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Ask an Agent – the dos and don’ts when approaching a literary agent

For those of you who missed the live Twitter Q&A session with literary agent Lucy Luck, here’s a quick catch-up. There are tips on writing, researching and submitting a novel, as well as some agent insights into the decision process.

Writing                                                                                                                                 

Q: What are the biggest writing flaws you see in submissions/that stop you reading further?
A: Over-writing (clichés, adverbs, purple prose) and bad dialogue. Over-explaining. Use of the thesaurus.

Q: How impatient/angry do you get if you request a full draft and the novelist’s manuscript is unfinished?
A: It’s not ideal. Definitely worth finishing before submitting.

Q: Hi Lucy, how long do you spend with authors/how many drafts worked on together (if any) before sending to editors?
A: Normally 3-6 months and 2-3 drafts, but really as long as it takes.

Q: Is having a proposed lengthy trilogy a bit off putting for literary agents or not?
A: It can be (& lengthy can also be an issue). Depends on genre though. Yes for Lit-fic [literary fiction], less so for YA or sci-fi.
Q: I’ve almost completed my first novel and I proposed to have five to follow, it’s a YA/fantasy
A: As long as [the] 1st book can work alone, too. If it only makes sense with all 5 books then it will be more challenging.

Submitting

Q: What should a new author send to you, initially?
A: A letter explaining ‘why me?’, [either] 50 pages of a novel / 3 stories of a collection / outline & chapter for n-f [non-fiction], [plus a] 1-2 page synopsis

Q: What do you look for in a good synopsis? Thanks!
A: 1 page & outline of plot [is ideal], I’m not judging writing – just want to see if [the] story & characters work.

Q: What are the biggest regular mistakes you have seen in submissions you have received?
A: ‘Dear Sirs’ and the wrong genre (I don’t handle conspiracy thrillers). V[ery] important to do research.

Q: Is it unwise to submit a self-published novel that won industry plaudits but sold few copies from lack of proper marketing?
A: Not unwise, if it’s a good book less sales could be a positive thing. Also, an agent/editor would edit [it].

Q: Hi! What do you look for when choosing a new author to represent?
A: I respond to a letter written to me and it’s always about the writing, which is such a personal thing.

Research and Experience

Q: Aside from good writing chops, is there anything you look for/want to know about a potential author?
A: Anything about writing courses, prize listings, practical experience is good, number of pets [is] less useful.

Q: How important is ‘social media presence’?
A: Depends on type of book, I don’t find it necessary but does help with n-f [non-fiction] projects if done in [the] right spirit.

Q: Obviously getting an agent is a huge step to publication, but are there authors you represent and love who editors haven’t gone for?
A: Yes but I never take an author on for 1 book & so if it doesn’t work with [the] 1st book [then] I hope it will for [the] 2nd.

Q: Hi – how important/relevant is it that a submitting novelist has/hasn’t got a publication record in the short story form? Thanks.
A: It’s not important or necessary but it does get my attention

Q: Are you currently looking for any particular kind of stories? Thanks. P.S: loved Harmless Like You.
A: I love literary crime and all good writing. Something that keeps me up at night. (P.S. so very glad!)

Q: What should a writer research when looking for representation?
A: Look for agents who handle writers you admire & who your book might sit alongside.