I have just sent out “Song of the Nightingale” to 13 literary agents. It has taken me many days and hours to get to this point and I am exhausted. I know some will say that 13 is too many, but if each agent takes 6 – 8 weeks on average to respond, then I don’t have enough years left to send it out one by one until someone accepts it!
I sent my first novel, “The Jewel Garden,” to well over 70 agents and 30 publishers before it got accepted by a publisher. So I know that the chances of getting an agent for “Song of the Nightingale” is low, but I still want to try as I think they can offer more than I can ever achieve with a publisher or just by myself.
It isn’t easy to select the right literary agents. For “The Jewel Garden” I used Agent Hunter, an on-line search engine. I can’t recall whether I had to pay something – but if I did it certainly wasn’t the £195 annual subscription demanded by Jericho Writers, which has incorporated AgentMatch into its many services. Jericho Writers is probably well worth the money if you want videos on getting published, how to write, how to self-publish, and advice on writing etc – but it is expensive if all you want is a quick way to find literary agents who are interested in historical fiction.
So, this time I purchased the Writers & Artists’ Yearbook 2019 instead and trawled through the list of literary agents – some 27 pages, averaging 6 per page = approx 162. I looked at their website for any who listed literary or historical fiction (ie most of them) and were open to submissions (ie most of them). I made a list on a spreadsheet of any that seemed reasonable – that is, if I liked the website because it was encouraging and supportive, rather than dictatorial and discouraging, or because one of the agents said they were particularly interested in the type of book I think “Song of the Nightingale” is, or sometimes just because.
In the end I had a list of 42 potential literary agents, of which I highlighted 13 because I think they are possibilities – usually because I really like what one of the agents has to say or, to be honest, because they promise to respond within a very short time. Then, of course, I had to return to each website and read the submission instructions. Most want a cover letter that gives a very brief overview of the novel , including number of words, genre etc, and what else you have written and will be writing. I wrote a skeleton as a word document that I then copied and pasted into the body of the e-mail. I made sure I personalised each e-mail by addressing to a specific agent and also tried to add something that showed I had read their web page and I explained why I was sending my novel to them. I always admitted I was submitting to a number of other agents – they often ask you to say. I don’t know whether they ignore these submissions or whether, in fact, this makes them more keen if they are the slightest bit interested.
Most agencies want a synopsis. I had one that I was quite happy with, which came to over 1200 words. This was fine for those agencies which just said “send a synopsis” but not so fine when they said “send a synopsis of no more than 300 words”. 300 words! I started by cutting out all the flowery words and used full stops rather than and or but. Then I removed whole paragraphs, then sentences until I had reduced the synopsis to the required 300 words. Time will tell whether any agent is able to tell from these few words whether the book is worth reading!
Lastly, the easiest thing the agency wants is an example of the book itself. Usually the 1st three chapters or the first 50 pages or 1st 10,000 words – it must be consecutive from the beginning of the book.
Every time I pressed “send” I felt a spark of hope but it will be hard to keep the flame alight once the rejections start coming in. But, dammit, it’s a good book, so I am going to keep my fingers crossed!