To kick off my series, the A to Z of the Writer’s Affliction, I’m very pleased to start with the letter A. It could have been Author, Anxiety or Amazon, but no, I’ve gone for Agent, and I’m delighted to have Sydney Lushpile, reader at the Books Ahoy Literary Agency, to share some invaluable advice. Take it away, Syd!
Initially, along with a very brief blurb, we ask you to submit the first three letters of your book. That may not sound much, but it’s enough to give us a good idea of your style. In fact the first letter is the vital one, so if you want us to read the other two, you should think about it very carefully. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with an ‘E’ – it can express a huge amount – but for your first letter, it’s rather too common. A lot of people go for something more original, such as ‘X’ or ‘W’. The problem there is that what you’re really saying is, ‘Look at me, I’m clever!’ You want a letter that’s neither a cliché nor too fancy – something simple that gets the message across effectively. A ‘B’ for example, or a ‘G’ – they’re a couple of my favourites. Though having said that, every agent will have their own preferences. So just because you’ve been working hard on a ‘V’, say, it doesn’t mean it’s no good if I reject it.
Having decided on your three letters, you then have to choose a font. Here I’m quite firm – nothing fancy like Mongolian Baiti or Rockwell Nova Cond. Times New Roman 12 point does the job perfectly. And black, not green or purple, even less cyrulean or magenta. And please, unless you really are the next e.e.cummings, upper case for the first letter is mandatory.
Now, the synopsis. So many writers dread it, and that’s understandable. To sum up your work in a single word seems terribly reductive, of course, but here are a few pointers. Interjections don’t work well. Wow! or Hey! or Ick! won’t cut it, and you might think swear words will be incredibly cool, but really they’re not. Long fancy words like parafoveal, hendiadys, umbelliferous or kakorrhaphiophobia? Um, no. Antidisestablishmentarianism is frankly a cliché, so avoid it. I once received pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. I’m afraid it went straight into rejections. Words that are shorter but extremely rare are best to avoid as well: ecbole, wair, gayal and teg won’t do you any favours. One excellent synopsis I received recently was mouldy. It conveys so much – mysterious, complex, disturbing. You really want to know how it ends. Other words I’ve appreciated are thud, session and plural. But here again, it’s subjective, so don’t get disheartened by a rejection. Experiment with different words and eventually you’ll come up with one that works.
If we like your submission, we’ll ask you next to send us a whole sentence. I’ll deal with this in a later post. For the moment, simply bear in mind that you don’t have to use all the letters of the alphabet in your sentence, but if you do, it must be done with originality. The quick brown fox etc? No. But again, without drawing attention to the fact. A good agent will see very quickly if you’ve mastered all 26 letters – you don’t need to shout it out. Good luck!
Well, thanks to Sydney Lushpile for some fascinating insights there. Seems like a daunting process! But don’t let that put you off – agents are real people, you know. They even have a sense of humour 🙂