Submission to Agents

Let me warn you now, submission to agents is soul destroying, the best way to stunt your writing, knock your confidence, and eat up all your valuable time. Apart from one short story in 2016, I wrote no new fiction in 300 days.

Here’s how it goes. First you prepare a generic submission package (covering letter, synopsis and sample) and then you identify target agents. Plenty of sources: Writers and Artist Yearbook, Agent Hunter, Manuscript Wish List, Query Tracker, Lit Rejections etc.

Once you have a target, you check the agency website, the agent’s personal website, their twitter feed and blogs, the interviews they give and the authors they currently represent. If they list homeopathy among their passions, are they going to be interested in a book with a proselyting chemical engineering heroine? Maybe not.

You modify your generic submission. Make the letter personal and say why you are interested in the agent and their agency. Then tell them briefly, in a sentence or two what your book is about. Don’t dwell on who you are. It’s all about the writing,

Send the agent what they ask for. No more and no less. If they want a one page synopsis, then strip it back to one page. If they want the first 3 chapters as an attachment or 5000 words posted into the body of the email, then do as you are told.

This is the hardest hurdle to get over, the point at which you have to grab and hold attention. Most queries will be rejected – the agent has tens or hundreds of unsolicited submissions a week, they are looking for an excuse to reject them. Don’t give them one. Do a spell check, a grammar check, print it out and read it, get a friend to check for obvious errors, make sure you have page numbers, title, and contact details. Write sober. Above all – sleep on it before you send. But not so it gets all sweaty and crumpled before you post it.

To fail to plan is to plan to fail. I read that only one in a hundred queries get any further, so I aimed to query 100 agents. I sent out queries in batches, posting new ones as the first rejections came in so that there were always 5 or 6 queries active. If there was any feedback, I modified the next batch to reflect what I had learned. For those agents who said they only reply if interested, I made a diary note when to abandon hope. For those who promised a reply, I made a diary note to pester.

Polite nudges are sometimes necessary. One agent lost my postal submission, apologised when nudged and fast tracked my email query. Then rejected it. One agent lost my email query to spam—twice—asked for the full manuscript. Then rejected it. One agent asked for a full manuscript 279 days after receiving the query.


I supported Authors for Refugees, winning lunch with agent Sophie Lambert.

Sophie is smart, witty and friendly. She read the first 80 pages of Book 2 and advised that yes, it had commercial legs. She asked penetrating questions about the essence, what was at stake for each character. She suggested books I should read and gave the names of agents who might be interested.

The name that caught my attention was Juliet Mushens. I loved Jessie Burton’s Miniaturist; I had never considered Juliet as an agent for thrillers. I spent a lot of time preparing that submission.

And then, out of the blue, an indie publisher, offered me a 2 book contract: ebook and print on demand. I was delighted.

All the advice I received was to search for a conventional agent, but after 30 rejections in 300 days, I decided enough was enough. If I was to reach my target of 100 agents, it would take another 2 years. And from the feedback of those who rejected the full manuscript, there was more work to do.

A reputable indie publisher was waiting with open arms. I already knew and trusted the editors who would work with me to knock Book 2 into shape.

Decision made.

I wrote to everyone with an active query and told them I had other interest.

Juliet Mushens replied immediately, asking how much time I could give her. I said a week. She came straight back and asked for the full manuscript. Before the week was up she asked if we could meet.

Hi Fiona,

I finished it this afternoon and LOVE it! Jaq is a brilliant character and the twists and turns of the plot (plus the small, chilling details …) are totally gripping. I think it needs work – …but the writing is SO assured, and I would absolutely love to offer representation. I don’t know where you’re based so I don’t know if a phonecall is possible, or a meeting? To talk about my editorial thoughts and representation.

All the best,


Gulp. What to do?

Choosing an Agent