Byte Experts: Submission Smarts by Helen Francis

Posted by Justine Solomons on 2 July 2020, in Byte Experts, News

Following on from her brilliant webinar back in June 2020, this month in our Byte Expert's series we hear from Helen Francis, Co-Founder of Francis Literary Consultancy on her tips for submitting your manuscripts to the industry. Members can access her webinar on our website here. If you're not already a member and want access to this recording and loads of other benefits you can you can join Byte The Book from £36 a quarter here.

Firstly, the writing process can be a lonely one, so before you submit it’s worth finding your ‘community’. Byte the Book a great start! It’s also worth bonding with fellow writers – either forming your own writing group or joining an established one – so that you have other people to bounce ideas off. And read read read! It’s important to have a grasp of what’s out there in the book shops, and reading will feed your writing.

When it comes time to find an agent, do your research! Find agents who represent the same sort of books as the one you’re writing, and who also, ideally, represent authors that you admire.

Then tailor your covering letter to the specific agent (rather than writing a generic letter for all of the agents you’re trying). Talk about how much you love certain books on their list, and go into a bit of detail about why/what you loved. Talk in a conversational, professional way about your own novel. Try to have comparisons so an agent has a sense of where you’d sit in the market – it’s worth giving this a bit of thought, and finding comparison books that are contemporary and that have been successful! But don’t worry too much about the finding something really pithy – you don’t need to land, ‘It’s JANE EYRE meets Queer Eye’, etc, unless something spot on occurs! Make it clear that you’re taking your writing seriously – if you’re in a writing group, or have done a creative writing qualification/course, or have had a professional edit done, definitely mention that, and go into a bit of detail about what you gained from it. It’s also worth while talking a little bit about why you wrote the book you wrote – including a bit of personal background will make you more personable and immediate.

Keep the synopsis brief and succinct (no more than a page) – and again, aim for a conversational but professional tone, it doesn’t need to be incredibly formal. Don’t get bogged down in the nuances of plot and subplot – try to stick to the main points and themes of the book. Sometimes getting someone else to read and edit for you can be helpful here, as it’s hard to summarise one’s own work. Of course, exact requirements vary from agent to agent, so again, look at the website of your intended recipient and see if they give specific guidelines.

Keep it straightforward! Don’t try to be too quirky or do/say something unusual that will make you stand out from the pack. Of course, there are no hard and fast rules and you might be lucky/hit the nail on the head with a joke. But I’ve had lots of anecdotes from agents about slightly ‘kooky’ things authors have done – sent gifts, flattered their appearance from the photographs on their websites, etc, and it generally doesn’t land well.

Keep going in the face of rejection! It’s tough but remain hopeful. Listen to any specific feedback from agents but simultaneously, be aware of the ‘brush off’ in the form of advice and don’t obsess about a passing comment. I’ve worked often with authors who have been told something by an agent that they’ve fixated on – a common one is, for example: ‘this sits between two stools – it’s both crime and literary fiction – and I’m afraid for that reason …’. An agent who loves your work will not be put off by a novel that it straddles genres.

Good luck!


Helen Francis is the co-founder of Francis Literary Consultants. Francis Literary Consultants provide editorial and publishing services to writers, not only offering a variety of editorial services to help them improve their work, but also helping to connect them with members of the publishing industry. We're a father and daughter team: Helen has worked in all areas of publishing for 20 years, including 8 years as an editor at Faber and Faber and 2 commissioning fiction at Head of Zeus, and Richard is an academic, historical, novelist and non-fiction writer whose fourteenth book is about to be published. VISIT WEBSITE

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