Monthly Archives: March 2012

Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No.2: Let’s talk about you

In my experience the part of the covering letter that varies the most is the section that falls under our umbrella request to ‘include a bit about you’.

I have received covering letters that range between several full A4 pages worth of biography to new writers who forget to include their own name. Somewhere between these two there is a happy medium.

Personally, I find that the most effective covering letter often has one or two concise paragraphs concerning the writer, though of course it is not an exact science.

The best advice I can give you is to look at this as a writing exercise. How much relevant information can you get about yourself into one paragraph?

One of the lovely people who were kind enough to comment on Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter last week said that she would ‘create a character who represents me’ in her covering letter. I really liked this idea. Be yourself, of course, but is there a way that you can use your powers of characterisation to introduce yourself in the most concise and engaging style? Test yourself.

Though, do make sure that you include all the relevant information as well. If you have ever been published or signed to any other agencies you need to let us know. If you have a particularly relevant degree or you have attended any writing courses we would love to hear about it. Similarly, if you are part of any writing groups or have done well in any writing competitions please do share. Have you had any praise from anyone in the industry perhaps? Any experience in journalism or editing maybe?

Be sure to lead with your most impressive feature, as well. If a published author has praised your work definitely open with that. If you have a master’s degree in creative writing with fifteen years of journalistic experience specialising in novel reviews and have won several prizes with your multiple bestselling published novels maybe tell us about that before you let us know that you live in Shropshire with two dogs and one bad tempered goldfish. Don’t bury the stuff that is going to make us go ‘oh’.

But if you can’t think of anything writing-specific that will make us go ‘oh’ don’t worry. Just use lots of scrumptious words like ‘undiscovered’ and maybe work really hard on using your concise paragraph about you to show off your writing skills.

The most important thing is that we get an idea of you and your style of writing. Remember that when writing a covering letter you are not only selling your work to us but yourself as well. Make sure that we know what a great person you would be to work with.

Other than that we just need your contact information. We suggest including your address, phone number and email address just to be on the safe side. Oh, and your name. Please don’t forget to tell us your name. You’d be surprised how often that happens.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Exclusive – Dictionary Corner – Publishing Terms Translated

Have you ever spoken to someone in publishing or browsed the submission portion of an agency’s website and wondered what on earth we’re all talking about?

Well, wonder no more. Here in Dictionary Corner we will strive to shed some light on the technical jargon and industry lingos that often confuse new writers.

Exclusive – this is a very important word for us and one you really want to hear from agents.

The word applies in exactly the same context as it does in a romantic relationship. If we ask to see more of your work exclusively it means that we like what we’ve seen so far and we want to see more but that we don’t want anyone else to be seeing any.

If you offer your work on exclusive with an agent you are promising that no one else in the industry will be reading or considering any part of your concept at the same time as that agent.

Also, if you are submitting to us and nobody else please do slip this word into your covering letter. We like to hear it too!

Are there any terms we use that befuddle you? Please do let us know by leaving a comment or emailing and we’ll respond with our own personal definition just for you.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Our Top Ten Tips for Writing a Tip Top Covering Letter

No. 1: We are on your side.

Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me in the finance industry, I thought I would move to London and try to get into publishing. Consequently, I found myself spending a lot of my time sitting at home in my penguin pajamas carefully constructing application letters that would make me sound like a chirpy individual who could stand out from the crowd but who at the same time was absolutely willing to conform, impeccably reliable and generally a joy to work with.

And I hated it.

It is such a daunting business having to approach people who you have never met and cheerfully present them with a list of reasons as to why you are the most accomplished person they will ever have the good fortune to come into contact with. It is particularly difficult to come across as a likable person at the same time.

I may be wrong but I imagine that writing a covering letter to accompany your synopsis and sample chapters must be a similarly daunting experience. Even more so, as you are not only trying to sell your time and hard work but also something special and personal to you. Your writing.

We often receive covering letters from new writers who refer to their work as ‘my attempt at writing’ or ‘something I’ve just put together’ etc. I have even read several covering letters that sign off with the assurance that ‘you probably won’t like it’.

We understand where this comes from. I would have much rather sent out letters saying ‘I am quite hardworking and not too bad a person to be around. You might not like me but I’ll come and do your filing for free if you’ll just give me a generally positive reference afterwards’. It would have felt much more natural and wouldn’t have left me feeling like quite such an arrogant sycophant. But it would not have communicated my enthusiasm for the industry, or indeed my ability to communicate eloquently.

Similarly, there is little room for self-deprecation in your covering letter to literary agents. It won’t communicate your enthusiasm, and enthusiasm is one of the most important things. Show us that you are excited about your concept. Tell us why you feel your writing style has that extra something that will make you stand out. Introduce your characters to us in a way that does them real justice.

Be positive about your work and we will feel positive about it too.

And don’t be scared of our reaction. Remember, we want to read your submission and think ‘this is it! This is the one!’ We want to join in with your excitement. We are on your side.

By Vicki Le Feuvre

Getting to know Rosanna Bellingham – Financial Controller

First of all, what is your role at the agency?

The Agency is alive with deals being done all over the world and it is my job to document these at the point when they appear here in ££s, €€s and $$s, swiftly transmit the funds to our authors and handle all associated admin, reporting and care.

Which book changed your life?

Eric Berne, Games People Play.  Who knew??

 What book are you waiting for?   

 The next Reacher. (Not sucking up. True).

You are stranded on a desert island. You can choose one luxury item to take with you, one celebrity guest to join you and you will be granted one wish (which you cannot use to wish yourself off the island). What and who do you pick? 

I am reluctant to whisk anyone to a desert island with me – I am scared of mice and not practical.  So, possibly someone dead who might be glad to be doing anything again, maybe Christopher Marlowe, Henry Fielding or Dostoyevsky. Or a childhood companion like Diccon from The Secret Garden in which case my wish would be to be 7 years old. Or I could get over myself and choose Dougie Poynter or Patrick J. Adams and wish to be 17 years old.  My sister would probably ace the luxury item with a spring of fresh water but if it’s allowed I’d choose my bedside table which is equipped with cigarettes, pens, books, a candlestick, phone, writing paper, make-up  – and Volvic.

 Share your favourite quotation:

‘This too will pass.’

Getting to know Camilla Wray – Crime, Thriller & General Fiction Agent

First of all, what is your role at the agency?

I’m the crime, thriller, mystery and general fiction agent at the agency.

Which book changed your life?

This is such a tough one…can I change it to what three books changed my life? I can definitely answer that and can still remember exactly where I was when I read the following books.

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell was my first crime book and instantly got me addicted. I read it when I was 14 on holiday near Brighton and from then on I was an addicted crime/thriller reader. Cornwell balances character, spine-chilling story and an incredible insight into forensic pathology brilliantly. And she opened up the market to female writers in the genre. 

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy is my next favourite and I have read this book about 30 times. Maeve’s characters get under my skin every time. I think Benny is my all time favourite heroine. She’s honest, funny, clever and brave – all things I’d love my daughter to strive to be – which goes against the current emphasis on looks, weight and money. This makes me really sad as I think it makes people overlook what is the most important part of themselves and also, with all the glam and glitter, you’re just making it harder to be truly happy with your real self.

Lastly Polo by Jilly Cooper. I can still remember sneaking this book off the suitably top shelf at home even though my Mum said I couldn’t read it yet. I’d wait until she’d gone out or to bed and read it leaning against my radiator eating Nutella and toast whilst devouring the life of Rupert Campbell Black. For me, this series of books are genius. Jilly Cooper’s characters grabbed me and left me with a cloud of sadness when I finished. I now often suggest to my authors (who you’ll be amused to learn are usually male!) to read her books just to study how she characterises. Although I guess on paper the characters represent everything opposite to what I love about Circle of Friends, at the heart of the story (and all of this series) good always overpowers bad. In all fiction this is vital. I also love how the victorious characters always have a heart of gold and are misunderstood or overlooked by everyone else until they succeed at the end, and this is very like Maeve and Benny. Everyone loves an underdog.

What book are you waiting for?

Anything that surprises, excites and challenges the reader. Wonderful, real, inspiring characters. Tense cliffhangers that keep you up at night and desperate to tell your friends about. In fact the last bit is the best test as when you find something really special it is so incredibly exciting all you want to do is stop every person you pass on the street and make them read it. This feeling is what makes the submission pile so brilliant and a hugely important part of my job.

You are stranded on a desert island. You can choose one luxury item to take with you, one celebrity guest to join you and you will be granted one wish (which you cannot use to wish yourself off the island). What and who do you pick?

My luxury item would be a pair of goggles, I’d definitely take David Attenborough and my wish would be tougher skin as I’m not sure how long my lobster self would survive in the sunshine.

Share your favourite quotation:
‘Crying wolf is a real danger’ David Attenborough

Getting to know Clare Wallace – Rights Manager and Associate Agent

First of all, what is your role at the agency?

Me between Mary, the Rights Assistant, and Vicki, the Agency Editor

As the Rights Manager, I negotiate deals for translation rights all around the world for all the Agency’s authors. I’m also scouting for new talent and am looking for commercial and accessible literary general fiction and all types of women’s fiction.

Which book changed your life?

My first book

My dad made me my first book. My parents used to call me ‘Boo’ and the book’s called ‘Boo’s Own.’ It’s nearly thirty years old now. The pages are loose and it’s covered in scribbles and all sorts of smudges and stains that show it’s been well used by a small person – like one of those dirty old teddy bears that have been loved so much their stuffing is coming out and they’ve got an eye missing. That book helped me learn to read and write – and I’ve been all about reading and writing ever since.

What book are you waiting for?

I’m looking for books with strong, vivid characters, an excellent plot and a well-balanced pace. I love books with an unusual premise too, like The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Lovely Bones, Room, Before I Go To Sleep, The Road Home and Sister. I’m also excited about The Age of Miracles, but I haven’t read it yet.

You are stranded on a desert island. You can choose one luxury item to take with you, one celebrity guest to join you and you will be granted one wish (which you cannot use to wish yourself off the island). What and who do you pick?

My luxury item would be a Gibson acoustic guitar. My celebrity guest would be the gorgeous George Harrison. My wish would be for a magic bookshelf that replenished itself once a month with the latest bestsellers.

I can’t play guitar but George can – and he knows a few good tunes too.

Share your favourite quotation:

‘Remember, for every no you receive you are one step closer to a yes’ Stephen King

Getting to know Keshini Naidoo – Crime & Thriller Reader

First of all, what is your role at the agency? 

I read all the crime and thriller submissions that we receive at the agency and assess whether they are suitable for us to take on for representation.

Which book changed your life?

The Catcher in the Rye. I read it when I was 9 and it was the first ‘adult’ book I read – and the first one to make me realise that fiction can take you into new worlds far removed from your own life (1950s New York was rather different to 1980s Merseyside).

What book are you waiting for?  

I’d love to read a UK-set police procedural with a complex and engaging main protaganist, pitted against a vicious but cerebral killer. A book that combines the characterisation of George Pelecanos and Ian Rankin with the high-concept plotting of Mark Billingham and the breakneck thrills of Simon Kernick would make my day!

You are stranded on a desert island. You can choose one luxury item to take with you, one celebrity guest to join you and you will be granted one wish (which you cannot use to wish yourself off the island). What and who do you pick?

I would take a bottomless vat of 8-hour cream (I can imagine that all that sunshine would be very drying on the skin …), Adam and Joe for amusement purposes (can they count as one celebrity guest?) and my one wish would be that a mobile library would pop round every Friday to bring me a new selection of books.

Share your favourite quotation:

‘You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me’ C. S. Lewis