Manuscript Submission

Tips for new writers

When to Contact an Agent

One of the most difficult things a writer must decide is when to contact an agent. There are two common mistakes: contacting too early, and contacting too late.

Contacting too early is probably the most harmful, in that if your work is only half-baked it won’t be warm and aromatic and crusty when you present it and it’s likely to receive a flat response. An agent isn’t a book doctor.

Although an Agency may work with a writer before approaching publishers about a work, hands-on editorial assistance cannot be expected, although advice can. There is a link between the anticipated financial success of a book upon publication, and how much time an agent can afford to devote to a manuscript before approaching publishers. Please take particular note of this.

Contacting too late can also damage your chances. This happens when writers decide to back themselves and make their own approaches to publishers, then look for an agent if they have no success. An agent isn’t a miracle-worker. If a work has already done the rounds, publishers are unlikely to change their minds upon seeing a fresh package. Old ideas wear thin.

Leaving it too late can also happen if the writer is unable is let the manuscript go for one reason or another. The risk here is that the writing will be overcooked. This is not common.

Your manuscript won’t be ready until you feel satisfied that your highest expectations for it have been realised. You have stayed with it well beyond the stage of being rewarded by your muse, and have been meticulous almost to the point of obsession with the smallest details of style and fact, on the one hand, and umbrella matters such as structure, backbone, shape, cogency and tone.

Discipline and judgment is required in knowing how much to rewrite or reshape, but that is a measure of your skill as a writer. It can be developed up to a point.


Please send a brief query letter by email, describing what your book is about and how or why you have come to write it. If the idea is of interest, you will be asked to send a submission in the form of a proposal.

A book proposal for an agent usually comprises a synopsis, brief chapter outline (for non-fiction), three sample chapters, the word length of the manuscript, biographical information, submissions history, and anything else of specific relevance.

If you send it by email you can expect an emailed reply within two weeks. An invited submission will be answered, but there is no obligation on an agent to provide reasons when projects are unsuitable. Uninvited submissions cannot always be answered, unfortunately.

Receiving an invitation to send the complete manuscript, while better than not receiving one, is not a sign that an offer of representation is likely. Reading the complete work is an important part of the deliberation process for the agent, requiring a significant investment of time and expertise. Please be patient and understanding during this time. The reply may take a number of months.

Query Letter Tips and Submission Etiquette

  • Less is more.
  • Brevity is a skill (and writing a gift)
  • Candour is attractive.
  • Simplicity is worth the effort.
  • Honesty is essential.
  • Courtesy is expected and shown.
  • Being prompt says something.
  • Being inaccurate says something else.
  • The automatic spell checker is a false friend.
  • Remember, you write to just one alert person, not a chattering institution.
  • Talking up your work won’t work. 
  • Professionalism and personality are not incompatible.

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