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    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, you control language like a carriage driver controls eight galloping horses. 

Yes, 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. 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 pitch 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. 


REMEMBER, Agents are intelligent professionals, speak to them in an intelligent and professional way. Don't try to be smart or clever, and most of all don't try to be someone you aren't. Bring your story to the process, let them know who you are. 

Which brings me to THE BIG SECRET

We spend all our lives comparing our inside with

other people's outside


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.  


Q: How do I load the dice

1: Do your research

That doesn't just mean finding an agent who represents your genre, that means finding out what your genre is, where your book fits in the market place, what a particular agent is looking for or not looking for,  what a good cover letter looks like, what a bad cover letter looks like, what to write in a bio if you have nothing to write. If you're struggling with something, it's pretty certain that someone else has struggled with it. There are so many writer resources out there, and if the agent you're applying to has a podcast, listen to it. 

2: Nail your elevator pitch

The first time a stranger asked me what my book was about I turned bright red and blabbed something about the Mandolin Series. 

'Oh, like a French romance?' they said.  

Suffice to say, it taught me a valuable lesson. You might think you have this nailed, but test it out. Two minutes to pitch your book to a stranger.

3: Feedback

This cannot be overstated. We're too familiar with our own work. Reading your agent pitch to someone else will highlight a weak opening quicker than unleashing a police dog.



If anyone ever asks me to review their work, 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. As a writer, you NEED to know where this point is because everything that comes after is just a waste of your time. It's impossible to do this for yourself, get someone else's eye on it. 


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 outside reader 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. 


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?

* from:

Trimming the Fur

Indie is a State of Mind 

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