I wrote this post recently for Triskele Books Toolbox. I’ve had varied degrees of success with agents and publishers over the years, and thought I’d like to impart a little of the knowledge I’ve learned on the topic of submission letters and synopses. I know this subject can induce dread and fear into the hearts of newbie authors – so I hope this may help in some way.
One thing I have discovered over the years is that when it comes to synopsis, less is more. Unless an agent states clearly on their website or submission terms they require a full three page, chapter and verse, detailed synopsis, my advice is to stick to a one page resume of the plot. If possible add a hook or interesting snippet in there, something to stand your blurb out from the crowd.
Again, please always follow any rules for agents that prefer strict guidelines, but if not, don’t worry yourself into the ground about your synopsis. I have had two agents now, both of whom told me they never read more than a single page synopsis, and would never make a decision on a novel on the strength of one.
However, one thing I think is vital is a strong submission letter. Again, I would strongly advise this is kept short (no more than one page), polite and succinct, but again, I’d recommend inserting something that takes an agent’s interest. Maybe comment on one of their clients, how you chose to submit to them as your writing has been likened. Or show that you have done your homework and studied the genres they specialise in. Also, don’t be scared to add a little humour or humility – both can work well in the right situations.
Also, even if you are subbing to more than one agent at a time, which in my opinion is completely acceptable, always personalise each letter. NEVER send a round robin type letter or email. Always take time to study their websites, find out who is the right agent to submit your work. There’s little point in sending anything to an agent who only represents non-fiction classical authors if your book is a comedy take on the next Fifty Shades of Grey! The fastest way to end up in the slush pile (or probably the bin) is to send a batch of letters that have been cut and pasted with no personal detail.
Remember, agents are human. Publishers are too (for the most part). From the dealings I’ve had with both … most are lovely people who are as passionate about writing as you are. Give them a break from the norm. They get as fed up of slush piles as you do. So, if you feel confident enough and you have something witty to say, be articulate, state your case. Most importantly – stand out from the crowd.
And the most important piece of advice I can give you … be yourself.
I’ve attached a couple of sample submission letters below. Both of these have been successful in getting request for fulls from their initial pitch, and both went on to get representation with the agent. You may be surprised how short and succinct these letters are, but trust me, agents are busy people, the less waffle, the more likely you are to attract their attention.
Obviously, it goes without saying that you will need to tailor these to suit your remit, but as a simple template, stick to these guidelines and you won’t go far wrong.
Dear XXX (ALWAYS PERSONALISE)
I am currently looking for representation and would very much like to submit my novel to the XX Literary Agency.
As an obsessive reader myself, I enjoy many of the writers currently on your books, particularly XX and XX
I do feel that my own writing (my novel is XX fiction) would fit well within the XX Agency’s current list of writers.
I am looking for an agency whose ethos is based firmly on working closely with their writers and I was delighted by your website and your dedicated approach to writers and literature.
Briefly, (put BIOG here – no more than 100 words)
My novel XXX is complete at XXX,000 words.
Dear XXX (ALWAYS PERSONALISE)
Having studied your website, I am attaching a short synopsis and sample chapters of my crime thriller, XXXXX, which is complete at XXX,000 words. The novel is the first in a series of six books which I have been working on for the past two years. I am actively seeking representation for my work with a view to future publication.
Briefly, (ENTER 100 word BIOG here)
Sample chapters of XXXX came third on XXXXX, and I received a very promising review from a top editor. (ENTER ANY AWARDS OR ACCOLADES YOUR BOOK HAS RECEIVED here and a TWO OR THREE SENTENCE SUMMARY OF THE NOVEL)
I’ve completed a XXXX course, and have had numerous short stories and articles published (XXXXX). (SHORT WRITING BIOG HISTORY here)
I am now actively seeking an agent to assist me in breaking into the difficult word of fiction, and I’m prepared to work hard to realise my dream.
If you require any further information, or wish to read more chapters, please let me know.
Thank you for your time.