Be as articulate and professional as possible in your introductory email.
This should start with a short paragraph introducing the work you are submitting – the genre and the intended readership.
A short, compelling blurb should follow. When writing your blurb, imagine you are talking to the literary agent in person about your book. Pitch your book in an an enticing way that will make us want to read it immediately. Tell us a bit about yourself that is relevant to the book you are submitting.
Your pitch should be as strong as a blurb on the back of a bestselling book. Remember a blurb ‘sells’ your story whereas a synopsis ‘tells’ your story.
Towards the end of the letter it is useful to include a sentence or two about the next book you are working on. It is important for us to see that your next book would appeal to the same readers.
Literary Agent, Madeleine Milburn’s, advice for writing bestselling fiction
- Character – we believe a strong character is the most important part of making your novel a bestseller. People don’t usually remember the plot of a book or a film but we always remember strong characters. Think Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Morse, James Bond, Hamlet. These are all brilliant and highly memorable characters. Make the reader empathise with your main character. We want to be able to relate to them.
- Pitch – keep it simple. If you can’t pitch your book in one sentence, it may be that the plot is too complex or complicated. The most satisfying plots are straightforward, linear with a beginning, middle and end.
- Pace – keep your chapters short as this automatically adds pace to writing. Put hooks and cliff-hangers on the end of each chapter to force the reader to read on. You want to make your book impossible to put down. Keep your sentences concise and keep descriptive paragraphs on the short side.
- Concept – think of a strong and original concept. Agents can use this to pitch to publishers, and publishers can use this to pitch to retailers, and readers can use this to pitch to friends. The best publicity for books is word of mouth.
- Dialogue – use as much dialogue as possible as this brings your story alive and really speeds up the pace of your novel. The reader doesn’t want to read huge paragraphs of description unless you are writing a very literary novel.
- Location – try using locations that everyone can relate to. Big cities like New York and London are attractive and great for genre fiction. If you do use more obscure settings, make sure your readers can relate to your themes.
- Research – do research what you are writing about but use your knowledge sparingly. The reader will be more interested in details about your characters rather than detailed descriptions about what you know. You don’t want parts of your novel to sound like an account.
- Read – if you are writing genre fiction then read the most popular books in that genre. You need to know what your readers want and expect. You need to know your competition!
- If you are writing a crime or thriller, read the bestselling crime authors such as Harlan Coben, Lee Child, James Patterson, John Grisham, Patricia Cornwall, Kathryn Stockett
- If you are writing psychological suspense, read the bestselling suspense authors: S J Watson, Nicci French, Tana French, Sophie Hannah
- If you are writing women’s fiction read Sophie Kinsella, Jill Mansell, Lisa Jewell, Kathryn Stockett, Marian Keyes, Tara Hyland, Jane Costello, Jojo Moyes
- If you are writing blockbusters, read Jackie Collins, Jilly Cooper, Tasmina Perry, Victoria Fox, J.J. Salem, Tilly Bagshaw.
- If you are writing accessible literary fiction, the kind of reading club books that people love to discuss, read books by authors such as David Nicholls, Maggie O’Farrell, Markus Zusak, John Boyne, Kate Atkinson, Carolyn Jess-Cooke. Richard & Judy picks are usually accessible literary novels.
- If you are writing erotica, read FIFTY SHADES OF GREY by E.L. James!
- If you are writing Young Adult fiction, read the most popular books aimed at that age group, for instance Stephanie Meyer (though no more vampires!) Suzanne Collins, C.J. Daugherty, S.B. Hayes.
Read the opening chapters of bestselling books and then read your own opening chapters out loud. Does every sentence grip you? You need your readers to be mesmerised by your voice, unable to put your book down.