Sunday, 11 January 2009


These comments, whether in the covering letter or any other part of your approach to a publisher or agent, are certain to do one or all of the following:
  • expose your lack of understanding of the whole business - OK, so you're not expected to understand it all, but there has to be a starting-point which suggests that you are taking the right steps
  • stop them wanting to read on
  • produce such a profound sinking feeling that they may not physically be able to draw breath to speak to you
In short, never say or write (even if these things are true):
  1. I am a wonderful writer. (Not for you to say.)
  2. I just know you are going to love this. (You don't. You really don't. If you think you can know what a total stranger will love, you don't understand books and reading at all.)
  3. My mum and all my friends love my writing. (They would.)
  4. I read my work to a writers' group / readers' group / school class / anyone, and had great feedback. (Utterly irrelevant. Totally typical. And stupendously meaningless. But very possibly true and deeply important - it's just that it is a total turn off at a time when you are trying to turn them on.)
  5. I've always loved making up stories for my children. (As above.)
  6. I started this novel five years ago but have only just found the time to finish it. (There is a distinct possibility that if it interested you so little, it will do the same for a reader. You have shown no commitment. There may be good reasons why you didn't have time but none of those reasons will appear good enough at this point. Essentially, a real writer is someone who simply cannot not write.)
  7. I haven't finished this novel but I thought I would show what I've done so far to agents/publisher and get some feedback. (You thought wrong. Anyone can start a novel. Few can finish it adequately. Besides, adequately is not adequate.)
  8. I have wanted to write this novel for so many years. It has burned inside me like a veritable burning brand and now I feel I can wait no longer to fan the flames of my burningness. (Oh, so you were that committed then? Frankly, the world is happy to wait much longer, especially if you write like that.)
  9. If I could get this one novel published, I would be happy for ever. (So, you don't envisage a career, then? You don't really burn to write? You just want to get it out of your system. Well do, but not at our expense. A one-book wonder helps no agent or publisher - you'll lose them money.)
  10. Rather than waste paper by printing out my novel, I have put it online - please visit (Why should we? You're the one meant to be making an effort.)
  11. It is your lucky day: I am writing to give you the opportunity to publish my book. (Sadly it's your unlucky day because I'm not reading it.)
  12. Just to give you a happier time, I've written my covering letter in rhyme; and then, to show you what I can do, I decided to versify the synopsis too. I know (of course) that that doesn't scan, but, just like you, I'm a busy man. So, Mr Bloggs, let me sing of a guy, who has given this novel his very best try. It's funny and frightening and chilling and stuff, And please please don't tell me it's not good enough.
(Sorry, yes, you can see this is sending me a bit batty. I'll stop there. Good excuse for some shocking poetry though.)


Jane Smith said...

Nicola, I love this list! As I read through the list the same two thoughts kept coming to me: I really should blog about THAT one, and oooh, that's another classic.

(Thank you for linking to me, by the way, and for the really rather wonderful comment that you've added to your link: it made my day. I shall link back to here, and look forward to catching up with my reading.)

Nicola Morgan said...

Mutual appreciation then! In the 48 hours since I had the mad idea to start this venture, (precipitated by a somewhat last-straw-esque moment) I have "met" several interesting people like you. It was my agent who told me about your blog and I'm very glad she did. Let me know if you ever come to Edinburgh - I'd love to meet up.

Nik Perring said...

Hi Nicola, terrific blog! I hope this helps many, many people.



Nicola Morgan said...

Thanks, Nik. Ditto. Love the werewolf disguise. (That wasn't a random insult, btw, or not even an insult at all - just showing that I did actually read your blog. Would hate you to think that I'd call a total stranger a werewolf just because you mentioned the moon. And were wearing your disguise in your picture.)

Nik Perring said...

Ha! Yes, I was in disguise for that picture; wouldn't want anyone to be scared away now, would I!

Anonymous said...

This made me laugh no end! Do people really put that in their letters? At least I know now what NOT to use! Thanks for such a great blog.

Nicola Morgan said...

Oh yes, I'm afraid they do! And worse! Also, you wouldn't believe the abuse that they get (and I have got in the past - which is one reason I don't read people's work now) after taking a huge amount of unpaid time to give a helpful bit of feedback or point out what the problem is in a submission. One editor I know was recently told to rot in hell ...

Dusik said...

but how do you get attention of an agent or a publisher? so far i've been receiving only rejections. i got a response from an agent that she doesn't take unsolicited submissions. so what is there to do now?

Nicola Morgan said...

Hi Dusik
I'm afraid that it comes down mainly to writing the right book well enough (so that the agent loves your writing so much that they know they can sell it); also there's some luck involved, as you may accidentally send it to someone who really isn't taking more submissions yet; and you have to follow the rules of submissions. But mainly, honestly, it is about whether your writing is good enough AND whether it's the sort of book that agents take. 2-3 rejections don't mean anything - 8 rejections probably do ...

Kirsty Logan said...

I edit a short fiction magazine, and I'd like add a few to the list:

1. Don't address your email "Dear editor" or "To whom it may concern" when the recipient's name is clearly stated on their website or in their email address.

2. Don't misspell the editor's name (I get more emails addressed to 'Kristy' than I do to my actual name).

3. Don't send a rude response to a rejection.

4. Don't list every single one of your previous publications, especially if they are all magazines/anthologies that no-one has ever heard of.

5. Don't write a bio longer than five sentences – no editor cares where you were born or how many children you have, unless it's directly relevant to your story.

I see all of the above on a weekly basis, and I haven't published a single person who commits these crimes against submission letters.

A Tale of Many Reviews said...

Loved reading this and insightful as to what people are really doing?? Crazy!

Rusty Fischer said...

Classic! These were great, glad I found your blog...