Clare Coombes, Liverpool Literary Agency

My Debut Author Journey (so far!) – Part Three: My Literary Agent’s Top Querying Tips

I’m in the early stages of my journey as a debut author. My first novel is currently out on submission, so I thought I’d blog about my experiences and hopefully offer some insight and advice for anyone in a similar position!

  • My first blog in the series looked at tips for writing a novel.
  • The second blog tackled how to find a literary agent.
  • This third blog explores my literary agent’s top tips when querying agents.
  • The fourth is about editing and what happens when your manuscript goes out on submission.

You’ve done it. You’ve finished your manuscript, and now you’re ready to query literary agents. You know that to beat the odds (1 in 6,000 according to a Google search!), then you must stand out in the slush pile. But how do you do that when agencies receive hundreds of submissions a week?

Well, my wonderfully talented and lovely literary agent, Clare Coombes, has kindly offered her top tips for querying agents!

I signed with Clare earlier this year, and I knew within a few minutes of chatting to her about my book that I wanted her to be my literary agent. As a debut author, she’s everything I’d want my agent to be – a champion of my writing, eagle-eyed when it comes to editorial and she has excellent working relationships with commissioning editors in my book’s genre.

Clare launched The Liverpool Literary Agency last year – it’s the first agency based in Liverpool, which is very exciting. One of her aims is to create opportunities for Northern authors and connect them with the publishing industry, which is traditionally quite London-centric.

Clare is in a unique position as a literary agent, as she is also a published author. Her first book, Definitions, was released in 2015, and her second book, We Are of Dust, is currently being developed for television. Together with writing, Clare has years of editing experience too. She has also judged fiction competitions and spoken in schools and at high-profile events about writing as a career. (Impressive, right?!)

Here are Clare’s top tips for creating that eye-catching submission.

Know the market and readership

It’s essential to do your research and demonstrate that you know your market and have researched your book’s genre. The elevator pitch is one of the key points in a submission – can you explain the book’s hook in one sentence? Why does it stand out? Which similar titles and authors would it sit next to on a bookshelf? (Stick to recent books rather than older ones). Knowing you’ve done your research about your book’s market and readership is a big tick for a literary agent.

Read the submission guidelines carefully

Another essential element of querying is reading the submission guidelines very carefully. These guidelines are usually easy to find on an agency’s website and will set out which genres they’re accepting submissions in and what you should include in your submission. For example, at The Liverpool Literary Agency, we would like to see:

  • A cover email, including some information about you, the book genre, blurb, inspirations, comparable authors and why yours will stand out. 
  • Your synopsis (this is usually 1-2 pages).
  • The first three chapters (or first 5,000 words) in a Word document, in Arial font, 12 point, double spaced and numbered pages.

You should also have your full manuscript finished and ready to send to us if we request it.

What not to do

Don’t say your book is “unlike anything else out there” – it’s an instant red flag because we agents need to know how to pitch it to the commissioning editors at publishing houses. If you, as the author, don’t know where it sits in the market, then neither will they.

If it's a 'no'

We understand that rejection isn’t easy, and we don’t like having to turn writers down. But it isn’t only about being a good writer. Sometimes we feel we’re not the right agent due to external factors, like trends, knowledge and connections in a particular genre or area. We’re careful with who we take on because we have to be confident that we can do the book justice. We always give feedback to help a writer with their next steps, and we also offer editing and mentoring services that are separate from the agency.

If it's a 'yes!'

Signing an author is one of the best parts of the job, as well as getting a book deal for them. When I’ve read a manuscript and I want to sign the author, I’ll suggest a video chat to discuss the book and how we could work together on it. An author has to want to work with the agent too and feel they’re the right fit – it’s a two-way relationship. I am 100% behind every author I sign. It’s people over profit for me. When we sign, we’ll then get going with edits. We’re heavily involved in the editorial side, as we don’t want writers to miss out when they’re coming from the confidence, contacts and cost barriers that are set a lot higher in the North, in my opinion.

A big thanks to Clare for taking the time to offer her superb advice! I know how nerve-wracking the querying process is for debut authors, and I’m always happy to answer any questions about it or help in any way I can. Please feel free to email me at danielle@bloomincreative.co.uk or DM me on Instagram or Twitter.

Next blog: What happens after you’ve signed with an agent? I’ll be exploring the editing process and what happens when your manuscript goes out on submission to publishers!

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