As promised, here’s the first of my reports from the Winchester Writers’ Conference. The first talk I attended was by agent Lorella Belli of the Lorella Belli Agency who publish general adult fiction and non-fiction. Lorella explained what it means when you get a rejection letter from an agent as well as general advice on submitting and netting an agent. Here are some of the points that I thought were useful:
- Your covering letter is your business card so be professional. No ‘dear sir or madam’ – use a name!
- Don’t write about all the different books you’ve written and ask them to choose – pick one and get known for that book first.
- The vast majority of manuscripts they receive are competently written but they are looking for something with the wow factor, something they can rave about to publishers.
- Big deals are not necessarily good – there is more pressure on the author to sell.
- Agents don’t help to grow an author’s career anymore – you have to be successful the first time round or you’ve ruined things at an early stage. A bad track record is worse than no record.
- Agents do close their lists sometimes to catch up with submissions and concentrate on existing authors.
- BUSY TIMES TO AVOID – New Year (the New Year’s Resolution effect!), and the Book Fair periods (London, Bologna, Frankfurt).
- First novels and drafts are never wasted – they feed into your work and may be dug up later if you are successful!
- If you have similar feedback from different agents, take note and improve.
- Do as much revision as possible before submitting to the next agent.
- An agent will only be paid if they can sell your book so don’t want to spend time on rejections – and also they don’t have the time to spare. Don’t take it personally – they are assessing your manuscript, not you.
- The more you write, the more you will realise the areas you are really good at, for example a certain genre or style.
- If you are talented, have saleability, are professional and are planning more than one book then keep going – sooner or later you will succeed!
I love the last point! It was great to hear Lorella speak; I enjoyed her obvious enthusiasm for her job and she showed that agents are not the fearsome tyrants we sometimes imagine them to be. On the other hand they are running a business so will be business-like and direct in their transactions with us – as we should be with them.