Two Things Literary Agents are looking for in a Submission

what is your story

If you have worked like fury over November with NaNoWriMo to finish your first draft, or have a manuscript which you are polishing harder than your very first motorcar, then there is a good chance that at some point in the near future, you may consider submitting your novel to a literary agent.

What is a literary agent looking for in a submission?

A good story well told.

Okay. Fair enough.That is what we want to see as readers.

Each agency will be interested in particular genres or writing styles and it pays to study the submission details on the agency websites very carefully, and address your submission to a particular agent who you KNOW represents precisely the kind of book that you have written.

Because you are a professional, you would never submit an explicit paranormal thriller to an agency who only represent work for children, for example. Waste of time on both sides. Don’t forget that agents earn an income from taking a percentage of the book royalties after your work is published and snapped up by readers, so all of the work they do to read unsolicited submissions is unpaid. They have to see it as an investment in future revenue.

So it is our job to make that investment pay off.

Many literary agents blog about what they are seeing in the submission and what they would like to see.

Here are two examples.

  1. Kristin Nelson runs the very successful and popular Nelson Literary Agency.

Here is a snippet from Kristin in her newsletter this month [ and I would recommend becoming a subscriber]:

Here is the #2 reason I will pass on a full manuscript even if the writing itself is stellar (for any of you who don’t read my blog, Pub Rants, see the #1 reason here

Lack of story conflict for the protagonist.

“To put this another way, the main character doesn’t have enough at stake to drive the story….Why is that a problem? Because no conflict means no story. Conflict—or what’s at stake for the main character—is the engine writers use to tell a good story.”

Nelson Literary Agency Newsletter

2.  Donald Maass runs a Literary Agency, writes books for authors and blogs every month. I am a huge fan of his work and this snippet is spot on: Donald Maass article

I’ve been teaching a new kind of craft lately. It’s emotional craft, the understanding, and planning of a novel’s emotional effect on readers.

Most authors focus on characters’ emotions, principally the much discussed issue of showing versus telling.

That’s fine but limiting. For readers, most of the emotional experience of a novel doesn’t come from the page but rather from inside themselves.

I love that. Don’t you? It applies to all kind of commercial genre fiction, but is perfect for romance fiction.

Story Conflict. Emotional Craft.

Two elements which will stand you in good stead when you submit your manuscript to a literary agent – or an editor in a publishing house.

And by some strange serendipity, the precise two elements which I focus on in my free training course.

Have fun!


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