Skip to Content

ABC Checklist 1


Agents - when and how to approach them | The ABC Checklist for New Writers

This the first of five extracts from The ABC Checklist for New Writers: How to Open Doors and Get Noticed the First Time Around by Lorraine Mace and Maureen Vincent-Northam, published by Orana Publishing at £10.99. This extremely useful book gives succinct answers to the many problems writers face, making it an indispensable reference for the budding writer.

Agents — When and how to approach them

Plenty of authors have sold their books directly to a publisher, but there are a number of benefits in acquiring the services of an agent.

Agents are well informed about market trends, able to assess your work and offer it to the most suitable publisher. They will advise, check over your publishing contract and negotiate the best terms on your behalf.

So when is the right time to approach an agent and how do you go about it?

Not surprisingly, the most advantageous time to approach an agent is when a publisher shows an interest in your book – but before you sign a publishing contract.

Finding an agent:

Make a list of the agents you want to contact. Those who handle the type of book you have written, or are in the process of writing, are the ones to aim at. This can be done in a number of ways.

• Look in the acknowledgements sections of books in your chosen genre; the author often thanks a helpful agent

The Bookseller, a weekly publication, gives key information about the book industry and often carries news about which agents have sold new books – make a note of the ones who seem to be handling books like yours

• Check the listings in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook

• Attend writers’ conferences where agents are booked as guest speakers

The approach:

Each agent has his or her preferred method of approach. A large number now have websites and some will accept submissions by email, but do check individual websites for exact requirements.

Many agents do not accept unsolicited manuscripts and prefer a query letter in the first instance. If an agent doesn’t have a website, write to those on your list asking if you may submit work, enclosing a stamped addressed envelope for a reply. Ask the agent to confirm the submission requirements as these differ – some may want to see a detailed proposal, while others will also request a given number of chapters.

Your preliminary letter should be clear and to the point.

Explain why there is a need for your book and how the book meets that need. Mention any specific qualifications you have for writing your book and whether you can supply photographs to illustrate it.

Tell the agent that you intend to send your full book proposal to one agent at a time and invite them to contact you as soon as possible if they are interested. If you receive a favourable reply to your preliminary letter, mail your book proposal (and chapters if these were requested), enclosing return postage.

Sending your book proposal:

Submit your book proposal and chapters to one agent at a time, even if more than one responded to your initial query. Your cover letter should reiterate the fact that this is an exclusive submission.

On the envelope write ‘Requested material’ so the office knows this is not unsolicited work.

If you haven’t heard from the agent within a reasonable time, you may wish to send your book proposal out to another agent who has shown an interest. Send a polite letter to the first agent explaining this, giving her the opportunity of contacting you if she is interested in your proposal.

If you hear nothing, send to the next agent on your list. An agent who rejects your proposal may sometimes tell you what they didn’t like about it. This professional advice can be very useful; it may help you to improve your work by incorporating some of the new ideas.

Some publishers will only agree to look at work submitted by agents, knowing this work will be of a high standard, but it can be harder to find an agent than a publisher.

To summarise:

• Aim only at those agents who handle books in your field

• Send a preliminary letter in the first instance

• Submit your proposal to one agent at a time

• Take note of any professional advice an agent offers

This extract is published by kind permission of Orana Publishing.

© Lorraine Mace and Maureen Vincent-Northam


The ABC Checklist For New Writers

1: Agents - when and how to approach them
2: Editors - who they are and what they do
3: Keeping Records
4: Professionalism
5: Titles

to buy the book, go to Amazon


On the WritersServices site:

Preparing for Publication