Tough, honest manuscript assessment from pro editors
Getting feedback on your writing is the single most powerful tool of improvement that exists. It's why professional authors rely on editors and agents. It's why the editorial process stands at the heart of the publishing industry. And that transformative power is now available to you.
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12th to 14th September 2014. The Festival of Writing in York.
If you want to meet Literary agents; if you want to learn new writing skills or understand techniques more clearly; if you want feedback on your work; if you want to get together with lots of people who are passionate about writing and be inspired then... You need to book your place today.
Get expert feedback on your work from professional author-editors. The gold-standard way to improve your manuscript.
Literary agents have many roles, but their central job is simply that they sell manuscripts to publishers. In efect, they're salesmen or (more often) saleswomen. In addition to that core job of making the sale, an agent will need to:
(A) know which editors at which publishing houses are suitable for your project.
(B) be able to recommend a course of action if you are in a position to choose (it isn't always about the money.)
(C) run an auction and negotiate a contract.
(D) organise the sale of other rights (US, foreign language, TV & film, etc).
(E) oversee the publication process and advise you throughout.
(F) Offer editorial advice prior to editor submissions. (But note that agents only offer this service if they are already very excited about your manuscript. They're there to perfect something that is already excellent, not mend something that is broken.)
(G) Think about your career - a role which almost always is assumed by an author's agent, not his or her publisher.
If your book is academic / professional / educational or otherwise of niche interest, you probably don't need an agent. Otherwise you almost certainly do - few large publishers take submissions seriously unless they come via a literary agent. (More about what agents do and who needs one.)
But if you want a comprehensive and searchable list of not just agencies but individual agents (complete with photos, biographies, genre preferences etc) you can get one at Agent Hunter, our sister site - we think it's the best agent-search facility anywhere on the web. You can filter the data in numerous ways, to make it as easy as possible to get a shortlist of agents that suit your and your particular project. Subscriptions start at just £5 and represent an excellent investment in your writing future.
If you prefer to pay nothing at all, you can get a basic list of most (but not all) agencies via the Association of Authors Agents. Do note, however, that all you get there is a list of members; you don't get the names of individual agents, or their genre preferences, or indeed anything else.
(Oh, and literary agents are also correctly known as authors agents - but you'll also find people talking about book agents, publishing agents, fiction agents, writers agents or even writing agents. The best term to use, though, is certainly just "literary agents".)
The normal practice is to send, by post or email, depending on the agent: (i) the first three chapters or approx 10,000 words of your manuscript, (ii) a synopsis of the whole thing, and (iii) a covering letter which is a very short introduction to you and your book.
On the first three chapters, be aware that an agent will never make a final decision on the first three chapters alone. They are basically just asking to see a sample of your work, so they can make a quick decision about who to reject. If your first three chapters are strong, an agent will get back to you and ask for the full manuscript ... which does obviously mean that you need to have finished writing the darn thing! It's no use going to agents unless your novel is 100% written and wonderful. (Slightly diferent rules apply to non-fiction, where it is often OK to approach agents on the basis of three chapters + an outline of everything else.)
If your chapters are unusually long or short, then it's normally fine to send about 8-10,000 words in total, ending the chunk at a natural break in the text.
In terms of the synopsis, you should aim to summarise the plot of your novel in around 500-1000 words, no more. You're not pitching the book, or writing a blurb for the back cover. Your job is simply to relate the story of your book in simple, clear and relatively neutral language. (The manuscript itself should be atmospheric, of course, but the synopsis is a working document and should be relatively businesslike in its approach.)
The covering letter should introduce the book (title, genre, word count) in a line or two. Then offer a more detailed paragraph or two about the book - that's the place to introduce the book's USP; a few lines that indicate why the book is special. You should also write a line or two about yourself, but you truly don't need to go into much detail. It's the manuscript that matters; you are just a transmission device.
Most of the time, agents are busy with their regular business: sorting out the business afffairs of existing clients. Nevertheless, many agents do like to get out and about in order to meet writers and (hopefully) pick up strong prospects. Most agencies will have a 'news' section on their websites which can be a good place to look for any talks / workshops / seminars in your area.
Better still, you can attend one of the large annual writers conferences in the UK. The best of these (because we run it!) is the Festival of Writing, which takes place each year in September. To learn more about our upcoming events, either click here ... or watch the video.