What kind of submissions do you especially welcome?

Well-written fiction, historical or contemporary, with a strong female protagonist. I’m not looking for young ‘chick lit’, just identifiable characters and thought-provoking stories. Interesting, quirky, unusual narrative non-fiction, exploratory popular history or science, something with an extra ‘wow’ factor.

What types of submissions do you not wish to see?

Film scripts, science fiction/fantasy, short stories, golf or gardening, thrillers involving Nazis or the IRA/FBI, children's or YA. Novels with vampires, ghosts, dystopian settings or anything else not based on reality.

What is a synopsis?

People often ask what is required in a synopsis. It is really an overview of the action of the book, without too many extraneous details. Think of it as the blurb on a hardcover book, but with an explanation of the ending.

What should be in a cover letter?

Start with the obvious: ‘I would like to submit my work to you for possible representation.’ Don’t forget to give your name and address and the title of the book. Give a short précis of the book in a sentence or two, and a line about yourself. It is not necessary to include a CV; if you are a published author, provide a list of past publications. Imagine that you are applying for a new job – as that is pretty much what it is.

It is also useful to say whether or not you wish the material returned, although the size of the accompanying envelope will usually make it clear. Don't forget to include your e-mail address if you do not enclose an sase, otherwise you will not receive a reply.

Why is there a limit to what I can send by e-mail?

The amount of material you can send is limited only for the purposes of first review. If we like the subject matter and style of writing, we will get in touch to ask for more material.

What if I want to use a pseudonym?

It is not necessary to provide a pseudonym at this initial stage. It is a point which you can discuss with your agent, once engaged.

It is also not necessary to hide your background, age or sex in your submission (i.e. using initials instead of making clear you are a man or woman); rather like doctors or lawyers, it is always better to be open with your agent from the outset.

Do I need to copyright my material before submission?

Anything you submit will be considered in confidence. In any case, your work is automatically copyright under UK law, and you do not need to do anything further to protect yourself. As an agent operating under the established code of conduct in publishing, I take care not to pass on ideas or make unauthorised copies of your work. For more information, check out the government site at: www.ipo.gov.uk/ or the more user-friendly www.writersworkshop.co.uk/Copyright.htm

How do I get started?

We’ve all heard about the popularity and high success rates of the MA in creative writing, but it is not for everyone. It is best to follow your instincts and write from the heart. Read as much as you can; analyse how others write and why their books work (or don’t) for you. Find out what books are doing well, and which publishers are publishing them. Don’t assume that your book will be a success just because it is about a popular topic, because there are topics which are popular to watch or to do, but don’t sell books.

Often, it is the unexpected, the quirky and the unpredictable which rises above the mass and becomes successful. Publishers are frequently surprised at what fails and what succeeds. Without the element of surprise, it would all be a very dull business indeed! So don’t worry if your book doesn’t fit a particular niche or look like the latest blockbuster. But you do need to be professional in your attitude and approach.

The Writer’s Handbook (Macmillan) and the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (A&C Black) are very useful sources of information about the book trade and how to get started as a writer. There are a number of magazine publications, creative writing courses and writers’ festivals that are worth investigating, as well as businesses which offer advice for free or a scale of fees such as The Literary Consultancy and The Writers’ Workshop.

Do I have to wait until I’ve completed my ms before submitting it?

It is highly recommended that you finish your manuscript before you start submitting it. By all means, show it to others while in progress, if you are in a writer’s group or on a course, but you only have one main chance to get it right when you submit to agents and publishers. When you write a book, it is very rare that you will not want to go through and make revisions once you’ve completed it. Often the ending might be different from planned, requiring changes to the earlier scenes, and a fresh look at the book will highlight the need for some editorial work.

Do you charge a reading fee?

No, and no one who is a member of the Association of Authors’ Agents should make a charge.

How long should I expect to wait before hearing back from you?

Usually, within two weeks. If it is longer, it is possible your submission has coincided with a book fair or holiday, but if it is more than a month, you might want to check that it has actually been received.

What is your attitude to writers with no publication track record and no celebrity status?

Most of my clients were unknown and unsolicited when I took them on. I don’t specialise in celebrity clients (although I have handled one or two). While I welcome clients who have a previous publication record, I don’t expect or require it.

What is your commission?

It is the standard 10% of the author’s income, so remember that if an author doesn’t earn any money, neither does the agent. It is necessary to charge 20% for overseas deals and film rights because sub-agents, who work on behalf of the list, also charge 10% commission.

Who are your clients?

Fiction writers Jill Mansell, Anne O’Brien, Lynne Barrett-Lee, Michelle Birkby, non-fiction authors Andy Dougan, Quentin Falk, Cliff Goodwin, Kathleen Griffin, David Winner, among others.

Do you find you work with a small number of publishers or many?

Once you have established an author with a publisher, you have a natural conduit for introducing new material. However, no single publisher, however large, would want all of the work I would have on offer, and I would not wish to be restricted in such a way. My clients take me in unexpected directions, so I have to be aware of what is happening in the publishing world as widely as possible.