This is a guest post by Samar Hammam, literary agent and founder of Rocking Chair Books.
Submitting your novel to an agent or publisher is a multi-stage process. It helps to know the fundamentals of what makes a strong submission. At book fairs, aspiring authors often ask, ‘How can I get ‘discovered’? What can I do to make my submission stand out?’
I’m going to divide this into two parts: ‘The Hook’ and ‘The Book’.
Submitting your novel: The Hook
When emailing an agent like myself, remember to:
1. Personalise your message
Even if it doesn’t always feel like it, there is someone reading who will take your submission more seriously if you know their professional focus and background. Do a little homework and find connection between an agent’s interests and your own. Don’t submit YA to an agent looking for cookery books, and vice versa.
2. Keep your opening hook succinct and interesting
Start with a description of your book in one or two sentences. Put this first. It’s what will grab an agent’s attention quickly.
I recently placed my client, Amita Murray’s work with HarperCollins in a two-book deal. The hook:
Finding Rose is a fresh, funny and deeply moving romantic comedy about a young woman’s journey to find the sister who vanished when they were girls.
It can also help to relate your work to similar authors to give quick context. For example, ‘Marian Keyes, with a British-Indian Twist’.
3. Follow with an alluring paragraph
I like to think of this as the jacket copy, designed to make you want to read immediately. An example:
‘Rilla Kumar is supposed to be getting married, but instead she is arrested for shoplifting. Her extended, boisterous, and hilarious Great Indian Family (the GIF) are aghast, and her steadfast and loving fiancé Simon is devastated…’
A paragraph like this gives a clear idea of the founding scenario that sets the story in motion. For guidance, look to similar books and see what kind of copy they have on their back covers.
4. Write a compelling, short bio
Make this as compelling and interesting as possible. I’m never judgmental if you haven’t won writing prizes or haven’t led an extraordinary life. But if you have, go ahead and mention anything that reveals any impressive writing acumen or fascinating biographical details.
After you’ve done the above four things, you should have a good hook. Don’t hit send, though, until you have a good BOOK!
Submitting your novel: The Book
Your book is what the whole submission is about. Make sure that you get the parts of your manuscript you send (most often the first three chapters along with the synopsis) as polished as possible. It helps to have beta readers and an editor before you get to the submission stage.
Here are some important steps to give your book the best chance for a successful submission:
1. Make your opening paragraph matter
Even the most generous agent has to be quick and decisive (or we wouldn’t get through all the submissions) so try to grab the reader immediately. Voice, Character, Plot.
2. When your book is ready to submit, don’t
Put it aside for a bit then read it from start to finish without editing. Read it as a reader. Now ask yourself. Is this doing what it should be doing? Is this ready to submit? How clear is my language and are details of plot, character and setting vivid?
3. Do another edit if necessary
If the answer to any of the above questions is ‘no,’ don’t despair (or despair at first, then stop) – edit! You have all the answers. Take a rest and give your story the polishing it needs.
4. Believe in yourself
Often aspiring authors complete projects only for them to sit gathering dust. Although submitting the first chapters of your manuscript to an agent or publisher naturally feels daunting when you’ve invested so much of yourself in the writing process, believe in yourself. Many now-famous authors have had to submit multiple times before they were successful. Reach for similar tenacity.
Samar Hammam is the Director of Rocking Chair Books Literary Agency, an agency dedicated to original and page-turning books. Prior to founding Rocking Chair Books, she worked for six years as a Director at Toby Eady Associates and as a literary scout for Linda Clark Associates in New York.
She’d love a chance to consider your submission! She loves a driving plot and writing that stops her quickly, leaving her with nothing to do but listen. You can contact Samar at representme at rockingchairbooks dot com.
[First need to polish your draft? Get help improving your writing and constructive feedback for revision when you join Now Novel.]
Cover source image by Andisheh A