Chapter one. Why am I a leopord?
I was once told the following story by someone in publishing. A writer had been trying to get an agent and a publisher for years. They had submitted numerous novels but with no success. Bemoaning their bad luck and a publishing industry intent on ignoring their talent, they wrote to this person:
“Why does the publishing industry continue to spurn me like a leopord?”
To which my friend replied, “Try spellcheck!”
It reminds me that it is what’s under the bonnet that really counts – the writing. But, as in life, appearances matter. Would you walk into a job interview wearing a shirt, tie – and shorts? Well, yes, this year you probably would. But you get the point. Spelling counts. Grammar counts. Submitting what is required counts. Our unfortunate friend above might have fared a little better if they had simply used spellcheck more often.
The opening chapters are the first thing an agent is going to read from your work, so how are you going to pull them in? How are you going to keep them hooked? It could be a great set up for your plot or it could be the position in a sentence of a particular word. Either way, you want these chapters to make an impression.
A publisher once told me that the first draft of a well-known author’s first novel contained several spelling mistakes. Not being able to spell does not mean you can’t write. But a first chapter full of mistakes makes a terrible impression. Spellcheck was invented for a reason.
Never have I opened a book and started on chapter 5
If an agent’s website invites you to submit the first 10,000 words, do just that. Don’t send chapters 2, 5 and 10 “because these pages showcase some of the best writing.”
Don’t sweat the small stuff
Times New Roman or Calibri? Size 10 or 11.5 font? Single spaced or double spaced? It doesn’t matter. And it generally means you are looking for ways to delay submitting your work. Which is understandable. It can be a scary moment. But take the plunge!
My name is Euan Thorneycroft…
…Not Evan Hufflepuff! Do address whichever agent you are approaching by their correct name. It’s not hard to look them up online …
Don’t send bribes
Or an A4 glossy photo of yourself. It’s just weird. That jar of honey I once received is still unopened (memo to self – must throw away before the kids open it).
Research your agent submission list carefully
All agents have websites these days, so it is easy to find out who represents whom. Select agents who you feel will be a good fit for your work. It is a waste of your time to submit your very literary novel to an agent who only represents crime writers, for example.
Just do it
Like the Nike slogan says, take the plunge and send your work out. Whatever happens, you’ve already achieved so much more than all those people who simply talk about writing a novel. And you stand a chance of becoming a published author.
Just remember to use spellcheck!
Euan Thorneycroft is a Literary Agent at AM Heath in London and helps judge our Novel award. @EuanThorneycrof