Six Six Six is out on submission to literary agencies, so first question:
Why do you need an agent?
Some people say you don’t – but it’s extremely difficult to attract a publisher without one because very few of the major publishers will accept unsolicited manuscripts direct from an (unknown) author. The agent’s job is to find you a publisher, convince them to take on your book, negotiate a publishing deal on your behalf, and a whole lot more besides. For that, they take a 15% cut. But you know what they say – 85% of something is better than 100% of sod-all.
Is it easy to attract an agent?
Definitely not. In the UK, there are well over 100 literary agencies who have crime fiction on their preferred list of genres. If what I read is true, each of those agencies receives well over 50 submissions every week. So the crime fiction genre is saturated and only the cream of the new stuff is even considered for representation. Cut-throat.
What do you need to send them?
Agencies usually ask for an introductory letter, a one-page synopsis, an author bio and a sample of the text. Making submissions is a pain in the bottom because agents are incredibly specific about what they’re looking for, and how they want it to be submitted.
For example, the sample text might be 5000 words, or 10000, or three chapters, or fifty pages. They might want a Word doc or a PDF. The line spacing could be 1.5 or double. Some are even specific about font and size.
The synopsis is usually more straightforward – a 400 or 500 word limit. But I’ve seen requests for half a page – not easy to distil a 350 page novel down to 25 lines.
The introductory letter is tricky to get right but they are agent-specific so copy and paste isn’t really an option. Occasionally, you’re asked oddball questions like, “Why are you the right person to craft this novel?”
There are as many different pieces of advice out there as there are stars in the firmament but one aspect is commonplace – research the agent and state where you see your book fitting into their existing client list. This means a lot of research because you have to study their websites to see what all their clients write. And some of the websites are clunky. (I’m being polite here.)
And of all those documents, which one do they read first? Who knows? The agent could reject your submission having read only few lines of your introductory letter, or the synopsis, or the sample. That might seem harsh but at 50 submissions a week I’m not at all surprised.
How long does it take agents to respond?
When you submit, there’s usually an auto-response that states how long you might have to wait. That could be two weeks, or four, or six, or three months – or forever. If they don’t see your novel as something they feel “passionate” about, they might send a rejection or they might not. So once the deadline date is past, you forget it and move on.
I’m fairly relaxed about that, mainly because the overwhelming majority of rejections are standard letters so no response is worth pretty much the same as an email rejection. I fully accept agents are busy people with all these submissions, while not forgetting the day job – looking after their existing clients.
Can you chase them?
Some say to send them a polite nudge, but most say no.
Do you get feedback on why your submission’s been unsuccessful?
Does a rejection mean your book isn’t any good – in their eyes?
That’s always possible (but you’ll never know).
Being positive though, it could be that they have similar books on their list. Or existing authors who write in the same style and the same genre. Maybe the style isn’t in fashion, or the premise has been done to death already – I wonder how many virus disaster stories have been bashed out in the past few months.
But, when it comes down to it, the agents are trying to make money so if they don’t see a market for it, or they don’t think they can get a publisher interested, then it’s “No thank you”.
Okay, leaving all that aside, let’s say the agent is interested – what next?
They will ask for the full manuscript. Once they’ve read it the answer might still be no, or they might see enough promise in the writing or in the writer to work with you to polish it up for onward submission to publishers.
How many agents will you submit to?
Way Beyond A Lie went out to 24 before I gave up. None of them asked to read the full manuscript. I will be surprised if I submit Six Six Six to more than 24.
If I still strike out I’ll almost certainly self-publish again – in early spring, 2021.