Discoveries, Writer's Toolkit

Top tips before you submit your debut novel

Top tips from author and 2022 Discoveries judge Ayisha Malik and literary agent Viola Hayden on how to submit your manuscript to an agent, as discussed in the Women’s Prize Trust’s Discoveries virtual masterclass at ClassFest 2021.

  • When approaching an agent, you do not need to have a fully completed novel; most agents ask for the first three chapters or 10,000 words but check their individual requirements on their website.

  • When you are happy with your draft, you need to write a query letter to an agent. This is where you contact them to query about representation.

  • You should include the agent’s name and mention why you are approaching them in your query letter; do they represent authors you admire or authors who’s work is similar in tone or theme to yours? You can also include other media, films or TV that might be similar but keep novels the priority. Show them the evidence that you have done your research and want them to represent you.

  • Include an intriguing blurb with your query letter. This should be short and outline briefly what the book is about. It needs to entice the reader and make them want to read the synopsis and hopefully the manuscript! Our friends at Curtis Brown Creative have more guidance on how to craft the perfect query letter.

  • You need to also include a longer synopsis that should be about a page in length. You don’t need to include every strand of the novel, just the significant events or beats, and keep them succinct. If there is a great twist, or payoff, include it. Don’t worry about spoilers, you want the agent to be interested enough to keep reading.

  • Always include any distinct features of the book, for instance, if it is written in an experimental or poetic style, without punctuation or with multiple narrators. 

  • The agent’s job is to advocate for the writer. They will help edit the novel, pitch to potential editors, and find the best publisher for you and your work.
  • We don’t all have the same reading tastes so different books will speak to different people, so spread the net wide when you send it to agents. Some agents won’t accept certain genres or children’s fiction, so make sure your novel meets their interests. You can see here, what Viola is looking for.
  • From when you first start writing it can be a long time before you see your book in a book shop. It all depends on how much editorial input it needs and this can take between six months and a year. If you are successful in securing an agent they will handle all the contracts and financial elements of publishing the book, be it advances and royalties. Royalties are money earned through each individual sale of the book only after an advance payment has been met from initial sales. When it is being published, each edition of the book, hardback, paperback, E-book or audiobook will all come from the same advance payment. If the rights to a book are bought for film and TV that is a separate contract.

If any of these tips have inspired you to start writing your novel, check out the advice on getting started and if you are ready to submit your 10,000 words to our Discoveries competition, you have until midnight on the 17th January 2022.

There is more advice on Do’s and Don’ts from Viola and other agents at Curtis Brown here.

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