Tag Archives: submissions

Knowing how to pitch your book to a UK literary agent

Pitching your book

We are getting very excited about the Frankfurt book fair next week.  In preparation, I’ve done a quick exercise – a tweet sized pitch for each new title by our clients.  I am always telling writers how important it is to get to the core of a story in just one sentence so I thought this would be interesting! I use a tweet sized pitch to get editors interested before delving further into the story with a compelling blurb. 

New Clients

Rebecca Powell UNDER THE CASHEW TREE– upmarket women’s fiction début based in Brazil – a story of unlikely love, lies and sacrifice. (on submission to UK publishers)

Jemma Forte IF YOU’RE NOT THE ONE–  witty observations on married life combined with the destructive lengths that love will reach to achieve its ends, the third book by the popular women’s fiction author. (MIRA Books, spring 2014).

Karen Ross MOTHER OF THE YEAR –  an engaging comedy about a mother and daughter’s minefield relationship with real emotional depth and heart. (Ebury Press, February 2014).

Radhika Sanghani V!RG!N – New Adult / Young Women’s fiction début – funny and daring, the novel candidly explores its protagonist Ellie’s sexual journey and ultimately offers a powerful observation on the societal pressures that young women face concerning sex and status today. (on submission to UK publishers)

Talli Roland THE POLLYANNA PLAN – delightful, feel-good women’s fiction – can you find true love by simply changing your attitude?  (Amazon Publishing, February 2014)

Belinda Jones THE TRAVELLING TEA SHOP – deliciously funny and moving commercial women’s fiction perfect for anyone with an appetite for baked goods and sweet romance. (Hodder, summer 2014)

Crime and Thrillers

Nuala Casey SUMMER LIES BLEEDING – thought-provoking and intelligent suspense novel about four lives that are about to come crashing together.  (Quercus, June 2014)

Mel Sherratt TAUNTING THE DEAD – a dark, gritty, sexually-charged police procedural that twists and turns in every direction to uncover ‘whodunit’.  (Amazon Publishing/Thomas & Mercer, December 2013)

Luana Lewis DON’T STAND SO CLOSE – a gripping psychological thriller about a reclusive psychologist who is forced to confront trauma from her past and secrets in her marriage. (Transworld, February 2014)

C.L. Taylor THE ACCIDENT / BEFORE I WAKE –  a dark psychological suspense thriller about one mother whose life falls apart when her fifteen-year-old daughter deliberately steps in front of a bus, and the chilling journey she goes on to understand why.  (HarperCollins/Avon, February 2014)

C.J. Daugherty FRACTURE – third book in the international bestselling NIGHT SCHOOL series: a world of mystery, danger, romance and thrills, now translated into 22 languages. (Little, Brown/ Atom, August 2013)


Women’s Fiction

Victoria Fox WICKED AMBITION – a sex-filled, high-octane romp through the hidden lives of the rich and famous perfect for Jackie Collins’ fans – addictive, dark and buzzing with suspense (MIRA, June 2013)

Emma Garcia OMG BABY!  – a hilarious sequel to NEVER GOOGLE HEARTBREAK where Viv and Max come to terms with an unexpected pregnancy. (Hodder, spring 2014)

Janet MacLeod Trotter A CRIMSON DAWN – a gripping and impassioned historical saga set against the fascinating backdrop of the Great War.  (MacLeod Trotter books 2013)

Carolyn Jess-Cooke DARK TRACES – a dark, edgy and inventive Victorian thriller involving hypnosis, obsession and removing memories. (on submission in the UK)

Lynda Page WHERE MEMORIES ARE MADE – a nostalgic, heart-warming family saga set in a holiday camp in the late 1950s for Downton Abbey fans. (Headline, February 2014)

Anna-Lou Weatherley WICKED WIVES – women’s suspense full of intrigue, revenge and decadence.  (HarperCollins/ Avon July 2013)

Sophie Hart THE NAUGHTY GIRLS BOOK CLUB – a new take on erotica: inspired by their naughty novels, a group of shy suburban readers shake off their inhibitions and discover a new side to themselves. (Avon, June 2013)

Evie Hunter THE PLEASURES OF AUTUMN – Irish erotica perfect for fans of E.L. James’ FIFTY SHADES OF GREY’ (Penguin, October 2013)

YA & Children’s

Holly Bourne THE MANIFESTO ON HOW TO BE INTERESTING – a dark-humoured, contemporary YA novel identifying what it is that makes a person interesting.  (Usborne, September 2014)

Lara Williamson A BOY CALLED HOPE – a joyous, heart-breaking and life-affirming story of one boy and his messy, muddled and madcap family, perfect for fans of Annabel Pitcher and Frank Cotterell Boyce. (Usborne, spring 2014)

Rupert Wallis THE DARK INSIDE – a gripping, magical and haunting story about loss and hope, perfect for fans of Patrick Ness and David Almond.  (Simon &Schuster, February 2014)

Jenna Burtenshaw CONVICTION – from the author of the critically acclaimed Wintercraft comes a YA prison break thriller and love story set in a place of darkness, danger and death (on submission in the UK)

Dave Lowe MY HAMSTER IS A SPY the third in a hilarious series for 6-9 year olds, following the adventures of Stinky the sarcastic talking hamster and his owner Jinks. (Templar, March 2013)

S.B Hayes DON’T LOOK BACK – a gripping psychological suspense thriller about a girl who takes on the search for her missing brother. (Quercus, June 2013)

It’s important to grab the reader’s attention at the start of your submission letter. Understanding the genre you are writing in is key to showing an agent that you’ve researched your market.

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Part 3: What does a literary agent do?

For my final entry on ‘What does a literary agent do?’ I will address deal making.

Every single day I am negotiating top deals in the UK, US and foreign markets, including film and TV rights.  This aspect of the being an agent gives my writers a platform to be successful.  A writer’s career will grow if they have an agent who is constantly trying to sell rights to their books, for instance selling translation rights to different countries.  I continue to sell rights to my authors’ backlist all the time. I attend all the major international book fairs each year, including the Bologna Book Fair, the London Book Fair and the Frankfurt Book Fair. I also make regular trips to the US to liaise with publishers.  At the book fairs I will pitch my authors work to hundreds of different editors from publishing companies all over the world.  I have 30 minutes with each one, starting from 9am through to 6pm with no breaks.  The adrenalin keeps me going.

A lot of work is done between the book fairs .  Sometimes, I like to have sold the UK & Commonwealth rights to a book and then get everyone else interested at the fair; other times I introduce books at the fair; or I will have done a US deal beforehand.  There are lots of tactics involved in creating excitement, and this is how the big advances come into play.  Every deal is important to me, every translation deal, because they can make my authors international bestsellers.

Deal making is very exhilarating but negotiating also takes tons of energy.  Sometimes negotiations go on for weeks.  Auctions are very exciting but it is always important, no matter what the advance, that the agent chooses the most passionate editor for the book and indeed the author’s career as a whole.  It is this passion and commitment from both the editor and the agent that gives the author the best chance of being successful.

The Madeleine Milburn Agency has a long-term vision and an international plan for each author, negotiating significant deals in the UK, the US and foreign markets, liaising with publishers around the world. The Agency works in partnership with film agents, and directly, to option Film & TV rights to leading production companies and film studios in the UK and US.

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Part 1: What does a literary agent do?

A lot of people ask me what a literary agent does.  There is a huge amount involved in the day-to-day running of a literary agency, and indeed being an agent, but I believe the three main aspects of an agent’s job are talent spotting, author care and deal making.  I will explain each of these over the upcoming week.

Talent spotting – an agent has to find new talent to sell.  This is their bread and butter and will keep an Agency growing and expanding.  I do everything I can each day to grow my slush pile (which I call my ‘potential’ pot).  To ensure that the quality remains high, I attend writing events and give talks to writing groups around the UK and Ireland.  I’m also involved in panel discussions organised for writers wanting to get published.  I go to creative writing courses at universities and I keep this blog to promote my authors and ensure that writers know what my personal taste is and what I am looking for.  I want writers to ‘know’ me before they submit their work.  I think it is extremely important that writers know how to present their work to agents and that they look for an agent who is interested in reading their manuscript.  A writer wants to have a sort of affinity with their agent.  A lot of writers feel very despondent when they get rejected, but most of the time it is because they haven’t targeted the right agent for their book.

Day in day out, my passion is finding outstanding voices in both adult and children’s fiction and non-fiction, and negotiating top deals.  I have a very strong women’s fiction list and I am now looking to expand into crime, thrillers and mystery.  I am always on the lookout for fantastic Young Adult novels too and the kind of books people like to discuss in bookclubs, the so called ‘Richard & Judy’ reads – these are novels that are accessible yet have really interesting themes.  My main criteria is this though: no matter what genre, if I simply cannot book your book down, I will want to be your agent.

In my next posts I will address author care and deal making, particularly appropriate given that the London Book Fair runs next week from 16th – 18th April.

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My two top Literary Consultants

Some literary consultants are fantastic at improving the standard of a manuscript before submitting to agents and publishers.  Two literary consultants I hugely recommend are as follows:

The Shelley Instone Literary Consultancy, established in 2011 in order to give writers the very best advice and critiques in the business. Focussing entirely on children’s books, Shelley has the huge advantage of editing and reading for many agents and really does know how high the bar is to make it as a writer. She has an MA in Children’s Literature and has also worked as a journalist for online publications interviewing and reviewing many of the UK’s best known authors. Shelley is committed to assisting writers of all abilities.

Smart Quill Editorial run by Philippa Donovan, currently commissioning children’s fiction for a major UK publishing house. Previously she worked with authors of literary and commercial fiction and non-fiction at an agency in London. She has been in the industry for 10 years and has contacts with agencies, scouts and publishers worldwide.  The special thing about this consultancy is that they do both adults and children’s books, and with a focus on digital too.  She’s the only consultant I am aware of offering to discuss and advise authors on trade publishing and digital options.

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Competition for Representation

The Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency invites you to submit one work of fiction for the chance to be represented by the Agency.  All submissions must be sent by post on an exclusive basis to the Agency, and must include a covering letter, the first eight chapters and a one page synopsis.  The closing date for all submissions is the 14th March 2012 to coincide with the official launch of the Agency.

Madeleine says “I will consider every genre, commercial or literary, children’s fiction, YA and adult’s.  I am looking for two new outstanding voices to share with the publishing world.”

Please address all submissions to the Agency:

Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency

42A Great Percy Street




Please note, work will not be returned and you will only be contacted if you are successful given the high quantity of submissions.

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Covering Letters

I was recently asked to be on a panel at the How To Get Published conference in the Wellcome Collection giving advice about submitting work to agents.   The panel was chaired by Jeremy Lewis and included myself,  Carole Blake, James Gill and Patrick Walsh. We were each given a batch of covering letters in advance, sent in by the audience.  This is a summary of my advice.

  • Neat structure and format – don’t make it look like a CV. It needs to look like a personal letter, three or four paragraphs on one page, 1.5 spacing.  3 consecutive chapters.  I like short chapters.  Present one book, not a collection.
  • Conversational and personal – read out loud to make sure it flows and has a conversational tone.  I like to imagine that you are speaking to me in person.
  • Title – have a gripping title.  A title that stands out from the rest.  One that immediately makes me want to read.  Striking titles are always memorable.  Think Rosamund Lupton’s SISTER, S.J Watson’s BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP.
  • Pitch – make sure you build your letter around a strong one line pitch to hook the reader in. It is invaluable to get to the ‘core’ of your book when you are discussing your work with friends, writing groups and potential agents. Agents use them when pitching to editors, editors use them when pitching to sales teams, sales teams use them when pitching to booksellers, readers use them when pitching to other potential readers.   Word of mouth is the biggest publicity tool for books and your book has to have a strong and exciting pitch.
  • Blurb – keep this simple yet exciting.  I want to know that it’s going to be a good story.
  • Background info and qualifications – if I like your book idea I’ll want to read more about you so put this towards the end of the letter.
  • Book 2 – are you submitting a stand alone novel or is it part of a series?
  • Exclusive material – have you chosen me specifically and why? Have you researched my list? Would I be the right agent for you?

Below are some useful questions that came out of the discussion which I have answered, specifically with the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency in mind:

  1. I lack some of the experience an agent might wish for such as previous publication and formal creative writing training.  Should I plainly state these as a list of ‘do not haves’ (my honesty is inclined this way), or simply not mention them, and leave the agent wondering?  Always be positive!  There is no point in stating what you have not got.  I always look at the story first and foremost – this is the most important thing.
  2. My first draft cover letter read much more like a formal job application, but on the advice of the Writers and Artists website I wrote and submitted a far more personal letter.  What do the panel think about the merits  of a personal approach? I love to read a personal letter which has a conversational tone but I like the structure to be very neat and clear.  I don’t like waffle.
  3. Should the first timer submit a CV, even though that CV will shout their lack of relevant training and publication?  No, keep it personal.
  4. I’ve heard that with creative non-fiction it’s possible to approach an agent with some sample chapters and a synopsis, rather than a completed manuscript. Is the same also true with fiction?  I will consider non-fiction on proposal but for fiction editors much prefer to see a full length manuscript so I’d rather wait until it is finished.  We will then be in a much better position to negotiate top deals around the world.  It is surprising how some novels start so well but flop in the middle.
  5. Should a synopsis be included with a completed novel manuscript?  Yes, we want to see that you understand plotting.
  6. With so many agents out there, how does a writer go about finding the right one? What should we look for and what questions should we ask?  Look for an agent who you feel is on the same wavelength as you, who likes similar books to you.  An agent-author relationship is longterm and you need to be as ambitious as your agent and be able to relate to them.  You want to find the perfect match which is much easier nowadays with all the online information out there.

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