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Advice on editing and submitting your novel

BY Katie Smart
26th Jan 2022

Last week our founder and Director Anna Davis took to Twitter to answer your burning questions about writing and publishing – from advising you on how best to approach literary agents to discussing the current book market.

It was clear from your questions that many of you are aiming to submit your novel to agents this year as you’re currently busy working on edits and preparing pitch letters.

Below we’ve gathered some of our favourite questions centred around the editorial process and submitting your work to literary agents. We hope that Anna's top tips will inspire you to polish your work and get your manuscript in the best shape possible before submitting…

Editing your work

After drafting and redrafting your novel, what do you think are the most important factors/elements to ensure your novel has before submitting to an agent?

Does your story get going from page one? Does your main character appear on page one? Have you interrogated each element of your plot and tightened each scene? Have you checked your spellings?

Do you think a writer ever knows when to stop editing? And, how much input does an agent have in the editing process?

It CAN be hard to know when to stop, but sometimes you can recognise that you're just tinkering on and on and it's time to get on and pitch. Most agents will do a lot of editing, but they need to love a book to take it on in the first place, so the editing IS important.

How long would an agent work with an author before taking a manuscript to publishers?

Some agents will do many rounds of editing. Others only take on projects that are ready or almost ready to send out. A bit of research will give some idea of an agent's approach.

Finding a literary agent

Where would I find a list of agents who represent fantasy writers? So many agents, so little idea of where to look…

The Writers and Artists' Yearbook and similar directories usually state what an agency does or doesn't represent. But also look up the agents who represent the authors who write books that are like yours. It's just a question of time spent doing some good googling, I'd say.

I've written and self-published five historical fantasy novels on Amazon, but can't get a deal for the life of me. Do I just keep writing, or give up?

If you're a real writer you won't give up! Maybe consider a slight shift in focus? Explore something a bit new to you, plot-wise? Just see if there's a small tweak that could mean you'll be able to present it differently?

Does a 'themed' short story collection have a better chance at publication?

It's easier to get a story collection published if you're able to link them so that they can be disguised as a novel (!). Otherwise, I'd suggest entering individual stories for competitions and sending to journals etc – agents will often be watching closely for new talent.

Pitching to literary agents

When you submit to an agent, and you’ve done your best to make sure it’s as good as you can make it, by editing to the best of your abilities, if it’s a good storyline with good plot and characters, do they make allowances for it being unpolished & sometimes wordy?

They will make allowances if they REALLY LOVE it. But not if they don't. It really IS worth trying to get your novel as polished as you can before sending in. If you can see the problems in it, then it's worth fixing them (you already know it's wordy ...).

I frequently hear that agents won't consider adult books below 80k—is that true? Is there just no market for shorter books from debuts? What should someone do with a 60-70k novel—shelve it for the future, or query nevertheless?

80K is a very saleable length but it should be possible to sell a 60-70K novel if it's great. And there are lots of new novels out there that are short (particularly in literary fiction). Just don't mention the short word count in your pitch letter or on your title page!

Any advice on query letters? As I have a synopsis to cover the plot, how much should I go into the themes of the book in the query letter?

The synopsis and pitch letter should work well together, and you should avoid repetition. Most pitch letters are too long and all you need are three short paragraphs – here's my blog with more on this.

I keep reading that agents want to see more diversity in submissions (my book has LGBT protagonists who are aged around 50) but I haven't had much luck. Do you think there is a big enough market for this kind of story at the moment?

Agents are indeed interested in diversity – but the book also has to be good in and of itself – great story, memorable characters, strong writing. If your novel is a cracking read, then agents will sit up and take notice.

When is the best time to submit to agents in the coming months? Are there times I should avoid?

The best time is NOW! Spring is good, but not during and immediately after the London Book Fair (early April this year). Also avoid sending in the middle of the Frankfurt Book Fair (in October) and run-up to Christmas. Most times are basically fine.

Do you know of any agent pet peeves that are almost guaranteed to result in a pass?

SO many! Including bragging in your pitch, kicking off the manuscript with something gross (visceral content that triggers the disgust reflex). If the first paragraph is just a sea of over-written metaphors and adjectives; no character appearing on first page; no dialogue for ages…

If you want more in-depth guidance as you edit your work and prepare to submit to literary agents, apply for one of our new online courses...