Q: Why is a literary agent like a haircut?
A: Because you're a writer
Putting together an agency submission is an exhausting process. The cover letter alone is a whole arena of self-doubt. Most of the time it feels like you’re jumping through a set of hoops meant for someone else. It’s easy to wish it were different, but wishing it was different is missing the whole point. You’re a writer, my friend, self-doubt is what you do.
The submission process is designed to make life easy for an agent, but not in the way you'd think. The content, style and general approach of your submission gives them an idea of what to expect from you. It also tells them if you know who they are, if you know why you’re writing to them and if you know anything about the process of finding an agent.
Everything about your submission needs to be the absolute best of you. Go the extra mile. Do your homework. If an agent represents apples, don't try to paint your potatoes. Find an agent who represents your genre, find one who interests you and tell them exactly why you want them. You have around three seconds to grab their attention, this is your foot in the door moment, don't waste it.
Which brings me to THE BIG SECRET
We spend all our lives comparing our insides with
other people's outsides.
We see the cover of the book but we don't see the story inside. John Steinbeck, one of the greatest writers who ever lived, suffered from excruciating self-doubt. In his diary he writes:
"For no one else knows my lack of ability the way I do. I am pushing against it all the time. Sometimes, I seem to do a good little piece of work, but when it is done it slides into mediocrity."*
Self-doubt is as much a part of being a writer as choosing a title for your novel or drinking too much coffee. Think of it like stage fright. It can paralyse or it can just be the bit before something wonderful happens. And the antidote to self-doubt isn't certainty, it's confidence.
Confidence is the freedom to not be perfect. It allows us to be us, not some Hollywood version of who we think we should be. Confidence celebrates our strengths and is intrigued by our weaknesses. And it's a walk in the park compared to self-doubt. Get that into your cover letter and you’re already ahead of the game.
Why do you need an editor?
Perhaps you don't. Integrity is really important to me. If you don't need my help then I'll tell you and you won't be charged. I'll also point you in the right direction as far as agents who might suit you. If I think your submission could do with some editorial input, I won't suggest more than you need, even if you've asked for it. Rates are set out HERE so you can get an idea of how much everything costs before you contact me.
Agents are notoriously difficult creatures to win over. They get so many submissions it’s all become tedious. There is no guarantee that working with an editor will make a blind bit of difference. Still, it pays to load the dice a little.
THE DROP OUT POINT
As an editor, my favourite thing is to find the drop out point. This is the point where I stop reading. It can be as quick as the title. It can be the first line of the cover letter. It can be two paragraphs into your sample pages. You NEED to know where this point is because everything that comes after is just a waste of your time.
AN OUTSIDE PERSPECTIVE
Writers know their story inside out. Because the story is so familiar, they make unconscious assumptions, and they miss narrative gaps because it’s already their world. An editor comes to your submission in the same way an agent does. They find the gaps, they find the misalignment and they make sure every part of your submission delivers on what you promise. In this way the set of hoops meant for someone else becomes a structured showcase of your ability as a writer.
SHOW NOT TELL
While it's true that the odd grammatical or formatting error won't necessarily put an agent off, we're loading the dice here. A well formatted and grammatically clean submission shows a level of professionalism as well as respect for the agent. How would you feel if a letter from your bank was filled with spelling mistakes?
Indie is a State of Mind