Tips on submitting your manuscript to agents

So, you’ve finished your book. The hard part is over, right? Wrong.

Now you have to convince some hard-nosed literary agent that your novel is going to be the next bestseller and is exactly what the market is looking for right now.

Well, okay, maybe you don’t have to go quite that far, but too many aspiring novelists put their heart and soul into writing a novel, only to wiffle out when it comes to submitting. So don’t let your novel down! Give it the best chance of wowing that literary agent…


I hate writing in all caps. Loathe it. But I’ve made an exception in this (upper) case, because it’s simply so important and it’s mind-boggling how many people still don’t follow this advice.

Agents get hundreds of submissions every week and they’re looking for any excuse to bin some of them to lighten the load. If you haven’t taken the time to read and follow the guidelines, then why should they take the time to read your submission?

Guidelines include what to send, what genres they work with, what formatting to use and what information to include in your query letter.

All of the following pointers should be overridden by any specific guidelines stated by the agent or publisher.

Write a knockout query letter

A query letter is a cover letter that you send along with your manuscript, to introduce yourself and your book.

Standard details to include are: the novel title, roughly how many words it is (to the nearest thousand) and the fact that you’re seeking representation. You should mention relevant experience you have and of course any competitions or other success you’ve had (in writing. They don’t want to know about that silver in archery when you were twelve – unless your book is about archery, perhaps).

Other than that, don’t be over-confident. They’re not going to appreciate that you’ve selected them for the honour of representing your work of genius. They also don’t care what your professor / mum / partner / cat thinks of your book.

Finally, if you can inject a bit of personality into the letter, something that makes you stand out – then it will, well… stand out.

Write a great synopsis

Apparently most writers groan and moan when told they have to write a synopsis of their novel. “But my novel is too complicated to sum up in such a short space,” they whine. Well, get over it. Either your novel can be summarized into a few sentences, or there’s something wrong with your novel.

If you wrote an outline of your plot before you started (using the recommended method in the Novel Factory ), then you’ve got half the work done already. Now just tidy it up and make sure it’s really compelling.

If you didn’t write a summary, then spend some time thinking about the key challenges in your story and make sure the synopsis increases in tension and conflict as it goes along. Don’t worry about the fact not all the detail will be in there; that’s a synopsis for you.

And keep it as snappy and brief as humanly possible, avoiding phrases like: ‘manage to’.

Use sensible formatting

The submission guidelines will often tell you what formatting to use, but if not, use double spaced, courier with wide margins. It’s also a good idea to include page numbers. Small, tightly packed type is a headache inducing, and affects the readability of the document – even if the words themselves are pure poetry.

Perhaps this is good place to mention that you should put your name, the title of your novel and your contact details into the footer of every single page. The last thing you want is for your manuscript and contact to details to get separated and the agent can’t contact you, even though she adores your submission.