With my adviser Francis to guide me I’m feeling a lot more comfortable about navigating my way through the world of publishing – not that that’s any guarantee of success – and I will try and share as much as I can from my “industry angel” as I like to think of him.

I sent my proposed submission to Francis to give him a better idea of the sort of book I’m writing, to get some suggestions about what I might do to make it more attractive and to seek his view on whether or not I should try to get a literary agent.

Firstly, he was very complementary about my opening chapter; thus far the few people I’ve shared it with have been very positive about it.  Of course, I know enough about the dangers of the research process so I’m not reading too much into this; nevertheless a little encouragement doesn’t hurt!

Francis advised me to open the summary I was planning to send with maximum impact; the aim is to grab the recipient’s attention and, in the case of a non-fiction book like mine, show them that there is something new being said.

He recommended including a brief outline of my background and professional profile (the point being to show that, since I work with several well-known corporations, I have some gravity in the field I’m writing about).  He also suggested including a reference to any recent books that compete with mine and explaining how my own sits in relation to them.

His advice was to try and secure a literary agent initially.  I get the impression that, in many ways, getting a literary agent interested in your work is a similar challenge to getting a publisher interested.  Here are people who receive thousands of submissions and have simply their own commercial judgment and personal areas of interest to guide them in their selections of who they will represent.

The upside with a literary agent is that they have established relationships with publishers.  “Philip who…?” ringing a publisher is going to result in a very short conversation ending with them asking me to send in whatever they ask everyone else to send them.  A literary agent calling someone he or she has worked with before is likely to result in a much more constructive conversation.

The process is helped (enormously) by the fact that Francis is happy for me to mention him when I contact the agent he has suggested might be a good starting point.  It is, of course, no guarantee of success, but I know enough about the power of testimonials and primed thinking to be grateful of the chance to include a familiar name and recommendation in my opening paragraph.

One note I would add (at the risk of stating the obvious): even if you are fortunate enough to have a contact like Francis, take the time to read the literary agent (or publisher’s) website to see if they have any specific guidelines for submissions.  If they’ve taken the time to say that they want things a particular way why risk irritating them?

So my submission has been dispatched (by recorded mail because I would hate to be sitting here assuming it’s arrived safely) and all I can do is look at the phone and monitor my letter box in the hope that the person Francis thinks might be interested likes what I’ve done.

I’m not expecting to be lucky first time… but it would be nice!

Philip Graves


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