Our Writers' Tuesday Series, What An Agent Wants, is now in its fourth week!
To recap, we are asking our esteemed agent panel a question a week over next ten weeks and publishing the answers right here for you guys. This week we ask...
What are the five most common mistakes or premise clichés you find in manuscript submissions?
Madeleine Buston of the Madeleine Milburn Literary, TV & Film Agency
Telling not showing, long chapters, unlikeable characters, too much description, un-relatable themes, not enough of a ‘human element’.
Laura Longrigg of MBA Literary Agents
Describing your work as ‘a fictional novel’ is a mistake and you’d be surprised how many times it gets said. I have a bit of a thing about using apostrophies properly as in it’s/its. Based on my own life is not great, although of course a lot of first novels are but there are ways of saying it (or probably not in the first instance), unless it’s key to the book’s setting and authenticity – i.e. I am a pathologist/live in Brazil.
Hannah Ferguson of The Marsh Agency
1. Multiple submissions to the same agent. Sometimes I’ll get a submission through, and then three weeks later the person will come back to me and say something like ‘I hope you haven’t started reading my work yet, please find attached a redrafted manuscript and delete the old one’. We don’t have much time to read so only send through when you’re absolutely sure you’re ready for it to be read!
2. In a synopsis, don’t give a blow by blow account of what happens in the novel. That can make even the most exciting of stories sound remarkably dull. Think of your synopsis more as the blurb you’d like to see on the back cover of your book. Make it a snappy pitch which screams ‘I’m fabulous! You must read me as I will make your life better!’
3. Sending to all the agents in an agency. It’s better to research which agent you think would be best for you, and stick to that one. None of this hedging your bets malarkey!
4. Sending template submission letters that haven’t been proofread. We all make mistakes so be really careful. It does make me smile when I see a letter that in the middle will come out with ‘I really respect and admire the work that (fill in agency that I don’t work for) does.’
5. Less is often more. Don’t throw in too much information at the first stage, hold back slightly and intrigue the agent who will then, fingers crossed, want to know more.
Lisa Eveleigh of the Richford Becklow Literary Agency
1. Telling me your mother or your best friend love your book; it’s great that you have their support and enthusiasm but they’re not going to be unbiased...
2. Sending me the whole book initially
3. Poor covering letter – if you can’t write a readable letter then I’m unsure from the start about your fiction
4. Failing to number your pages – and each chapter should be numbered separately for ease of editing
5. Failing to double space
Sarah Lutyens of Lutyens & Rubinstein Literary Agency1. Addressing a submission to our all female agency with Dear Sirs (this is never in fact a good idea in publishing)
2. Suggesting that your submission has been directed by the Lord ( or any other higher power)
3. Announcing that your book would make an amaaaaaazing movie for Keira Knightley (or indeed would make an amazing movie full stop)
4. Declaring that your book is one very successful book meets another very successful book (we fall into this trap ourselves when speaking to editors, but we are talking about someone else at that point and truly its better if the material itself makes your genius unmissable)
5. Over-presenting the genre (I am delighted to enclose my time-travelling paranormal regency romance fantasy )
6. Declaring that the project is going to make us a huuuuuuuuuuuge amount of money
7. Making us aware that there is a big gap in the market for this particular book ( there may - just may - be a reason for that)
8. Not reading submission guidelines ( the most obvious but honestly the most often made)
Diane Banks of Diane Banks Associates
1. Use of outdated phrases such as “romantic comedy” and total oblivion as regards the marketplace. If you're not a prolific reader yourself, spend time browsing in bookstores, read the reviews pages of newspapers and magazines and follow the Sunday Times Bestseller lists before you embark on writing your novel.
2. Hard copy submissions when we state explicitly that these will neither be looked at nor returned. Then chasers asking why we haven't got back to you. Repeat: hard copy submissions will neither be looked at nor returned.
3. If we say that we don't represent short stories / children's books / sci-fi / women's fiction, we don't represent those things. And we're not going to make an exception for you (such requests have been known).
4. Mass emails to every agent in town, without even bothering to bcc.
5. Comments such as “it's not a work of genius, but I hope you'll have a look anyway” / “Sorry, yet another bad manuscript to add to your overflowing pile”. You may be attempting to be appealingly self deprecating, but the bottom line is that if you don't think it's very good, we're not going to be inclined to go anywhere near it.
Sheila Crowley of Curtis Brown
I am taking the ‘Fifth Amendment’ on this one but will offer up one comment............ No Author should claim to be the next ‘X’ as their writing should be good enough to engage the Agent or Editor on its own.
Please do let us know what you think of our new series and our agent answers in the comments below.
Be sure to return next Tuesday when we ask the agents what they think of Self Publishing and Self Published Authors...