Wednesday, 14 January 2009


OK. Right. A load of people have said, "Please can we have the tips for submitting to publishers and agents?" Look, I'm trying to have a life here. But I suppose I did promise it. So. Maybe this could be Part One, because I'm in a bit of a hurry to get packed for a worky trip. And then there will have to be Part Two, which will consist of all the things I forgot to say in Part One.

And by the way, while I'm here, thank you for the fantastic emails and other feedback I've had about this site. Seems as though publishers and agents are going to use it as required reading. One of them said, "Where have you been for the last ten years?" Well, here mostly. Just waiting to be appreciated.

Without further ado. (Oh, and I am assuming that you've already discovered the basics, as I've several times said you must. Like typing it on single-sided A4, black ink on white paper, normal sort of font, nothing to scare the birds, no confetti / glitter/ free condoms in amongst the pages etc etc)

  1. Write the right damned book. I've said that before. If you haven't written the right book, it really doesn't matter how you approach a publisher. You can paint him or her in chocolate and it won't make a blind bit of difference. Though I've never seen the attraction in that. With all respect to my publishers.
  2. Follow the instructions in the Writers' and Artists' yearbook etc etc etc and on virtually every publisher /agent website.
  3. People agonise over how much material to send. One really annoying person once made the point to me that "it" said he had to send three chapters but his chapters were each 30,000 words long - did this matter? Of course it matters - it's a rubbish book if the chapters are 30,000 words long. (Unless it's Anna Karenina in which case it's a classic with way too much farming detail). Look, just be reasonable: the agent/publisher needs to see a sensible but not boring amount. An amount which will show him how brilliant you are. So, something like 5-10000 words. Or a bit more or a bit less. Trust me - it doesn't hugely matter because they'll stop when they're ready. (Addendum: another common measurement is 30 pages - double-spaced, decently-sized font etc).
  4. Make your covering letter perfect. I don't mean glittery and, like, totally amAZing: I mean perfect. It should not be too long or too short or too boastful. It should not tell the story of your life or exaggerate or be coy or irritating or weird or gimicky. It should briefly (and if you can't do this briefly you are lost) advertise the incredibly interesting thing that is your book. It should say neither too much nor too little. It should show your potential agent or editor that you know your stuff, know the market, know the business, love writing, plan to continue to write after this book, are willing to learn. And it should convince him/her, in thought, word and deed, that you have written a gem. (I did say SHOW: you should not say this - it should speak for itself. "Show not tell" is something we may come to, though it may be in the section on "clich├ęs that your creative writing guru may well come up with and which need to be analysed properly and taken in context" - and that's a long section, I can tell you.)
  5. Your synopsis should be no more than two sides of A4. And this does not mean squashing it into 4pt marginless text so that your reader can't read it without a magnifying glass. The synopsis should prove that you have finished the book and that it works. A synopsis is a really hard thing to do well. I could write a whole blog about synopses but I won't because I'd prefer a life. But be seriously warned about synopses: not that you perhaps care about this right now, but in your potential publishing company there dwells a person (probably female and probably about 12 years old) who will read your synopsis later and who will use it for the blurb for Amazon when your book is published. The synopsis, as every writer knows, bears no relation to the book you will eventually produce and the Amazon blurb, as I very well know, is there for ever and ever and ever and is copied by every website in the universe. So, one happy day you will get letters from people complaining that your book didn't actually feature a girl who was obsessed by turquoise boots (I'm getting suspiciously autobiographical here - never do this in novel-writing but do do it in blogging) and you will not know what they are talking about because you will have forgotten the synopsis you wrote before you were published. I tell you this not to teach you anything about writing synopses but to warn you about life as a published author, which I am determined you will know about, even though it is very weird.
  6. So you have done your brief and succinct covering letter and your amazingly inaccurate but fascinating and deliciously tempting synopsis; and you have printed off your first however many words of your oeuvre. You might, if the publisher/agent's website suggests it, and definitely if you are a non-fiction writer, include a brief and tidy CV, which includes (in the case of non-fiction) your credentials for writing about microfluidics. What next? You get a nice clean envelope, so as to look really professional, and you put the stuff in. You address it neatly - no, your hand-writing doesn't matter but you are trying to do everything right. Now, the thorny issue of return postage. Depends whether you want it back once it's been spat on. Frankly, I wouldn't. Frankly, I'd politely and sensitively suggest that they recycle it. But if you DO want it back, you must include a properly stamped addressed envelope. With enough stamps.
  7. Then you wait. And you wait. Oh I forgot, no you don't - you send it to some other publishers at the same time (saying to all of them that that's what you are doing). If submitting to agents, it's slightly different - for a large agency you can do multiple submissions, but for a small independent you can't. Well, you can, but they won't like you and if they don't like you they won't read your work. Which kind of defeats the object.
  8. And you wait.
  9. But meanwhile, you .... WRITE. Because you are, remember a writer, not a person who waits for the post every day.
  10. Oh, and by the way, you have not emailed your oeuvre, unless the agent or publisher has specifically said that's ok. Currently, it's not usually the preferred option but this may change. Things do.
  11. I will be back, trust me. Once I've checked that the Amazon blurb for my next novel is going to bear no relation to the synopsis I suspect I may have produced when trying to persuade my publisher that I knew what the hell was going to happen. Do as I say, not as I do.


Suzanne Jones said...

Great advice, thank you.

Enjoy your trip.

Gareth said...

Hi Nicola

Just landed here from an Alan Gibbons "save the book" newsletter. I've self-published one YA supernatural action novel so far.

Thanks for finding the time to write all this and I look forward to part II and plundering your past blogs.

One question (so far) - is it really worth sending to publishers without first having an agent or does the answer depend on the genre you're writing in? I keep reading that slush piles aren't really touched any more.

Cheers for now


Nicola Morgan said...

Hi Gareth - I'll do an article on this soon. It's not easy to answer succinctly. Yes, it does somewhat depend. But honestly the thing it depends on most is whether it's a book that publishers think they can sell. (If they think they can't, that doesn't NECESSARILY mean it's a book that won't sell, just that THEY think they can't sell it, either because the ed doesn't love it enough or because it's not the type of book they work on or because they haven't got the budget /room on their lists.) BUT, back to your qu, it not only depends on genre but publisher - some will and some won't take unagented work. Some say they won't, but will if it's brilliant enough. And it's ALWAYS been hard to get past the slush-pile, believe me. Will def do article soon - snowed under just now. Stay with me!

Gareth said...

No worries - got you on RSS feed (whatever that is!) so whenever you're ready - plenty of past stuff and links to explore on your blog in the meantime... if only we didn't have OFSTED at my school next week!


acpaul said...

Hi Nicola,

Great blog. I have a question about your comments in a couple of posts.

First of all, yes, I've done plenty of basic research.

When it comes to submitting to publishers, their guidelines all seem to say the same thing: they don't accept multiply submitted works. I know that agents do multiple submissions, and now you seem to be saying that we can, too.

Which is it? Follow the guidelines, or go ahead and submit to several publishers at once?

Nicola Morgan said...

This is a good question. I could give an instant answer that would be either a) glib or b) vague, but neither would be helpful, so let me do some research by asking agents and publishers in confidence (esp agents, who are likely to be more informative about this, having experience of many publishers). It may take me a week or so to get the answers. I'll do a separate post about it. Hope that's ok.

Jo Franklin said...

Hi Nicola, Love your blog. Question for you. I am on the final, final stages of my main project a novel for 9-12 year olds (48,000 words). But I also have a side line of a short novel for 7-9 year olds (10,000) (and in fact a picture book which is not really my thing but I've written it anyway).
When I approach agents, should I send all three mss, (with their synopses etc) or should I just try and flog them my main project and then produce the other two like rabbits out of the hat if they take the first bait?

Nicola Morgan said...

Now THAT is a seriously excellent question. It definitely requires answering at greater length in a full post where everyone will see it (I'll either include it in an article on writing for kids in general or give it its own answer) but just briefly now, here is my strong advice, based mainly on having heard agents and publishers answer this in the same way each time: focus on your main project, the one where your heart truly is and the one which is most nearly perfect; but in your covering letter, mention briefly that you have these 2 other pieces under way, giving barely any more detail than you have given me (and omitting the bit about pic books not being your thing ...). Then the agent will see that you are not a one-book wonder and if she/he thinks you're promising will ask to see them. Make sense? And by the way, your words counts and age ranges sound very professional (because you've got them within the correct range and have not made the mistake of saying that you book is for 7-14 year-olds...)and helpful. Well done and GOOD LUCK!

Jo Franklin said...

Thanks for that. Will follow your advice and let you know how I get on.

Colette said...

Captain Black pointed me in this direction as I'm in the process of editing my book before submitting it to agents. I'm so glad he did. Thanks.