This week, Lynne Lawrie talks about that difficult first step along the road to a traditional publishing contract: getting yourself an agent.
“A few weeks ago, I did a Guardian masterclass on ‘How to get an agent’ on zoom. It was presented by Juliet Mushens of Mushens Entertainment. She represents Jesse Burton of The Miniaturist fame, and Richard Osman – he of Pointless and The Thursday Murder Club. So, I guess she knows what she’s doing. Interestingly for those who write ‘literature’ Burton’s book has been translated into 40 languages, while Osman’s, not usually noted for its literary credentials, forty-one. Take from that what you will.
It was a very interesting talk with Juliet providing an outline of the work she does, which I’m sure you know, why you need an agent (because she knows how much a publisher paid last time, so she knows where to start this time) and how to approach submitting.
In terms of structuring expectations, she said that she receives approximately 5000 submissions a year, and of those she signs 10-12 authors. In light of that, she recommends sending out between 8 and 10 submissions at a time. She also told us that she had turned down novels that later were very successful. So don’t let those pesky rejections, or lack of, make you downhearted.
Generally speaking, agents don’t provide feedback of any kind, indeed it seems most don’t reply at all if they’re not interested in your work – they say if you haven’t heard anything by twelve weeks, you can assume your work is not for them. Also only send to one agent in an agency. She emphasised (although maybe obvious) the pointlessness of submitting to an agent that is not accepting. She said that ‘each and every one’ she receives when she is closed is immediately deleted. I think that’s clear.
Juliet focussed on the importance of the covering letter, the accelerator pitch and the blurb. It is useful if you can identify your market and suggest comparator authors.
Some points that she made for the covering letter;
- include the name of the agent, and spell it correctly – although I’m sure you would do that;
- make what you say more about your work, rather than you;
- however some information about you should be included such as relevant experience, courses you have done or publications – but keep it brief.
Finally, rather than my precis, it’s probably better to read the examples she gave of good pitches and blurbs.
THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB by Richard Osman.
It’s set in a beautiful retirement village, where four very different residents meet every week to go through local cold cases. When a property developer is found dead, the Thursday Murder Club suddenly have a real case on their hands. Can they catch the killer before it’s too late?
The blurb for the same book:
In a peaceful retirement village, four unlikely friends meet up once a week to investigate unsolved murders. But when a brutal killing takes place on their very doorstep, the Thursday Murder Club find themselves in the middle of their first live case. Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim and Ron might be pushing eighty, but they still have a few tricks up their sleeves. Can our unorthodox but brilliant gang catch the killer before it’s too late?
Her final words were ‘never give up.’ So good luck!!”