Mid lockdown and following the postponement of our May retreat and workshops we were delighted to offer 14 clients and BPA subscribers the chance to “meet” our literary agent friends Eve White and Ludo Cinelli and readers Aisha Bushby and Sarah Revivis-Smith from Eve White Literary Agency. As a gesture of thanks, all participants donated to NHS Charities.
With questions on comparable titles, sequel pitching, and whether to submit during a pandemic, here are some highlights of the conversation.
Is now a good time to submit?
Eve: We’re busier than ever, but we are looking at things, we are submitting books to publishers. There just might be a slightly longer delay than normal before you get published, because some publishing schedules have been pushed back.
Ludo: We’re reading more than ever. There are book deals being done, and while there are deals being done, we try to get those deals.
Are agencies taking longer to get back to people than usual?
Sarah: We get so many submissions at the weekend, so I might be a day later, but I wouldn’t say we’re behind.
Eve: There’s some nice stuff coming in! Usually we sit on the sofa and chat them through; now we’re doing that on the phone. The full manuscripts we’ve got in, we’ll read on our Kindles on the weekend. This is often what agents and publishers do. We want to get back to people and we want to move on. We’ve got a little bit of a backlog, but that’s because we’re getting so many submissions. We have to look after our clients as a priority, so if you’re waiting to hear back from someone you’ve submitted to, it might be they’ve just had new work in from a client.
If there are two POVs in a novel, how should you go about writing the synopsis?
Aisha: You want to tell the story as it occurs. It sounds much simpler to do than it is in practice! If it’s two points of view, we want to see that laid out quite clearly.
Sarah: I’ve seen some synopses where the timeline is split into two. From a reader’s perspective, it’s hard to understand how this is going to develop as a body of work if I don’t know how the two interact.
Which tools, lists, or strategy do you recommend for finding an agent who may be interested in your story?
Aisha: Look at the acknowledgements in books you love. It’s key that you have the same taste. As an author, I’ll talk about new story ideas with my agent and she gets where I’m coming from.
My novel is both a psychological thriller and a love story. Who do I target this novel at?
Ludo: It’s got to be comparable to something. It’s got to sit somewhere in the market.
Eve: It’s hard to sell something that’s neither one thing or another, but if it slightly veers towards the psychological thriller and it’s got the background of a love story, that can be absolutely brilliant. A good test is to be able to describe your novel in one sentence. This is a story about a woman who … can you complete that sentence? Most books you can do that with.
Sarah: Get a copy of The Bookseller. Every month they preview titles and they have the tiniest bit of space to write what the book is about. If you read those, you’ll start to get a sense. You could also look at the book blurbs in the Sunday papers.
Agent Eve White with a novel by her client Saskia Sarginson, who is a BPA editor.
Do you like to see comparable titles in a submission letter?
Aisha: You have to be careful. It can be a great way to get to the heart of what it’s about. Where it can go wrong is when you’re comparing an early draft of a novel to a really successful novel. You’re putting yourself on a pedestal. Try to use language like ‘it sits alongside’.
Sarah: If you’re comparing yourself to canon literature, it can make a reader think you’re not well read and in touch with new releases. ‘It appeals to readers of’ is another way to phrase it. I do prefer comparable titles to you telling me what your favourite books are, because it’s more relevant to your submission.
Is it good to mention in your query that you’ve started a second novel?
Sarah: I think it’s a great thing to do at the end of your email. It shows you’re dedicated.
Eve: The follow-up needs to be something that grabs the audience who loved your first book, another book in the same genre. We always say ‘so and so is working on X ‘ when we approach publishers.
Do you need to have a following for an agent to consider you? Twitter, etc.
Ludo: For fiction, you definitely do not have to have any kind of following to be picked up by an agent.
Eve: There are suggestions coming from PR agencies that once you’ve got a book out there it’s a good idea to get good at social media. It helps sell the book once it’s published.
How many agents should you send your manuscript to at once?
Eve: The best thing to do, particularly when you’re starting out, is to send to a handful of agents. Agents like to feel wanted and know why you’re sending to them. If you submit to too many and you get rejections from everyone because you’re submitting too early, you won’t have many of your favourites left to submit to at a later date. It’s best to do four or five.
What do you think are the current trends or will be trends in the coming future?
Ludo: We always say don’t write to the current market. Publishers have an 18 – 24 month window. What people are buying now isn’t what they’ll be buying in eighteen months. You should write for yourself and not to the market.
I’ve started working on a sequel – should I pitch them together? How common are two-book deals?
Aisha: It’s great to be prepared, but you want to make sure the first one has a definite ending. When you pitch to an agent, I would phrase it along the lines of ‘It’s a standalone with series potential.’ Your agent might want to pitch it as two books, but the publisher could come back and want to do it as a standalone.
Ludo: We do a lot of two-book deals, especially for debuts. It tends to be advantageous for publishers, and for us it’s good because you have a commitment.
Eve: We even do two-book deals for one titled and one untitled book. Some authors prefer to do one-book deals so they can go away and be free to be creative. That feeling of creativity and passion can be very different when you’ve got a contract hanging over you.