EVENTS How to write the perfect submission letter

If SCBWI-BI members select their agents based on enthusiasm, commitment to clients and general all-round awesomeness, then I have a hunch that Felicity Trew’s inbox will soon be burgeoning with an additional 42 submissions, writes Frances Tosdevin.

That was how many of us were lucky enough to attend her incisive Industry Insiders’ talk at City Lit. The hot topic was Dos and Don’ts of an Agent Submission Letter.

Felicity is part of the prestigious Caroline Sheldon Literary Agency Ltd, which she describes as, “a small but dedicated agency.”

She opened the evening with a summary of what an agent does. Her duties include being a talent spotter, an advocate for clients, and when needed — a counsellor. She also acts as a client’s co-conspirator, putting their interests first. Like many agents, Felicity will definitely give her clients editorial notes. She also relishes the agent’s role of “strategizing and battle-planning”, encouraging her authors to think outside of their genre.

Meeting editors and publishers at their cosy Notting Hill office (which she describes as “an urban Narnia”) is also a key way that Felicity keeps her finger on the publishing pulse. Apparently, prosecco is often involved ...

Felicity Trew. (Picture:
Then there are the business elements of an agent’s job, which include selling rights and negotiating contracts. “Contracts are living, breathing, evolving conversations,” said Felicity. “It never stops! We try to do it well — firmly and fairly — to protect your relationship with the publisher and make it fruitful and lasting.”

At this point, there was an amusing interlude in which Felicity read us some manufactured — but typical — submission letters of the sort we definitely do NOT want to be sending! These were based on real letters that she has received, and which it seems lurk in her submissions inbox on a daily basis. But the counterbalance was provided by sharing the first class submission letter of her extraordinary client, Mitch Johnson, for his debut novel, Kick.

Apparently, Prosecco is often involved in the publishing business.
The final part of the talk dealt with how to write our killer submission letter. Felicity began by confiding in us that agents experience exactly the same nerves each time they write their own submission letters to publishers. So we knew that her empathy radar was set at the right level to understand just what we writers-seeking-agents are all currently going through.

So ... what do we need to do to hook that elusive agent? Simples. First, check that your work really is ready to send out. Be selective and research your agent. Once you have chosen your agent, keep your submission letter professional. As Felicity says, “Treat yourself as the professional writer that you are.” Set the right tone — “It’s not a letter to the bank manager!” Also, try to give a sense of who you are and why you write. Pay attention to layout so that it is easy for a tired agent to read after a full day’s work. Keep your information relevant — this is not the time to talk about your cat. Always state what it is that you are attaching, and finally — do not apologise.

Keep it relevant - this is not the time to talk about your cat.
(Picture: Wikipedia)
Illustrators should send a double page spread in colour, a black and white illustration, and some illustrations of animals.

Things to put in the opening paragraph of your letter are wordcount, audience, market, intention and a single killer sentence — what Felicity describes as “a one-line pitch in the first paragraph”. Then there is the Elevator Pitch. “This is when you lose an agent’s interest — or grab it!” said Felicity. She added, “These three lines will be very hard to write — but you need to be able to do it.
Did you know that a good elevator pitch can travel on your book’s whole publishing journey, from author to agent, editor to sales team, right through to advertising blurb for customers?
“A good three-line synopsis has power and appeal!” Firstly, give a sense of tone — “Your pitch needs to reflect the tone of your book.” Secondly, go for a punchy pace. Next, hone your hook — what makes us care? Include a comparison to the market, eg, “ This is a coming of age story about ...” And finally, remember that every word counts.

Felicity then listed eight uses for a cracking elevator pitch — did you know that a good one can travel on your book’s whole publishing journey, from author to agent, editor to sales team, right through to advertising blurb for customers?

Stacey Miller discusses her pitch with Felicity. (Picture: Mandy Rabin)

The evening concluded with Felicity generously giving her time to look at individual submission or pitching problems that were bugging us. I was delighted that a pitch I was working on was given the “true Trew treatment”, as Felicity could see at once where it needed tweaking. So for the first time in my writing life, I am enjoying writing pitches.

Thank you, Felicity, on behalf of all of us who attended. It was a fun, memorable and hugely informative evening.

*Featured image:

Frances Tosdevin is usually to be found drinking tea and writing picture book texts. She lives with her husband, two cats, a couple of geriatric chickens — and a cream Aga called Trevor. She once spent four years living in Qatar with her husband and two daughters, and enjoyed writing for the local Gulf Times newspaper. Nowadays, she can often be found living on Twitter @FrancesTosdevin.


Fran Price is part of the editorial team at Words and Pictures, the online magazine for SCBWI-BI, and is Events Editor. Contact her at

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