Sunday, 24 March 2013

Juliet Mushens's DO and DON'TS

I'm pleased to welcome my agent, Juliet Mushens of The Agency Group back for a guest post. This time around she gives us the skinny on her Do's and Dont's when submitting a manuscript to an agent – 

JM: Every week I do an #askagent on twitter. It tends to be on a Sunday night, and I can get anywhere up to 500 questions (phew). From doing this I have gained a real insight into the kind of things unpublished writers want to know. Things that seem obvious to me - sat on my throne made from the bones of unpublished writers - really aren't obvious! I've also given a variation of this blog post as a talk at at least 10 conferences and it always goes down well amongst delegates. I hope it proves helpful to you when you come to submit!


Remember that we need you!
Agents can seem terrifying to unpublished writers. I met several writers at an event recently who said to me ‘well I’m the lowest of the low… an author without an agent.’ This is not true at all! Without new writers we have no business. Today’s slushpile author could be next year’s number one bestseller. Every successful writer started out where you are now – and if they can do it, so can you.

Your research
The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook is a great starting point to look for agencies for you to submit your book to. Once you’ve built up a list of agencies you’d like to target your best bet is to hop on google and look up the specific agents. Do they have a twitter where you can get an insight into what makes them tick? Will they be appearing at an event that you are going to where you can ask questions? Have they made any deals recently on The Bookseller or Publisher’s Marketplace? Nowadays it’s easy to find out who we represent and what we’re looking for, and that means it’s easy to send your query/submission to the right people.

Be patient
In the past 3 months I have received over 360 submissions. I read all of them, but it takes time. If 8-12 weeks has lapsed and I haven’t responded it’s fine to send a nudge, but if a week has passed..? Rein it in, bucko.

Finish your book
It’s tempting to send the early chapters out for validation, I know. Tempting to think ‘they might take 3 months to get back to me and I’ll have finished it by then!’ But do not give in to the temptation. Please. The book you finish might be radically different to the book you begin and the ending should inform and shape the beginning. It is really frustrating for me to call in a full and then get the response ‘it’s not done yet…’.

Let us know if someone else is interested
If you get an offer of representation – email everyone else and let us know, and give us a week to get back to you. It’s frustrating to finish something, love it, and then find out when we call you that you’ve signed with someone else. 

Pick your moment
Fine to pitch at me at a conference when I'm doing a networking event. Not fine to pitch at me when I'm running to the loo between seminars or desperate for coffee at breakfast. Fine to pitch to me over email. Not fine to call me unsolicited or tweet me a link to your book. It is all about timing!


Send to the wrong agent
So you’ve made your list of agencies you’re going to approach, and you’ve picked someone at each. But are they the right person? It’s integral to check that you’re sending someone the kind of thing that they represent. If their profile says ‘I am not accepting submissions’ then believe them. If I tell you that I don’t like diet books, don’t send me them hoping you will be the exception. You’re limiting your chances drastically if you do.

Ignore the submission guidelines
If we ask for a cover letter and the first three chapters in size 12 double-spaced font send us that. Don’t decide to go Broken Arrow and send me your favourite three chapters, or the entire book, or your marketing plan… I’ll just think it means you can’t read instructions. And if you can’t read, how can you write?

Forget that we’re people too
I can imagine how awful it is to send your book out into the big wide world and then have people say ‘no’ to it. I imagine it’s tough, and painful, and stressful. I imagine that sometimes you long to send a snarky response back to us. But please don’t. No one likes rejecting people, but it’s a necessary part of our job. I’ve often seen authors sometimes snark about agents in public forums, or on twitter. Being told that we are elitist gatekeepers, redundant in the face of self-publishing, or always jumping on bandwagons is not going to endear you to me! Publishing is a professional industry, so make sure you present yourself in a professional manner. 

Focus on publishing trends
Publishing takes time, and the vampire/human, wizarding school, Scandiwegian crime thing may be over by then. Most massive books came from nowhere and created subgenres of their own. Stick to writing a cracking story rather than trying to be ‘the next XXXXX’.

Sweat the small stuff 
Don't panic about whether you use the right font, or use single quotation marks, or have a blog, or have business cards... I'll sign you if you have written an excellent book. I won't reject you because you use Comic Sans (the party font, as I like to think of it). 

Give up
Every writer has rejections. Every writer has an unpublished novel sitting in their top drawer. Every writer gets told ‘no’. Sometimes I see book deals announced and remember passing on the book because it wasn’t right for me and sometimes I sign authors who have been rejected by 20 other agents but I feel passionately about their work. Practice makes perfect, and if at first you don’t succeed…


  1. I was sent here by Juliet via Twitter and found this very helpful. I'd like to share it as well. Thanks - amy

  2. Do appreciate your insights in this post. Laughed at the non-hate attitude toward Comic Sans. Not that I would ever use it when sending to an agent. Unless it was an agency headed by Minnie Mouse!

  3. Thanks so much for your encouragement, Juliet! My husband and I were talking about the reasons I write this morning. It's obviously not for the money, because then I'd have to join the hundreds of people standing at robots with cardboard box signs - "No job, kids to feed". Except of course, that I DO HAVE a job, a very big one: writing stories for children, now and the next generation. So, the motivation to continue is there and thanks to blogs like yours, we keep going!

  4. Any idea if Juliet is currently accepting submissions, as the websites seems to suggest she isn't? This isn't always the impression I get on Twitter. Anyone know for certain? Many thanks

  5. Juliet does still have an open submissions policy, but be patient – you can imagine how many submissions she receives every week (just from Ask Agent tweeters).

  6. Thanks for the reply, much appreciated


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  8. Thanks for the encouragement, Juliet.

  9. All the do's and don't seem perfectly reasonable to me. I think I will try it.
    James M. Copeland

  10. All the do's and don't seem perfectly reasonable to me. I think I will try it.
    James M. Copeland