Dear Agent: the Letter That Sells Your Book, by Nicola Morgan

A guest post today from Nicola Morgan, a hugely prolific children’s writer and also author of some very useful books on writing & getting published. More info about Nicola’s books here, and her blog here. Also see the links at the bottom of this article. Nicola is also one of the lovely people coming to our Festival. If you read Dear Agent and like it, do remember to leave a nice review on Amazon-zon-zon. Nicola will love you if you do.

In Dear Agent, I try to cover everything that a writer needs to know about pitching the book and the writer (because, rightly or wrongly, nowadays that is necessary – your book needs you!) I try to cover everything that anyone has ever asked me. Here are three examples of questions and answers, all things that are frequently asked.

What if you have several different books to pitch?
If you have a series, trilogy or sequel to propose, I will talk about that in What if it’s a series? However, if you have other books that are not intricately connected to this one, keep them out of this letter. A submission should be for one book or concept. If your other ideas or books are in the same genre, then by all means briefly mention this (and I’ll show you how when I come to How to mention your other books). But if your other work is quite different, you do yourself no favours by mentioning it at this point. For example, if you are pitching a crime novel, the agent and publisher will need you to write more crime novels, to brand and position you as a crime novelist, so the fact that you’ve also written a children’s comic space adventure series may well damage your chances because the agent and publisher might see you as someone not sufficiently committed to working as a crime writer. When you are as successful as Iain Banks, you can then diversify – but even he had to become Iain M Banks. Children’s writers can diversify more easily, and it’s very common for us to write across the juvenile age ranges and/or to write fiction and non-fiction, but we will still have taken one category at a time in our quest for world domination. So, pitch this book/series only. Leave the rest for a separate submission.

How should you mention other books you are writing?
I talked above about how your pitch must be for one project and to be careful about mentioning any other books you might have written. If you’ve decided that it is appropriate to mention your other books, either books in progress or in the pipeline, here are some ways that would work. Note that all are written by writers pitching a book in the same area of writing as the ones they mention here

Example 1: “I am working on another stand-alone crime novel and should have the first draft ready in three months.”

Example 2: “I have another YA novel almost complete, also in the same style of urban realism, and am working on an idea for a younger series.”

Example 3: “I have two other picture book texts almost ready to submit, and would be very happy to send them to you if you were interested.”

Example 4: “I also love writing for the 9-11 age group and I have completed the first of a proposed trilogy, a gothic fantasy that I describe as “Gormenghast for children.”

So, don’t mention that you plan to write or pitch books that are entirely different from the one you’re actually pitching. Focus on the pitch for this book and if you have more than one type of book complete, submit the stronger one, the one you are most passionate about.

Nicola Morgan – catch her at the Festival of Writing

What if it’s a series?
You should indicate this. However, understand something about series: publishers like them because they have the potential to run and run and make decent money; but they are also wary of them because there’s more investment of time and money. Therefore, your best bet is to say that you have ideas for a sequel or sequels, but to indicate that this book also works as a stand-alone. If it doesn’t, then you will have to be up-front about that. It’s also true that some genres work better for series and you do need to be an expert in your own genre. If it’s the case that your type of book most often comes in series, that’s a good sign that you can be more confident about pitching a series. Never forget, however, the cost of promoting and supporting a series and that publishers are currently (I’m writing this mid-2012) highly risk-averse.

It’s up to you whether you also include a short synopsis for the other books, but if you do, this should be separate from the covering letter. In the covering letter, focus on the book you are pitching. Say what the situation is regarding trilogy/sequel/series, but leave the detail to a separate synopsis. If the agent doesn’t want to read it, she doesn’t have to, but at least it’s there.

Anyway, here are some examples of what might work:

Example 1: “This is the first of a proposed trilogy, and my attached synopsis includes a brief story-line for the other two books. However, this book also works as a stand-alone novel.”

Example 2: “Although this book is written as a stand-alone, I have a number of ideas for developing it into a series. My suggestions are on the attached synopsis page.”

Example 3: “This is the first of a planned trilogy. I have completed the first draft of book two and plotted the story-line for book three.”

There is stacks more advice about every aspect of the covering letter or query letter in Dear Agent. Available as an ebook only (for all formats, and you do NOT need an actual ebook-reader!) from August 10th. And, after you’ve read it, if you have any other questions, contact Dear Crabbit (email n@nicolamorgan.co.uk) and Nicola will answer your question on her blog, confidentially if you wish

All details about Dear Agent here.

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  • This is very useful information about wooing an agent, if that’s what a writer wants to do.

    What I’d really be interested in reading (Harry, can you arrange this?) is advice to an agent/publisher on how to approach that clever author who all on his own has become a mega-seller; how to persuade him of the advantages of traditional publishing versus the control and greater proportion of the profits he has become used to. Not an unusual scenario these days, it might help those agents beginning to worry about whether they have a future in publishing post-digital.

  • Lexi, I see where you are coming from.
    e-publishing will make publishers/agents re-think their roles and the way they approach and reply to authors. The diva-agent days, when they could sribble “go away” on a piece of re-used paper and shove it in a writer’s sae, might soon be over.
    And I’m not saying that out of bitterness; I have a wonderful agent 😉