Thursday, 4 January 2018

Creating a Sense of Place: Guest Post by Kathy Shuker.

Today my special guest is Kathy Shuker, a Devon based author who writes intriguing mysteries with an evocative sense of place. Welcome to the Scribbling SeaSerpent, Kathy.

I’ve been writing novels now for around fifteen years. Most of the early ones never saw the light of day (fortunately) but three have been published and many readers have commented on their strong sense of place. It’s been a long learning curve and here I’ll try to share what I’ve learnt and how I approach the setting for a story - and why I think it’s important.

Writing a novel, I quickly found out, involves endless decision-making - there are so many different ways to tell a story. If you’re indecisive like me, it can slow you down; you become literally spoilt by the choice. And it’s all too easy to get wrapped up thinking of exciting plot details or complex characters and neglect the all-important background information. Along with the time period, the setting is fundamental to the atmosphere of the work. For example, if you want to tell a story that’s hard and fast and clean-edged, brisk with people and the insistent thrust of modern life, you would probably set it in a big city. If you want a moodier story with a haunting backdrop, you might choose something rural and remote. Again, there are many options. Whatever you choose, the setting is like another character in the story, something that has an essence of its own and, if it’s to play its full part, needs to be respected as such.

I write mysteries which are character-driven, stories that revolve around small communities, families with untold back stories, groups of old friends whose relationships have grown or stretched out of shape or have even broken down. I feel they suit intimate and sparsely populated settings. There’s time for the characters to interact; there’s space for the unusual, the surprising, the unspoken, all of which add to the mystery. I have spent most of my adult life living in rural areas so my choice of settings is not surprising: I know how small communities work; I breathe more easily in the countryside. And I think that’s an important factor in choosing a setting for a novel: you need to know and understand where the story takes place. It’s going to be a long writing journey and that setting is going to hold it all together. As the story unfolds, it will keep throwing questions at you - points of detail which, if you get them right, can help to make the story credible. If you get them wrong, the reader may pick up on the inconsistencies and be pulled out of the story.

So, what do you need to know about this place you have created? I use real settings but subtly alter them to suit my story and I use fictional names. Wherever you choose to set the book, you need to research it as you would the other characters. You may not use all that information but you need to know it. Firstly, you need to know what the place looks like - how it’s laid out; what the architecture is like; what the buildings are made of. If it’s rural, you should find out the species of trees and flowers that grow in the area. Is it barren or fertile? What is the climate like? And you may need to know the times of sunrise and sunset. I always keep a diary to hand for that. And, since a previous book and the one I’m currently working on are both set by the sea in the UK, I have to know the tide times for the period I’m writing about too. Though you don’t have to live in the place the book is set, it does help if you have at least visited it. A lot of really useful information can be found in books and on the internet but there’s no substitute for first-hand experience.  My second novel is set in Provence. I’d been lucky enough to have visited the area several times before writing it which enabled me to remember the piercing brightness of the sunshine, the oppressiveness of the mid-summer heat and the way storms can develop and pass quickly leaving the ground suddenly washed and sparkling again. Information like this can give the story more depth and life.

But looks aren’t everything. It’s important to describe sounds too, and smells - very emotive - and the feel of something to the touch. Every little nudge of information can help to produce a more rounded and three-dimensional image. And do it slowly. As a reader, I know how easy it is to switch off if too much information is presented in one go. When I’m writing, I give a brief overall description initially then drop more crumbs of detail in as I go along. Sometimes a single adjective, well-placed, can be more effective than a whole paragraph. And don’t forget to leave some leeway for the reader’s imagination; that’s part of the pleasure of reading. ‘Less is more’ is a mantra I often say to myself!

Above all I think you should enjoy your setting, have fun with it, inhabit it for the duration. If you can believe in it yourself, your readers will too.

Kathy trained as a physiotherapist but a back injury forced her to change career. She studied design and worked as a freelance artist, painting in oils and watercolours, exhibiting and teaching, before starting to write. She now writes full-time. As well as a continued love of reading, Kathy is a keen amateur musician, singing in a local choir and playing guitar, piano and fiddle. Art, the natural world and conservation are also particular interests. She lives with her husband in Devon, UK.

Kathy’s books are available in digital and print format on multiple platforms.

Kathy's Wesite
Kathy's Amazon Page
Kathy's Facebook Page

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Seven Tips for Writing great Dialogue

Sooner or later you characters are going to have a conversation – preferably sooner because dialogue breaks up a page of text, making it easier on the reader, as well as being an essential device for moving the plot forward. But it’s all too easy for dialogue to come across as stilted and contrived. So here are a few tips to help you make your dialogue shine.

1. Dialogue Tags

Many new authors are afraid of using ‘said’ or ‘asked’ and replace them with words such as ‘retorted’, ‘sniggered’, ‘growled’… I could go on – there are endless possible substitutions – but my advice on this is simple. Don’t!

Keep to using ‘said’ and ‘asked’, for these two words have a tendency to become invisible whereas words like ‘shouted’ and ‘murmured’ scattered throughout the text distract from the dialogue itself. There are far better methods for showing the reader how something is being said, without resorting to telling them, and that is something I will be coming on to below.

And as for a page of repeated ‘he said’ and ‘she said’? Well again, there are ways of avoiding this. Read on….

2. Who is speaking?

So what are the purpose of dialogue tags? Well, quite simply, they exist to show the reader which character is speaking. So if it is clear from the context of the conversation who is speaking, then dispense with the tags.

But it must be clear who is speaking. An unbroken spool of dialogue with no dialogue tags and nothing else going on will soon become confusing, and if there are multiple characters involved in a conversation then it is vital that the reader is always clear about who said what.

Sometimes dialogue tags will be the best way to achieve this. But there are other methods too .….

3. Adverbs.

You’ve heard it before but I’ll say it again, avoid the use of adverbs as much as possible. I’m not saying never use them. As with all types of language they form part of the writer’s arsenal, but should be used with caution and only when absolutely necessary.

The problem with adverbs is that they often reflect lazy writing, and this is particularly true in dialogue.

Adverbs are often used to enhance a weak verb, so, instead of a weak verb plus adverb – use a stronger verb!

And with dialogue – instead of saying “He said angrily” show the reader that the character is angry, both through the actual words the character uses – and the next point that I am going to discuss …

4. Action

So far I’ve been telling you what to avoid. Now I am going to tell you what to include.

Include action in your dialogue!

Your characters are not simply talking heads – they are living breathing entities and as such their actions will reflect their words. Think about how your characters react as they speak. Do they slam their fists on the table in anger and frustration? Are they bored and staring out of the window at something more interesting?

Use action to set the scene, show the reader what the characters are feeling and how they are reacting to the conversation, and also use action to show us who is speaking at any one time. But action is only part of the story….

5. Content

And now to the content of the conversation itself.

In real life conversations have a tendency to drift off at a tangent, or include in-jokes and banter, or for one person to waffle or maybe change the subject entirely.

However, as a writer we are not reproducing a conversation in its entirety. We are not trying to reproduce real life.

A conversation in a story is there for a reason. It is there to make a particular point or as a plot device, and for this reason it should be tight. The dialogue should move the story forwards, or give some insight into a particular character. In other words it should serve its purpose. Keep it relevant.

Also the words themselves should betray the feelings and hidden agendas of your characters, as well as how they are saying it, think about what they are saying.

6. Eavesdrop

Listen to the way people speak. Eavesdrop on the train or on the bus. Note down weird little snippets, but also listen to the way people interrupt each other, the way they interact, how the conversation ebbs and flows.

Now bring this to you dialogue. Let your characters interrupt each other. Let them be rude.

7. Location

Finally think about where the conversation is taking place. Is there any way you can bring movement to the scene? For example, instead of staring at each other across an empty table why not move them outside onto the street and have them walking? Put them somewhere that offers more scope for action and scene setting.

If you are writing a scene where the dialogue feels stilted and you’re struggling to show how your characters are feeling then try writing it again set in a different location. It can make a big difference. Use the setting to add richness.

I hope you find these tips useful. If you are looking for more writing advice check out the Tips for Writers tab on the menu bar above.

Monday, 4 December 2017

Self Publishing: Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them - Part 2 (Guest post by Celia Moore)

Having self-published my debut novel Fox Halt Farm, I thought I’d share a few more of the mistakes I made. I talked last week about my cover (here is the post if you would like to start at the beginning).

I hope this might save other indie authors time, money and worry.

3. The interior design is crucial too

I watch when people pick up my book. All pause on the cover and I always expect them to turn it over to read the back – just like I would but some don’t, some people flick the pages – some read the dedication, some wade through a random paragraph of text. I find it fascinating trying to imagine what they are thinking and how they are judging whether they will enjoy reading my novel.

I love a thick book with an intrinsic plot to savour – I want to be taken to another place and live there as long as possible, I don’t want the end to come, so it’s important that the book is thick and the font isn’t too large – but not so tiny or faint that I am going to struggle to read it. There are fonts I dislike too, the type must easy to read.  I want a simple layout but I can be impressed when the chapter titles reflect the cover design.

What I am saying is, you have to consider not just what you are saying and the way you are saying it but the actual interior design is vital too.

I changed the dimensions of my book and reduced the font size by 0.5 so its thickness didn’t feel uncomfortable to hold. There are so many factors to bear in mind.

The lesson I learnt was that the layout is really important. Always try to keep in mind that a potential purchaser could open your book on any page and their initial scrutiny has to be positive. 

4. Employ an Editor 

Initially, I didn’t think an editor was within my means, I didn’t have any budget for writing my book and I had good friends who had read my initial drafts.  They picked up spelling mistakes, told me about holes in my plot and said candidly about the places where it was slow or awkward to read.  I acted on their feedback and then employed literary consultant Melissa Eveleigh who gave me a wonderful summary of more things to work on. I rewrote and rechecked for typos and I was ready to publish.  Okay, so I still had a niggling doubt about my ending but that was all – the rest was perfect!

Two things led me to my editor, one was the need for reassurance about my ending and the second, was the gentle prompt from the wonderful book blogger Anne Williams (of Being Anne) – this lady read the first pages of my ‘final’ manuscript and said in the nicest way that I needed someone to check my manuscript again.

I think the testimonial I wrote for Amanda Horan, the editor I found, says it all – I have shortened what I said, ‘My debut novel Fox Halt Farm has been a massive undertaking for me… I have invested hundreds of hours in it whilst trying to work full time, and it has been a massive mental and financial outlay.  Amanda has been the best thing to happen to me on this journey… Amanda opened my eyes to so many things that were wrong with my original manuscript. She confirmed my doubts about the parts I wasn’t sure of and provided appropriate and well thought out solutions…I feel like I have been on a creative writing course…

My editor made my writing better. She highlighted bits that weren’t phrased well. There were paragraphs that were obsolete and other places in need of expanding. She highlighted where my characters weren’t interacting in a realistic way. The edits were all my own because Amanda just showed me where the rewrites were needed.  I still feel the book is wholly mine but the changes left me with a book that I am chuffed about. I love the revised ending and I feel very excited about sharing Fox Halt Farm with the world.

The lesson learnt is that a professional editor is essential – he or she will read your book from the reader’s point of view – they will add the polish and best of all, if you find an editor like Amanda then their suggestions will seem obvious. It will feel like they are just shining a torch on the bits that need changing and then shining it again to show you which direction to head in.

Celia Moore (1967-now) grew up on a small farm in Devon and had a successful career as a Chartered Surveyor working in the City of London before working her way back to Devon.

In 2000, she left the office life behind to start a new adventure as an outdoor instructor, teaching rock climbing and mountaineering amongst other things and managed an outdoor residential centre until she met her husband. Today she gardens for a few lovely customers, runs and writes accompanied at all times by their border terrier cross jack russell puppy Tizzy 

Her debut novel FOX HALT FARM is a change-of-life set over two decades inspired by some of the experiences her life.

Celia’s blog/website  -

Celia Moore’s Fox Halt Farm is on Amazon - the Kindle version has a special launch price of 99p

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Guest post by Oliver Tooley, owner of Blue Poppy Publishing.

Oliver Tooley is the sole proprietor of Blue Poppy Publishing, a very small name in publishing, boasting a loose collective of self-publishing authors, and offering as much or as little help as an author wants or needs to produce a professional product. 

Blue Poppy began in 2016 when I was all ready to publish my first novel “Children of the Wise Oak”.

I was inspired by Liz Shakespeare’s “Letterbox Books” imprint and logo.

I liked the idea of having a name that would give my book an air of credibility, as if it was a proper publisher, and not just some amateur bloke printing up a few copies to sell to mates.

So, I asked around for ideas for a name, and my son, who is a mine of brilliant ideas, suggested Blue Poppy in reference to my grandfather Frank Kingdon-Ward who famously brought back the first viable seed of Meconopsis betonicifolia, the Himalayan blue poppy.

I spent money I didn’t have getting a logo designed, and subsequently also registered the name and logo as trademarks.

Having paid out for 100 ISBNs and experienced the insane hoop jumping required to make my books available in “all good bookshops” it occurred to me that other authors might enjoy having some of those tasks done for them.

I offered the Blue Poppy logo and ISBNs to anyone who was planning on self-publishing anyway but wanted to come under the umbrella of an established, albeit very tiny, imprint.

Soon I was approached by Ben Blake who wanted exactly that. With six self-published books already in print he didn’t need any help with production, but he is not a natural publicity hound, and hoped that having the Blue Poppy brand might add a certain degree of extra promotion.

His book “Black Lord of Eagles” was the second Blue Poppy title, published in April 2017.

The next author to join was Joni Dee.   Although I originally planned to take on only local authors, I couldn’t resist London based Joni’s offering. Having sold 750 advance orders for “And the Wolf Shall Dwell” and then finding himself let down by another publisher he came to Blue Poppy.

I introduced him to Dorset based Helen Baggott for editing, and she and Joni hit it off straight away.

Joni had to restart his advance orders campaign but when we published this summer he had recovered the majority of those orders. Joni came over to sign copies, and I spent two days  packing, addressing, and posting books all over the world.

Meanwhile, a little closer to home, author number four came on board. KY Eden had already published books 1 and 2 of The Redcroft Journals on Amazon Kindle, but needed a little help producing a polished professional print edition.  Blue Poppy did the formatting and found a new printer who were able to produce very short runs at a really competitive price. Redcroft Journals 1 “The Missing Journals” and 2 “The Raven Stones” are now in print, with book 3 coming soon.

Author number five approached me during the summer, and her book “Teeny Tiny Witch” has had the most Blue Poppy involvement of all. Edited by Sarah Dawes who edits all of my own books, the cover design and formatting was done in house, and I organised a crowdfunding campaign to raise the funds needed to cover production costs.

The book is due out early in December just in time to make a beautiful Christmas gift for any young reader.

Not forgetting myself of course. 

Since “Children of the Wise Oak” I have published the sequel, “Women of the Wise Oak” as well as a new children’s spoof animal spy story “For Cats’ Eyes Only” featuring cat detective Felix Whiter. Three hundred copies were handed out to children for the “Summer Reading Challenge” and the sequel “Dr Gnaw” is about to be launched early in December.

Looking to the future. In 2018 we have already confirmed at least one new author and half a dozen new titles, and with some production lead times as short as a few months, who knows how many books and how many new authors we will have published by this time next year?


Oliver hated writing in school. He finds using a pen for any length of time painful, and he makes sloppy mistakes. If it wasn’t for computers, he would never have considered being a writer. He has never been diagnosed as autistic, being high functioning, and not especially gifted; although undoubtedly, he is on the spectrum. 

At school he was diagnosed as “Brilliant but lazy” and “You’d forget your head if it wasn’t screwed on”.. He knew that wasn’t true after attempting to unscrew his head (really!). The only thing he agreed with was, “It’s never you is it? It’s always somebody else’s fault.”

Monday, 13 November 2017

Guest: Richard Dee: Steampunk is closer than you think.

Hello everyone, I’m Richard Dee and I’m a Steampunk author. My world of Norlandia features in two novels, The Rocks of Aserol and A New Life in Ventis,

a short story collection, Tales from Norlandia,

and various other projects. As I’ve created a Steampunk world, I feel able to comment on how the technology has been developed from what we have, or had, in our world.

Only one thing really separates the world of today and the world of Steampunk. And I don’t mean the costumes, although they are pretty cool.

That thing is electricity, whether you like it or not, the thing that catapulted the Victorian world into the modern world was cheap electricity.

Some might say it was oil, or war. I disagree, oil only made things easier, war is a spur to invention but at a terrible cost.

So when we consider a Steampunk world, we have to look at the way the clever fellows at my Ministry of Invention in Norlandia took what they had and created the mighty machines, intricate clockworks and all the modern things that the inhabitants of that place take for granted.

The Victorian age, on which the genre rests, gave us some amazing stuff, the question for writers is how can we build on these foundations to make a modern society, what sort of a twist can I put on those times to give my stories an edge?

When I created the world, every time I needed a piece of technology I worked backwards, starting from a thing that we have and reverse engineering it, designing a way that we could achieve the same effect without using anything modern. And once you start to do that, you find that a lot of the things you need to make your world function actually existed in another form, they were only overtaken by the cost or simplicity that electrical and oil powered versions provided. In the same way that the steam locomotive was overtaken by the electric train.

So for example, as there is no electricity, my cities have steam pumped into the houses along steel pipes buried underground. Because of the limitations and difficulties of keeping high pressure steam, well; steamy, we need a lot of local power stations. These require coal so out of necessity I developed a steam vehicle to transport it from the rail yards to the furnaces. Of course steam vehicles existed, I just made them a bit more advanced, in effect bringing the technology up to where it would be without the internal combustion engine. I was doing the R&D in my head that was never done in reality.

As I was devising a way to mine all this coal, I wondered if steam could not be used to power a robot. Well I’m sure it can, using pistons and valves, steam pressure could move articulated arms and legs just as well as any other system. And from that idea, the Exo-Man was born.

Now, steam cannot be transported over long distances, even in my imagination. I have to keep things realistic to carry the reader. Sure the ground will insulate the pipes but in the country this would be impractical. But steam power can be used to wind a spring. The Victorians had clockwork motors, after all a watch is merely a spring powered motor.

What I did in Norlandia was develop the idea to produce springs of all sizes, like batteries, that could be attached to any device and power it. Exhausted springs could be recharged at any power station, for a price. And for those that have no access to a recharging system, or cannot afford it, water power can drive a wheel in any stream to wind your springs for you. The applications are endless when you have to invent or starve.

As I hope you’re starting to see, there is little that can’t be done, so let’s move on to what else might have been developed out of necessity.

As you know, jet engines in aircraft are fuelled by gas, in effect vaporised hydrocarbon. And the Victorians lit their streets with gas produced by cooking coal with steam. Do you see where I’m going with this? All we need in our population is an understanding of the reason aircraft fly and we can build a Steampunk aeroplane!

This gas can do a lot of the things that drive our civilisation. It can be stored, like gunpowder, in cartridges and used to propel bullets; it’s an advance which may have occurred in our society if we had taken another path, I’ve only borrowed it and made it better.

And with the freedom to invent, discoveries that were unintended have also been made in Norlandia.
In my books, as well as the things I have already mentioned, I describe clockwork limbs, controlled by the body’s nerve impulses, a type of speech recorder based on a vibrating diaphragm and a telephone system, powered by sound itself!

And that’s before you get to the characters and their adventures.

Of course the one thing that all this steam and clockwork powered technology cannot do is give us a moving picture that can be transmitted over distance, or provide a box in our hand to talk to the world. But at the Ministry of Invention, they’re sure to be working on it.


My Steampunk journey is described in more detail on my website, which also features my other Sci-fi work. Find my main site at, or on Facebook @RichardDeeAuthor

Just go to this page, for everything Steampunk.

Tales from Norlandia features stories about the inventions and technology of Norlandia, Exo-men, power stations, bio-mechanical arms, even the Ministry themselves. And much more. You can get a copy from my shop at

My Steampunk novels are available at all eBook retail sites, including Amazon, Nook, Kobo and Apple, the universal links are,

The Rocks of Aserol,

A New Life in Ventis,

To read one of Richard's short stories "This Could Change The World" follow this link.


I’m Richard Dee, I write Science Fiction and Steampunk adventures. I come from Brixham in Devon, where I returned to live in 2010. I’m a retired Master Mariner and Thames Pilot, married with three daughters and several grandchildren. I walk on the cliffs and beaches of South Devon for inspiration. 

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Self Publishing: Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them – Part 1 (Guest Post by Celia Moore).

Please welcome Celia Moore to this blog. Celia has kindly offered to share with us some of the potential pitfalls that self-published authors may encounter. Worth reading by anyone considering this route to publication. Here are the first two. 

Over to you Celia.

Having self-published my debut novel Fox Halt Farm today, I thought I’d share a few mistakes I made. Perhaps I can save other indie authors some time, money and worry.

1. My cover was unprofessional – it shouted self-published book!

The cover of my romantic novel has caused me the most angst. I read posts in author forums all the time about the design of their book cover, so I know it’s an issue.

I have an A grade in A’ level art, I love oil painting and I like to think I have an artistic bent so I felt fairly well qualified when I sent a detailed brief to my graphic designer – after all, I knew the story of Fox Halt Farm inside out, I read books and I am in the age group and gender of my target audience. I recognise what attracts me to pick a book off the piled high shelves. I know which tiny icons on the Amazon screen I click on because the image is intriguing or beautiful. But my graphic designer quite understandably, took his lead from the books he saw in the best-seller romance list of and believed bare chested men exposing their sculptured chests was the way forward. Weeks passed, each time I received a long-awaited email of the revised design, I was frustrated to see I had waited in vain –I couldn’t steer him in my direction at all. I cut my losses and walked away frustrated. I think this was the first time that I wished I had tried to secure a publisher, I imagined how wonderful it would be to have my book cover provided and I wouldn’t have to worry – someone who knew all about these things, who would commission the cover I needed.

I am still unsure of my final cover, I love it and the feedback I have had from people is wholly positive but I have definitely gone out on a limb by literally painting the scene I wanted – I saw tears in the eyes of two of my beta readers when I showed it to them so I know I am on the right track but it is wholly different to the norm and I will have to wait and see if its quirkiness is eye-catching or still screams ‘self published.’

I think the lesson learned here is don’t just find a ‘graphic designer,’ identify the book covers you love and find out who designed it – graphics people are not all the same and choose one whose work you admire.

2. My blurb on the back of my book was too long and not intriguing

The blurb is usually the next thing a potential buyer of your book will inspect and it has to stop them putting it down to move onto the next. These words must instantly capture curiosity. There are professionals out there, who will construct stimulating and alluring text for you but I confess that didn’t consider this option.

I sweated over the blurb and even when I thought I had cracked it, another author read it and shook his head. He said it had to change, it set up the scenario and provided unanswered questions but this man’s marketing viewpoint was different – he wanted the back to tell him what he would get from reading my story - Would he be gripped? Have his heart torn out? Would it provide character and situation insights? Could he expect to be inspired? Will he fall in love with some of the characters? Was there a villain he could hate at every turn?

This was an interesting and time-consuming part of my journey because I changed my blurb to accommodate the respected author’s viewpoint - but then I was met with questions about why I had moved away from my original one? So I conducted a survey of about a hundred women in my target age range – 77% said the original one provided more of stimulus for them to choose my book. Some told me the reasons behind their decision and because of this I did make a small adjustment to try and attract the 33% who liked version 2.

I recommend Rayne Hall’s ‘Writing Book Blurbs and Synopses: Professional Techniques for Fiction Authors,’ I thought this provided some useful advice. The wonderful people in the online writing forum I belong to comprises authors, bloggers and people involved in publishing and I received helpful advice from them to all my anxious questions about my blurb.

The lesson I have learnt is that the right blurb is crucial and writing it is a craft, which will take time to master. Recognise straightway that the blurb is going to take a while and seek feedback 

Celia Moore (1967-now) grew up on a small farm in Devon and had a successful career as a Chartered Surveyor working in the City of London before working her way back to Devon.

In 2000, she left the office life behind to start a new adventure as an outdoor instructor, teaching rock climbing and mountaineering amongst other things and managed an outdoor residential centre until she met her husband. Today she gardens for a few lovely customers, runs and writes accompanied at all times by their border terrier cross jack russell puppy Tizzy 

Her debut novel FOX HALT FARM is a change-of-life set over two decades inspired by some of the experiences her life.

Celia’s blog/website  -

Monday, 4 September 2017

Navigating the Slush pile: Ten Tips for Agent Hunting.

Having recently signed with a new agent, this time by going through the slush pile, I thought I would share are few tips. I hope these might be useful for anyone currently navigating the slush pile and help with some of the etiquette for dealing with agents.

1. Make sure your manuscript is ready
This should really go without saying. The MS should be complete and ideally have been read by a couple of trusted beta readers, who you can really rely on to give honest feedback. (I’m talking about fiction here. Non-fiction is a different matter).

2. Keep your cover letter to the point and business like.
Avoid gimmicks. If you want to be treated like a professional act like one. Make sure you include the title, genre and word count.

3. Don’t sweat the synopsis.
Writing a synopsis is hard, but so long as it provides an adequate summary of what the story is about and how it ends you should be okay. It is your writing that will hook the agent.

4. Send out in batches of ten.
The types of responses you get from each batch will give an indication of whether you should press on with the MS as is (you start to get full requests and personalised responses) or whether maybe you ought to revisit your sample chapters and covering letter (nothing but form rejections).

5. Set a time limit on exclusives.
Sometimes an agent will request an exclusive, either on a full or on a rewrite and resubmit. It is up to you whether you grant this or not but do set a time limit of, maybe, a month. If other agents are already reading the full inform them that you can’t offer an exclusive and offer to update them if anyone else requests or offers. If someone wants to work with you on your MS on an exclusive basis and their feedback makes sense to you then you may want to take them up on that.

6. Inform agents when other agents request a full.
If someone requests a full it is a good idea to let any other agents already considering your full MS know. It is also a good opportunity to nudge any agents who have not responded. Nothing like other agents being interested in something to make it more appealing.

7. Follow up with non-responders and keep submitting.
Unless an agent specifically asks that you don’t in their guidelines it’s a good idea to follow up with non-responders. Sometimes your submission has gone astray. Sometimes they have fallen behind with their slush reading. If you are nudging to inform them about other agents requesting fulls they may suddenly show an interest. The worst that can happen is that they say ‘No’.

8. When an agent offers give the others a chance to read
Inform any agents currently reading the full, and any others you have submitted to who you particularly like, that you have received an offer and give them a deadline to get back to you. They will often be keen to read and you may receive multiple offers. A nice position to be in.

9. Check out the offering agent thoroughly
Presumably you already did this before submitting to them but even so now is the time to delve a bit deeper and to ask questions about the agency agreement they are offering. Read it thoroughly and ask for clarification if there is anything you don’t understand. You may also want to contact their other clients. They’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have.

10. When you accept an offer do let anyone who has offered or who is still considering your MS know.
This is a simple courtesy. There’s nothing more frustrating for an agent than to offer and find you’ve signed elsewhere. And you never know. You may be knocking of their doors again further down the line, so always best not to burn your bridges.

Good luck with you agent hunt, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have in the comments below.