So, you’ve finally written that book you’ve had bubbling inside of you since forever. What now? We spoke to Philippa Donovan, who has worked with more than 300 authors and recommends to a stable of 50 literary agents in the UK, US and Australia through her consultancy Smart Quill Editorial.
CHECK THE FLOW
Knowing the right moment to step away from your manuscript is key. An excellent way to sense whether you have done all you can with your story is to read the first and last chapters aloud. Is there a sense of connection between the two? Can you feel the transition from beginning to end? If so, you’re ready for the next step.
GET BETA READERS AND PROFESSIONAL EDITORS
The relationship between author and editor is integral to the finished product. When you, as the author, have done all you can, you need to gauge the wider reception for your writing. Beta readers – they could be friends or family – are early readers who give general feedback as to what they like/don’t like. Editors are professionals who you pay for various levels of analysis: a structural edit, or someone to check it for grammar and consistency. Several beta reads and at least one edit is required if you want your work in the best shape possible before publication.
CREATE SAMPLE CHAPTERS
Once you’ve made a few ‘passes’ (revisions) with beta readers and editors, now is the time to create a new document for the first three chapters – these are called the sample chapters, and they are what literary agents and publishers will assess. These sample chapters need to be hot. It has to stand apart from the text itself – almost like a mini story – so it’s important to look at it and scrutinise it separately and with fresh eyes, right before you submit.
NAIL THE SYNOPSIS
Your sample chapters will be supported by a synopsis. This is a short document that outlines the plot; essentially everything that happens during the sample chapters and beyond. It’s tonally a lot brisker than the sample, because it needs to be big on detail rather than style. Ideally it should be no more than a page because if you can’t summarise it in a short space, agents and publishers will struggle to do the same. Publishing is a pass-the-parcel of pitching, all the way up to the final reader.
WRITE THE QUERY LETTER
The last element to nail is the query, or covering letter. Again, this should be short. You want a logline for your work, which is a one-line summary. As a general rule, my breakdown is: a one-paragraph summary of the book, a one-paragraph summary of market position for the book, a one-paragraph personal biography.
You have the book package in hand – the sample chapters, the synopsis, the covering letter. What next? Research online thoroughly which agents and publishers accept submissions, and how, and when – round-ups like litrejections.com, authors.me, Manuscript Wish List (mswishlist.com) and the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook are a good place to start.
As a rule, it’s okay to submit your work to lots of people simultaneously, but make it clear that there is no ‘exclusivity’ at play. Wait times can be up to six weeks and you should expect honest responses from them. In the meantime? Start your next project.