lit, then you should be able to pull off a humorous tone in your covering letter and carry it on through the synopsis and your opening chapters, otherwise don't attempt it.
As I said before, the important bit is the first 3 chapters, so don't give the Agent, their Reader, their intern, or the receptionist, any reason to reject your submission before they've even got that far.


The concensus view on this one is: Don't mention in your covering letter that you are working on a sequel to the novel you are submitting (the same advice goes for mentioning any unpublished mss languishing in your bottom drawer). This is the sort of thing to mention when you are being interviewed by the agent and they ask you "what do you have in mind for your next project?"
Whether or not the publisher commissions a sequel will depend on how well the first one sells. First novels in a series MUST also work as stand-alone novels.
Never submit a sequel if the first novel was rejected or self-published in the hope they'll go for a two-for-one deal.

However, some genres - such as Crime and Childrens Fiction in the 5-7 or 7-9 age ranges - expect sequels, eg, Inspector Morse, or Mister Gum. So in this case - and it's only my personal opinion - it's ok to mention it as it shows you're serious about the genre and understand its conventions.


OK, step away from the US websites. Marketing suggestions aren't your responsiblity - you just write the damned thing. Leave it to your agent and publisher to decide how they want to market it, since it also goes to questions of genre, readership, (see 'crossover'), and comparisons with other authors that are not on the agent's client list. If you mention a couple of authors who are not on that agent's client list they are liable to wonder why you are submitting to them and not to the agents who are handling these particular authors; it risks telling them at the outset that your work probably won't 'fit their list', and you are gambling on the assumption that the agent actually likes and admires the work of this particular pair of authors. They may assume from it that you have only the flimsiest appreciation of the genre in which you are writing, especially if you start bandying around names like Dan Browne and JK Rowling.
US Agents, however, seem to love this sort of thing so restrict it to a US Query letter.

However, if you have spotted a niche in the market which no-one else has filled - say for a series of childrens books - then sure, go ahead and mention it, but you'll probably find that with a bit of digging it's already been thought of, and the suggestion would be better suited in a targetted submission to a specialist agent or publisher, eg. Barrington Stoke who publish a range of childrens books for reluctant readers.

Last but not least, "Should I submit direct to publishers?"

Yes, but not until you have first done the rounds of Agents. There is nothing an agent hates more that to pitch an mss to the commissioning editor of a publishing house, only for the editor to come back with the words 'oh, yes, we've seen this already and rejected it.'

If you are submitting direct to a publisher then you will be acting as your own agent and you should be prepared to write a pitch letter, rather than a standard covering letter.

The thorny question on re-submission is answered here:

One final thing - a rule of thumb based on personal experience, if not on fact - but if you send out the first batch of submissions and find a fair number of them winging their way back to you by return post, then assume there is something wrong with the covering letter (although it may simply be Receptionists clearing their desks in the run up to Christmas).
Whereas, if they take up to 3 months to be returned then assume the fault lies in the opening chapters.

This is a useful discussion about covering letters v's pitch letters:

This hasn't all come off the top of my head, but from a mix of personal experience and reading agents and editors blogs. Here's a small selection:



http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/ ---eg, http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/11/authors-credentials.html





A few comments about the sample chapters:

Unless told otherwise in the Agents' submission guidelines: Submit the first three chapters of your novel - not the chapters which you consider to be the best from somewhere within the novel; your opening chapter MUST be your best chapter in the whole book.
If you don't have chapters, or have exceptionally long chapters, then submit the first 10K words. It doesn't matter if your first three chapters are shorter than 10K since most agents rarely get past the first page - or even the first paragraph. If they get to the end of your 3 chapters then a few thousand extra words tacked onto the end is not going to make any difference to whether or not they ask for the full mss because, in all likelihood, they will.

MSS layout: http://www.writewords.org.uk/forum/112_290860.asp

Use 12pt Times New Roman.
Being a larger font and more spaced out, Courier is often suggested because it gives the impression the prose is flying by, but it annoys many agents for that very reason so don't use it.
Don't use an unusual font - It may just be my imagination, but Fantasy writers seem to be notorious for choosing odd fonts - It just gets in the way of the prose and doesn't add anything to the story.

Double space the sample chapters, but single space the synopsis and covering letter.

Indent each new line of dialogue and paragraphs.

Number the pages

Put your name, title and contact details in unobtrusive font and colour (eg, mid gray) in the header section incase the sample chapters get separated from the title page.

Leave loosely bound, or use a pair of elastic bands, AND NOTHING ELSE.

Quoted from a WW member:
You might like to add a line in your [cover] letter saying ' please could I ask your advice as to who this might appeal to' - agents are conditioned to say 'no' to submissions simply because of the huge quantity of submissions that are sent in. But we happily give out advice for free!

Just to add a couple of tips for childrens fiction writers, submitting picture book mss:

You don't need a separate page for the synopsis, just include a paragraph in your covering letter with a summary of the story, including the message/sub-text of the story.
However, most agencies like several mss to be submitted at the same time, in which case you could do a separate page with a paragraph for each mss.

Advice from a WWmember:
"Editors are likely to require a pure text script as well as one with the illustrations descriptions inserted, so they can judge the book in its written state. It is perfectly acceptable to send the two [versions of the mss]."


More and more UK agents are accepting submissions by email - especially childrens fiction:



Oh, and somewhere above I've used the phrase 'fiction novel'. DON'T use the phrase 'fiction novel' - Agents hate it. It's, eg, a Fantasy novel OR Fantasy fiction, but not a Fantasy fiction novel, or a science fiction novel, or a childrens fiction novel, and especially NOT a Literary fiction novel... I think I've made the point. Although don't ask me what on earth you're supposed to use in place of Science Fiction Novel. It's their hang up, not mine.


Useful US blog post giving check list and formatting tips for submissions:


Favourite this work Favourite This Author

Comments by other Members

snowbell at 23:28 on 14 March 2009  Report this post
Wow Naomi. This is impressive and very funny too in parts. I am not an expert at all here but I have a few questions:

Cross-over and placing yourself or mentioning authors...I've seen this suggested for UK submissions as well as US.

I think your idea of US versus UK is quite interesting and maybe should be something to bear in mind when reading blogs and getting publishing advice off the net too. I get the impression that US style for pitching and submitting expects a little more trumpet-blowing - would I be wrong on this? (As I say, not an expert - just from blogs and whatnot i've looked at.)

Similarly I'm not sure about talking too much about writing forums etc. Or, at least, I suspect people have different attitudes to them. Maybe that doesn't matter.

I've heard a lot of people saying that the "my family/friends/kids liked it" is a big no no. Although I think that's harsh myself. But as I've heard that a lot I would stick to what you say there.

Last but not least, "Should I submit direct to publishers?"

Yes, but not until you have first done the rounds of Agents. There is nothing an agent hates more that to pitch an mss to the commissioning editor of a publishing house, only for the editor to come back with the words 'oh, yes, we've seen this already and rejected it.'

Just to remind that you can get an agent AFTER getting a publisher.

Rainstop at 00:11 on 15 March 2009  Report this post
You can also just flush 15% down the toilet.

NMott at 00:13 on 15 March 2009  Report this post
Cross-over and placing yourself or mentioning authors...I've seen this suggested for UK submissions as well as US.

Yes. It's why writers preparing to submit should always double check individual agent's websites/blogs to see what their personal preferences are - but don't pick one agent's preferences and carry it through on all your submissions. If you check enough submissions criteria you'll see a concensus of opinion beginning to form on how best to submit, and which so called 'tips' are safe to ignore. Definitely don't carry US submission tips over to UK submissions; a few UK agents accept US-style queries, pitch letters, or emailed submissions, but not many.

I get the impression that US style for pitching and submitting expects a little more trumpet-blowing - would I be wrong on this?

No, you're absolutely right. You have to rah-rah yourself and your mss in a Query letter, but it is so easy to fall into cliche, and include totally irrelevant biog. detail.
If this is your first novel and your first round of submissions the best I can advise is to keep it simple rather than pad it out with puff, because the agent will spot it a mile off.

Similarly I'm not sure about talking too much about writing forums etc. Or, at least, I suspect people have different attitudes to them. Maybe that doesn't matter.

Again, it's a matter of checking out agents blogs. Some, like Emma Barnes of Snowbooks are members of WW; others will have heard of WW via the WWers they've signed up; some like writers who have taken advantage of the critiquing available on sites like WW before sending out their opening chapters - so it can't hurt to mention it, but, on it's own it's not going to get them reaching for the phone and requesting the Full mss.

I've heard a lot of people saying that the "my family/friends/kids liked it" is a big no no. Although I think that's harsh myself.

I've done it myself, It won't get your submission summarily rejected, but it doesn't help it either.

At the end of the day, the important thing is to clear the path to the opening chapters, as it is those which will get the agent asking for the Full mss, or not.
Don't go to town on blogs and websites, and pitching the mss, and getting CW degrees, if it means you've neglected the most important thing of all, ie, the opening chapters and the rest of the novel.
If it takes a bland covering letter and a dry synopsis, then so be it. Members have thanked the S&O Group for help in getting signed with an agent, but all we've done is cleared the path and it's been the quality of their writing that has won them the contract.

Just to remind that you can get an agent AFTER getting a publisher.

Lol, very true!

NMott at 00:17 on 15 March 2009  Report this post
You can also just flush 15% down the toilet.

You can flush it down my toilet any day, Rod, just so long as you don't mind me going after it with a plunger.


tbh, it would annoy me if I read on any UK agent's website that they wanted a pitch letter, because then it would make me wonder what they do to earn their 15%.

If you do see such advice, check to see if it's come from an editor's blog - since pitch letters are what they are they are used to recieving from Agents.

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