WHAT DOES A LITERARY AGENT DO?
A literary agent will often be the first person to see the market for your book, will work with you editorially, submit your book to appropriate editors and negotiate the best deal for you. After your book is sold, an agent continues to be your champion, seeking other suitable opportunities for you – such as speaking or journalism. A literary agent can also be a sounding board, adviser and editor. They will fight your corner, help to resolve any differences that may arise between you and your editor, and will save you the embarrassment of having to talk about money with your publisher.
WHY DO I NEED A LITERARY AGENT?
A few authors don’t have or need literary agents. However most do, not least because the big publishing houses won’t consider work that is not represented by an agent. It is worth remembering that publishers are companies not charities, and their prime objective is to make money. If they can do so by negotiating a deal that is less financially advantageous to their suppliers (that’s you) then they will – that’s part of their job. An agent’s job is to make sure you get the best deal possible, including the fine print.
HOW DO I SUBMIT MY BOOK FOR CONSIDERATION?
Please see our Submission Guidelines. If it is non-fiction, please send a book proposal (see ‘How do I write a non-fiction book proposal?’). If it is fiction, please send the first three or four chapters and a synopsis.
DO I NEED TO FINISH MY BOOK BEFORE SUBMITTING IT TO AN AGENT?
It depends whether you are writing fiction or non-fiction. If you are writing a novel then yes, it is best to finish and edit your manuscript before submitting. Non-fiction, however, is almost always sold on proposal as editors like to have the opportunity to help shape the book.
HOW LONG WILL IT BE TILL I HEAR BACK ABOUT MY SUBMISSION?
We aim to respond to all submissions within eight weeks.
DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR AUTHORS?
Read as much as you can. Try to work out why some books succeed – on the page, but also in commercial terms. Often it is simply down to luck, but think about other factors: the subject, the title, its timeliness and so on.
WHAT DOES A LITERARY AGENT CHARGE?
Reputable literary agents operate on commission, so you shouldn’t pay anything up front. In common with most agents, we charge 15% on home sales (home is the UK if you are UK-based, and the US if you are US-based) and 20% elsewhere.
WHAT SORT OF BOOKS DO PUBLISHERS WANT?
Ones that they can sell! Some publishers also want to change the world, to publish books they consider to be important in some way. But mostly they want books they can sell. So remember that when your book is turned down (and the chances are that it will be at some point) then that does not mean your book isn’t ‘good’, it means that that person doesn’t think they can sell it.
HOW MUCH IS MY BOOK WORTH?
No-one knows until it is out there!
HOW DO I FIND THE RIGHT LITERARY AGENT FOR ME?
The usual advice is to look in the acknowledgements pages of books by people who you think write like you – their agent is often acknowledged. That can work. You should also look in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook or Agent Hunter.
WHAT CAN YOUR AGENCY DO FOR ME?
Chartwell offers all the traditional literary agency services. What makes us unique is that we were originally, and remain, a speaker bureau. So for the right authors (and they tend to be writing specific kinds of non-fiction) we are able to offer speaking agent services, marketing clients to our extensive international database of corporates and universities. This can provide an attractive additional source of income.
HOW DO I WRITE A NON-FICTION BOOK PROPOSAL?
You’ll need to write around 10,000 words in total. A non-fiction book proposal should include the following elements:
- Overview: several pages explaining what this book is and why it must be read.
- Author biography: who you are, and why are you the right person to write this book. If you have won a Nobel Prize, built a multi-million dollar business or have more Twitter followers than Stephen Fry, put that in.
- List of chapters with short summaries of each (a few paragraphs per chapter). Each chapter summary should be a continuous narrative, not a series of bullet points.
- List of comparable titles, and why this one is different.
- Sample writing – ideally a whole chapter. This is the most important part.
- An idea of how long the book will be, whether you’ll include illustrations, and how long you think you might take to write it.
If you are an academic, you can include scholarly apparatus (bibliography, endnotes) but you will need to demonstrate that your book will appeal to a general audience. That means avoiding academic prose and overly technical language.
We can help you craft all of the above, but we need something to begin with.
ARE YOU OPEN FOR SUBMISSIONS RIGHT NOW?
WHAT SORT OF WRITING ARE YOU LOOKING FOR?
In fiction, we are looking for crime and thrillers, commercial women’s and reading group fiction, plus YA and middle grade. Not so much SF or fantasy, unless it would be suitable for a general fiction list.
In non-fiction, we are looking for popular science, social science and psychology, smart thinking, feminism, history, economics, business, personal development titles and sport.
WHAT TYPES OF SUBMISSIONS DO YOU NOT WISH TO SEE?
We don’t represent books for pre-school children, poetry, short stories or plays.
WHAT SHOULD BE IN A COVER LETTER?
Keep it short! Explain what the book is (thriller/YA fantasy/economic history/literary fiction/popular science etc.), give the title and a two or three sentence pitch. Also tell us about yourself and note any previous writing triumphs (prizes won, short stories published) or relevant career achievements. Explain exactly what you have attached (full script/proposal) and please say if you are submitting to other agencies too.
WHAT DO YOU NEED TO SEE IN THE SYNOPSIS OF A NOVEL?
An outline of the plot. I don’t much like synopses of novels but they are a useful way of quickly seeing what is going to happen.
WILL YOU GIVE ME FEEDBACK?
I’m afraid that due to the number of submissions we receive we are unable to offer individual feedback.
CAN I SEND MY SUBMISSION TO YOU AND OTHER AGENCIES AT THE SAME TIME?
Yes, but please tell us that you are submitting to multiple agencies.
DO YOU CONSIDER SELF-PUBLISHED BOOKS AND AUTHORS?
HOW SHOULD I FORMAT MY SAMPLE CHAPTERS?
I like Times New Roman 12pt, ideally double-spaced, but not as much as I like a really brilliant novel or ground-breaking idea. There’s no need for fancy formatting – that tends to get in the way.
HOW LONG SHOULD A BOOK BE?
As a ballpark figure, books tend to be around 80,000-100,000 words long. Much more than 150,000 words and they can become too expensive to print (and too unwieldy to hold). Fewer than 50,000 words is less common – though for certain kinds of non-fiction 30,000 words is enough.