You’ve finished your novel, you’ve put together a synopsis and have a list of literary agents with whom you’d love to work. Before you click ‘send’, there are a few considerations that can make all the difference.

Does your synopsis clearly cover the main plot points?

A synopsis is not the back cover blurb. You are not trying to entice a reader to pick up a book to find out what happens. This is more like a map, an overview. Everything of importance that happens in your story should be on the synopsis, including twists, reveals and ‘spoilers’.

Is your manuscript in the right format?

Unless otherwise stated by the literary agent’s submission guidelines, the standard format is:

  • 12 point standard format (Arial, Times New Roman or Courier are your safest bets).
  • Double line spacing.
  • Title and author name in the header.
  • Numbered pages.

Is your novel the right length?

It does vary by genre, but a commercial novel is usually between 75,000 and 125,000 words (the upper end of that generally reserved for fantasy, speculative and historical fiction).

For crime, thriller and mystery novels, 80,000 to 100,000 is the sweet spot – that would be between 300 and 400 paperback pages.

If your crime or thriller novel is more than 100,000 words, it can almost certainly benefit from some judicious cuts. It’s hard to see which of your darlings to kill when you’re so close to the work, but I can help you.

Is the manuscript as good as it can be?

No book is ever perfect, even published bestsellers can have the odd typo in, but if there’s still room for improvement then it’s not ready to submit.

When you’ve worked so hard on such a long project, fatigue can set in and lead to sloppiness or a ‘hit and hope’ strategy. Resist the temptation to send too soon!

Make sure the spelling and grammar are polished. Get help from an editor or trusted friend if this is an area with which you struggle.

Make sure there are no plot holes. Because you know the story so well, it can be hard to see what is there, versus what you ‘meant’. Putting the manuscript away for a few weeks and then reading it in a different format (such as on a Kindle or on paper rather than screen) can give you the distance to see the reality.

Are all of the characters full, rounded people deserving of their space on the page? Everyone should feel real, even secondary or briefly featured characters. If a character appears purely to service the plot, it’s obvious to readers and it stops the story being fully satisfying. We don’t have to know someone’s entire backstory for them to pull a pint of beer for our protagonist, but their dialogue should feel real, their expressions believable.

Have you picked the right agents?

  • Are they currently open to submissions? You can find this out on their websites.
  • Do they represent authors in the same genre in which you’re writing?
  • Do you read and enjoy their authors’ work? This can be a good hint that they’ll share your vision for your own work.

Is your covering letter clear and concise?

The writing sample is hands down the most important thing you’ll send, but a clear and professional covering letter is also really important. Please, don’t fall into the trap of trying to be quirky or memorable. Writing the covering letter from the point of view of your character, or being too conversational will backfire. Your writing sample is your opportunity to be creative, your covering letter is your time to be professional.

Introduce your work: genre, word count, brief ‘pitch’ and similar titles.

Explain why you’d love to work with the agent: the authors they represent, for example.

Then introduce yourself. If you have former writing experience or relevant accolades such as writing prizes, this is pertinent to mention. But it’s not essential.

If you’d like some help with your pitch, I offer a Pitch Surgery service that can give you an honest, encouraging and impartial evaluation.