Having recently signed with a new agent, this time by going through the slush pile, I thought I would share are few tips. I hope these might be useful for anyone currently navigating the slush pile and help with some of the etiquette for dealing with agents.
1. Make sure your manuscript is ready
This should really go without saying. The MS should be complete and ideally have been read by a couple of trusted beta readers, who you can really rely on to give honest feedback. (I’m talking about fiction here. Non-fiction is a different matter).
2. Keep your cover letter to the point and business like.
Avoid gimmicks. If you want to be treated like a professional act like one. Make sure you include the title, genre and word count.
3. Don’t sweat the synopsis.
Writing a synopsis is hard, but so long as it provides an adequate summary of what the story is about and how it ends you should be okay. It is your writing that will hook the agent.
4. Send out in batches of ten.
The types of responses you get from each batch will give an indication of whether you should press on with the MS as is (you start to get full requests and personalised responses) or whether maybe you ought to revisit your sample chapters and covering letter (nothing but form rejections).
5. Set a time limit on exclusives.
Sometimes an agent will request an exclusive, either on a full or on a rewrite and resubmit. It is up to you whether you grant this or not but do set a time limit of, maybe, a month. If other agents are already reading the full inform them that you can’t offer an exclusive and offer to update them if anyone else requests or offers. If someone wants to work with you on your MS on an exclusive basis and their feedback makes sense to you then you may want to take them up on that.
6. Inform agents when other agents request a full.
If someone requests a full it is a good idea to let any other agents already considering your full MS know. It is also a good opportunity to nudge any agents who have not responded. Nothing like other agents being interested in something to make it more appealing.
7. Follow up with non-responders and keep submitting.
Unless an agent specifically asks that you don’t in their guidelines it’s a good idea to follow up with non-responders. Sometimes your submission has gone astray. Sometimes they have fallen behind with their slush reading. If you are nudging to inform them about other agents requesting fulls they may suddenly show an interest. The worst that can happen is that they say ‘No’.
8. When an agent offers give the others a chance to read
Inform any agents currently reading the full, and any others you have submitted to who you particularly like, that you have received an offer and give them a deadline to get back to you. They will often be keen to read and you may receive multiple offers. A nice position to be in.
9. Check out the offering agent thoroughly
Presumably you already did this before submitting to them but even so now is the time to delve a bit deeper and to ask questions about the agency agreement they are offering. Read it thoroughly and ask for clarification if there is anything you don’t understand. You may also want to contact their other clients. They’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.
10. When you accept an offer do let anyone who has offered or who is still considering your MS know.
This is a simple courtesy. There’s nothing more frustrating for an agent than to offer and find you’ve signed elsewhere. And you never know. You may be knocking of their doors again further down the line, so always best not to burn your bridges.
Good luck with you agent hunt, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have in the comments below.