agents · rejection letters · Submissions

Tips from an agent – talk by Lorella Belli

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.