Ask an Agent: June 2024

In this monthly column, we check in with one of our resident agents to answer those questions you’re too afraid to ask for yourself. This month, Laura Bennett of the Liverpool Literary Agency tackles questions asked by BFS members in our dedicated Discord channel.

Name: Laura Bennett
Agency: Liverpool Literary Agency
Specialism: Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Location: North West England
Follow: Threads: Losbennett / Twitter: Losbennett

Read more about Laura in her BFS member profile, here.

Q: I’d still be interested to hear your thoughts on the more general question of whether, from an agent’s perspective, it’s wise to enter contests or apply for grants where an excerpt of your WIP novel might subsequently appear online?

Absolutely fine. Being longlisted/shortlisted/winning contests is a boost to your potential, too! I always say to go for it. I’m never worried about excerpts being online, and in fact I’ll use them as part of my pitch to editors.

Q: I’ve head that agents don’t like any files (queries, manuscripts, etc.) sent as attachments to email – but prefer the text in the body of the email.  Is that always the case (i.e. if there’s nothing on the agency website saying otherwise) or is there a sensible threshold at which switching from the body of the email to a Word document?

Check the agency website, but I would always send attachments! I struggle with the super-long emails too. I also sometimes want to make notes on the files, so I need actual documents to do that.

Q: What are your views on the most recent Twitter agent controversy, where an agent took a pitch and asked someone else to write it because the author querying “wasn’t strong enough”? This is something a lot of writers seriously worry about, so it would be interesting to hear the agent’s viewpoint on this!

Oh no. This. Both myself and other agents I know collectively cringed at it. It was very unprofessional and ill-advised. I would never do this, especially not via Twitter! I have nothing but sympathy for the author involved. I think 99% of agents wouldn’t consider it. (Of course, there are always bad apples, and one of the things that drives me insane is the lack of oversight…)

Q: How much emphasis goes on a synopsis? I don’t think I can write a good one at this point. Are there any tips to making it stand out?

Don’t worry about it. Seriously. As long as it lays out the main parts of the plot, you’re good. I always say “make it factual”, cut out the fluff. It doesn’t need to be interesting or characterful. One tip for writing it – do it as you write/edit the book. Write a sentence or two for each chapter as you go. Then you can edit that at the end. It’s good to have a synopsis so we can see where the plot is going and that there’s no big, terrible thing happening at the end that we wouldn’t want to come across unexpectedly, but it doesn’t need to be some great work of art. Save that for the rest of the query. 

Q: Tell us about queries that blew your mind, but you weren’t able to take the book as you knew they wouldn’t sell/work/be marketable enough?

Generally this comes down to something like word count or being the first book of a series. I’ve taken on a few books that I loved but I wasn’t sure how marketable the genre/concept was and then either sold them, or helped the author write a second book that’s more marketable. Even then it’s no guarantee! But yeah – something like a 300k book where it’s just too big to cut down, or the first book of a ten book series that can’t stand alone. It doesn’t matter how amazing the concept and writing are, I just wouldn’t be able to sell it.  

Q: Do you ever receive queries that you think have potential, but aren’t good enough to accept immediately, and if so how do you deal with them?

I’ll email the author, and ask them to either re-work it and send it back, or come to me with a future book. I have taken on a couple like this as well, especially early in my career and then worked with the author on them. I probably will again once the child is at school and I have more time.

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Featured image: by cyrus gomez on Unsplash

Meet the guest poster

Image for Laura Bennett

Laura developed a love of writing early, attending her first Creative Writing course at college. She then decided to study Writing at Liverpool John Moores University, obtaining a BA before pursuing a career in teaching. She began work at a college for young adults with special needs, and then moved to a vocational college while studying for a post-compulsory PGCE. Laura taught English for a few years, and also ran several Creative Writing courses before returning to LJMU to obtain an MA in Writing. She then worked as a teaching assistant at a local secondary school, before leaving that job to pursue a career in editing. The combination of teaching and writing works extremely well for editing, and for providing encouragement and guidance for writers. Laura also works as a freelance writer, and she is currently the writer and loremaster for a video game, in addition to writing for various roleplaying games.

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