Publishing advice and questions answered
TLC Tips is designed to share over 15 years experience of working with writers. In the answers to your most frequently asked questions we will also guide you to some of the best resources in the publishing industry that we find invaluable ourselves.
We hope you find what you are looking for here but if not please contact us.
What does TLC do?
The Literary Consultancy is the UK’s leading manuscript assessment service. We provide expert, market-aware editorial advice to writers at all levels writing in English. For full information browse this site.
We run an established and successful online mentoring scheme called Chapter and Verse.
Do I need a manuscript assessment?
Only the writer knows if they want an editorial assessment and if that might be useful at a particular stage of their writing, either before you have invested too much time or after you have finished. We are here to help if you would like it, and are in a position to use our service. Please note we do provide an ACE bursary in exceptional cases for low income high quality clients.
We provide writing advice to writers working at all levels, from those very much working on their first draft to those writers who already have agent representation. We offer detailed information about what an agent or editor will think of your work, and can explain why your writing may or may not be successful, in commercial or literary terms. If you would like a professional opinion on whether you are heading in the right direction or reasons why you may have been rejected countless times then we can certainly help. We can also help you work out if self-publishing is a good option for you.
Do I need to pay for manuscript assessment?
To be a good editor requires skill, and not everyone who reads or writes is necessarily also a competent editor. If you cannot afford a partial or complete manuscript assessment, you can ask us about our regional partners, who might be able to champion you for a free read courtesy of the Arts Council. Please note that this is strictly designed for high-quality, low-income clients, and not available to all. There are also some free peer critiquing sites, for example, ABCtales, Authonomy or Circalit, where you can get some feedback from fellow writers in exchange for your own comments. This is only for extracts or single chapters, and not a complete manuscript, as reading a complete work carefully and critically can take several days. There are individual editors who also work as assessors, but we believe that you will be better served by a company like TLC, where the in-house team monitor quality control and help with the industry liaison. You also get a range of choice from within our editorial pool, which an individual cannot offer.
Does TLC have an on-line writing community?
TLC is building up an association of people writing at many levels through its assessment and mentoring services, but also via its events and holiday. We will host an on-line community in the future,
in consultation with users of our newsletter, when we are clear of the real benefits to you as writers as well as to TLC as a company. Meanwhile we recommend WriteWords website and abctales.
Should I submit an extract of my work or the whole thing?
This depends on what kind of advice you are looking for (and also on your finances). If you can manage it, a complete assessment is best as our reader can check over your whole work and comment on its structure. However, if that is difficult then you can submit an extract, and still gain a good deal of information about the viability and direction of your book. Also, some people submit the first 50 or 100 pages because this is roughly the amount submitted to an agent so they would like to make sure their submission is perfectly polished. (It is worth bearing in mind that if an agent calls in the remainder of the work it should be of as a high a standard as the first three chapters.) It might be the case that a writer has received many rejections and are at a loss to know why. Other writers send in an extract to us because they are at a much earlier stage in the writing process and would like to know that they are heading in the right direction. Obviously the advice a reader can give on an extract is limited as they have to rely heavily on the synopsis to find out what direction the book takes. Whilst they can comment on the plot or structure, for example, as laid out in the synopsis, they don’t know how well executed the plan actually is.
If you decide to send in a full-length manuscript then a reader will comment on such things as structure, style, plot, narrative, characterisation and so on, depending on where they think the problems lie in the manuscript.
How should my manuscript be presented?
Work should be submitted to us in a 12 point font, double-spaced and single-sided. There is no need to bind your manuscript in any way or present it in a snazzy folder.
We are happy to accept work by email but charge a 10p per page printing fee.
If you need help understanding the information listed above, please see our helpful video and download our example PDF on our Manuscript Formatting page.
What is a Literary Agent?
A Literary Agent represents writers and their work to publishing houses. A good agent will have a thorough understanding of the literary market, they will know the most suitable editors to approach for each manuscript, and will have good connections with the same. They will be well experienced in negotiating the best commercial deals. They will take a percentage cut from the sale of any work, of 10-15% usually. It is their job to try to get you as good a deal as possible. Reputable agents are usually members of the Association of Authors’ Agents, which is a vehicle for representing the interests of agents and authors.
Not all agents are the same, however. Some will be able to offer more focussed editorial support; others may be more specialist in marketing. Broadly speaking, agents will specialise in certain areas of writing e.g. fiction, non-fiction, children’s and so on. However, while some agents will only be interested in crime or fantasy, for example, most will not be so specific and will be open to a more diverse range of commercial and literary fiction.
Do I need a Literary Agent?
The answer to this question depends, in part, on the type of book you have written. If you have written a fairly mainstream book, including all types of fiction, popular non-fiction, biography, auto-biography, memoir and so on, then you will invariably need a Literary Agent. This is because the vast majority of publishers of the kind of material listed above no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts. Whilst this is certainly true of the large publishing houses, you may find smaller presses still willing to read un-agented material.
An exception to the rule would be if you have written a very specialised work of non-fiction, in which case you could approach the publisher directly, clearly identifying the gap in the market you intend to fill. It is also the case that publishers of books for younger children can often be targeted directly. There isn’t usually a great deal of money to be made out of either of the two exceptions listed here so it wouldn’t necessarily be in an agent’s interest to take on an author writing in either area.
What happens if I find a publisher but I don’t have an agent?
If you do decide to approach publishers directly and are fortunate enough to be taken on you should be aware that you will now be responsible for the work that an agent would normally do. So you should have a thorough understanding of how the publishing industry works, be able to negotiate a good commercial deal and be versed in the intricacies of a publishing contract, among other things. The Society of Authors, an organisation set up to protect the rights of writers, provide an individual contract vetting service.
When should I submit my work to agents?
You should only send your work to agents when it is completely ready and of as high a standard as you can possible make it. Agents do not have the time to look closely for the hidden potential in every writer who approaches them; generally they want to see a manuscript that is in a good enough shape to submit to publishers, and so needs as little work as possible. So, don’t waste time sending an unpolished draft of your work. Organisations such as The Literary Consultancy have flourished, because they can help a writer be sure their manuscript is in the best possible shape to send out. You may not need to come to us but, either way, do make sure you have given it your best shot. With agents receiving so many manuscripts every week, they will be looking for any reason to discard a submission, so ensure yours is free of typing errors and extremely well presented. We cannot stress enough how important this is.
What should I send to agents?
If you have written fiction, then most agents will ask for a cover letter, synopsis and the first three chapters. Although do check each agency’s submission guidelines before you post the package as some may differ. You must make sure the rest of the manuscript is completely ready (as polished as the first three chapters) in case the agent asks to see the whole thing.
If you have written non-fiction and can persuade an agent you are the best person to write the book, they may be able to sell your work on the strength of a synopsis and strong extract only.
Will I be considered for the TLC Talent Showcase?
If your work is picked out as being noteworthy by our readers, you will be considered for the TALENT showcase in association with Staple at TLC’s discretion. The showcase area has to maintain a high level of literary value, so that it will be taken seriously by agents and publishers, as well as general readers.
Will I get recommended to an agent if I pay for an editorial report?
You will not automatically be recommended to an agent if you pay for a TLC read. Our reputation within the publishing industry rests upon our being discerning, and honest about people’s chances of being published within a commercial publishing environment.
You may feel you do not need a manuscript assessment, in which case you can approach agents yourselves directly, and find a list of agents at the W & A Yearbook and Writers’ Handbook as well as online. However, you should be advised that agents are extremely busy and you may well have a wait of several months before receiving a response, and then in most cases you will not be given any in-depth explanation of why you have not been accepted.
Will I have to pay more money if I am considered marketable enough to be recommended to an agent by TLC?
If our readers think your work might be marketable, they let the in-house team at TLC know. If the TLC team also think you stand a market chance, they will be in touch with you about approaching agents.
This happens on a one-to-one basis in a manner that is appropriate for each individual client, and with a degree of commitment from TLC that is considered reasonable by us in relation to your own levels of talent and commitment. There is not extra fee for this service from TLC, even though it can take a considerable length of time to help clients find publication.
How do I find a Literary Agent?
Of course there is no sure-fire answer this question. It is extremely difficult to acquire the services of an agent. Each agent will receive around 1000 submissions a year and will probably take on less than a handful of new clients. The Literary Consultancy established itself to try to give honest feedback to people writing so that they had a better idea of their chances before sending out to busy agents. In exceptional cases, we can also help forward work. Otherwise you can approach agents directly yourselves.
Firstly you should make sure you are targeting the right people. Read and re-read the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook or The Writer’s Handbook as a starting point. Then spend time in a good bookshop looking for books not only that are similar to your own but also that you particularly admire. Find out who the author’s agent is by reading the Acknowledgements page, or by searching on the internet. When you have a shortlist of suitable agents to contact, send them a cover letter, synopsis and the first three chapters of your manuscript. (See the How do I write a cover letter and How do I write a synopsis questions for more information.) Your manuscript should be typed in a 12 point font, double-spaced, single-sided, and with reasonable margins. Include a title page with your name and address and the word count. You should submit loose pages and there is no need for fancy plastic folders – an elastic band will do just fine. If an agent wants to read more they will ask you for the rest of the manuscript, which should be completely ready to send and of the same quality as the first three chapters.
It’s really important to remember, when approaching agents, that you are trying to build what will hopefully be a long lasting relationship with them. If you are lucky enough to be taken on you will have to have a rapport with your agent and trust them to make the right decisions.
How long do I have to wait before I hear back from an agent?
Be patient as it can take anytime from a couple of weeks to a few months before you receive a reply. Agents are extremely busy people taking care of their current list of clients, so the slush pile isn’t necessarily the priority. If you have heard nothing after two months, sending a polite enquiry letter is acceptable. Remember that it is unlikely you will hear back at all if you don’t include a SAE with your submission.
How do I write a synopsis?
A synopsis is an essential part of your submission and it is intended to let an agent or publisher know what type of book you have written, in a concise and interesting way. Its purpose is to tell not to sell the story. A synopsis should be 1-2 pages and is usually written in the present tense. You should begin with a short summary (really just a paragraph of 30-75 words) of the whole book. This should include the approximate length and, most importantly, the genre. This paragraph should be followed by a more detailed description covering the overall story arc of the main characters and the main plot points. You should also explain why this is interesting. Do not be tempted to turn your synopsis into a chapter-by-chapter breakdown. A synopsis shouldn’t be written like the blurb on the back of a book either, the purpose of which is to tempt potential readers. So always reveal the ending.
Non-fiction submissions work slightly differently so there is no need to write a synopsis as described above. Instead you need to put forward a proposal. This will be made up of a cover letter, including a brief biography of yourself, which explains why you are qualified to write this particular book, and is clear about the potential market. You will then need to provide a list of contents, a chapter-by-chapter breakdown and a sample chapter. As agents are often prepared to sell a work of non-fiction on the proposal alone, and because editors can often be approached directly, a non-fiction proposal is very much a selling device and so should be made very persuasive.
If you would like more information on this topic, please see Rebecca Swift’s article, Writing a Synopsis, which originally appeared in the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.
How do I write a cover letter?
This should be straight-forward and relatively business like. Keep it brief and try to exude confidence but not arrogance. You should address it to a particular person: no Dear Sir/Madam. Firstly you need to explain what kind of book you have written and also why you thought that particular agent would be interested in it. Include a brief section about yourself, but try and make this relevant. An agent doesn’t want to know your whole life story but will be interested in whether you have ever had an article or short story published, for example. Also, unless you have good reason to, it’s best to avoid making extravagant claims such as, “think of this book as a cross between Salman Rushdie and Philip Roth with a bit of Woody Allen thrown in for good measure.” Lastly, it’s best not to mention that your mother/wife/husband/grandchildren etc loved it.
Can I approach a publisher directly?
A lot of publishers will no longer look at unsolicited manuscripts so you will need to find an agent first. However, there are certainly exceptions. Please see, Do I need a Literary Agent? for more details.
Can TLC find me an agent or a publisher?
TLC has strong links with many agents and publishers and has helped many writers get into print (See Success Stories). However, we only take work forward if we think it is completely ready and sure to generate interest. This decision is made after a TLC assessment has been produced and in complete discussion with the client. This is not part of our general service and is obviously not something we can guarantee. TLC is aware of the demands of the industry and will not make irresponsible suggestions for clients wishing to approach agents and publishers. It also has its reputation to protect so when TLC does submit work it is taken seriously. It should be said that even if we champion your work, the unpredictability of the publishing industry means that you may not find representation, and even when an agents takes you on, it is not a certainty that he/she will be able to sell your work. The publishing industry is changing rapidly. Please see our list of Events, some of which try to help you think what this may mean to you.
My manuscript has been rejected, should I give up?
It depends on how many times you have been rejected and what you mean by ‘give up’. It can be very difficult knowing when to let go of work and move on. Often years of work has gone into producing something, and facing rejection can be traumatic. However, professional writers have usually been rejected many times before success and recovering from rejection is vital if you are to succeed. It may also be important to learn your limitations – at TLC, we believe this is crucial. If you have only been turned down by a few agents then really you can afford to continue submitting. However, if you have received say 20 rejections then you should begin to think that there might be something that is not working with your submission. It is true that some writers, including J.K. Rowling, have been rejected many times, but at the same time it could be a mistake thinking you are a neglected genius as opposed to someone who has to either do more work or face up to reality. If you are fed up with and confused by rejection then TLC can certainly help. Or, we may help you decide whether you should put a particular manuscript aside and start something else. Many writers find that it is their second or third or even fourth novels that are accepted, and when they return to that initial submission languishing under their bed, realise it really wasn’t good enough to be published anyway.
Publishing is a big business and hundreds of manuscripts are rejected every day. It is a harsh reality and one that a writer needs to prepare themselves for. This cannot be stressed enough. Think of TLC as a safe play-ground!
What is self-publishing and should I self-publish?
There will always be books that are not suitable for mainstream publication. This could be because their subject matter does not have market appeal, for example a family memoir, or because of the writer’s lack of experience or, indeed, talent. There are now many alternatives for writers who are desperate for publication but who aren’t suitable for the traditional route and so decide to self-publish.
Self-publication is available to everyone, but at a cost. Although these days, thanks to the internet, the cost can be relatively low. Someone who self-publishes is responsible for every part of the process from designing the look to selling the books. There are a variety of options available including reputable self-publishing companies such as Amolibros or Discript to POD (print-on-demand) services such as www.lulu.com.
You might want to check out the website of a writer who had a successful publishing deal and decided to do things her own way.
What is the difference between self-publishing and vanity publishing?
Self-publishing is when a writer takes the publication of their book into their own hands, usually because there is no commercial outlet for their work. Someone who self-publishes will be responsible for everything from what is written to the design and layout of the manuscript, the printing, marketing, publicity and sales.
A vanity publisher is one that poses as a serious publisher but often has no literary knowledge. Their main aim is to extract money – up-front – from a writer to produce the book (when, of course, it should be that a writer is paid for publication). They will make no attempt to actually sell copies of the published book.
For a comprehensive explanation of this topic, and for a list of Vanity publishers best avoided, see www.vanitypublishing.info/
I write poetry: how do I get published?
The commercial market for poetry is incredibly small and so it is highly unusual for a first-time poet to be published by any of the mainstream poetry presses. What is more important to a new poet are the poetry magazines such as The Rialto, Ambit, Modern Poetry, Poetry London, Poetry Review and small presses. You need to build up a name for yourself and will stand a much better chance with the larger presses if you can prove you have a strong publishing track record. The Poetry Library is an excellent resource for poetry writers.
I write short stories: how do I get published?
Unfortunately, a lot of publishers tend to be uninterested in short stories as they don’t sell particularly well so it is unlikely that a publisher will take on a collection from a first-time writer. Like poetry, it is important to prove a publishing track-record through publication in magazines or success in competitions. Look out for magazines such as Mslexia, The London Magazine and Stand. Some new presses such as Salt and Comma want to publish more short stories, so again, look out for the smaller presses. Some publishers are also producing short stories on mobile phone apps, such as YeloBack.
Should I join a creative writing class?
Writing is a solitary craft and many – if not most – writers seek privacy and peace and quiet to write in. However, when your work is in development, it can be hugely productive to talk about, read and share your work with other writers. Learning to take criticism and the adventure of seeing your work transformed by other people’s understanding (or misunderstanding) of it can be very valuable.
Where can I find a list of creative writing courses?
Writers’ Circles is a comprehensive database of writers groups and courses across the UK. The Directory is available online or in hard copy. The British Council is another good resource for this type of information. Also look out for any classes that TLC offers at Free Word.
What is the difference between a proofreader and a copyeditor?
A proofreader will read a text correcting basic errors in spelling, punctuation and grammar. They will also look for consistency in such areas as formatting, capitalisation, italicisation, hyphenation and so on.
A copyeditor will be more involved than this and as well as keeping an eye out for the same kinds of mistakes as a proofreader will also be looking to improve the quality of the text. A copyeditor will look at the overall consistency of the book, watching out for weak areas of writing, and make corrections where necessary. It can involve some major rewriting or highlighting areas of text that an author needs to look at again. They might also check facts and point out material that could be considered libellous.
Where can I find a proofreader or copyeditor?
TLC might be able to offer copyediting or proofreading in certain circumstances. Please Other Editorial Services for more details.
Alternatively, it would be worth searching the Society of Editors and Proofreaders website.
What is a ghostwriter?
A ghostwriter is a professional writer who writes on an assigned topic under someone else’s name (with consent) and to the client’s specifications. They often write books completely from scratch but sometimes the work involves re-writing an existing work. They are usually employed for the work of famous people, whose work will sell if they have written it themselves or not. However, if you wish to self-publish you may also wish to employ a ghostwriter to help you. This can be expensive, and we would only recommend it in circumstances where writers know what they are letting themselves in for. TLC can recommend a ghostwriter in exceptional circumstances. See Other Editorial Services for more information.
You can also find out more information and search for a suitable ghostwriter on the Society of Authors website.
What is genre?
Genre is the word used to classify the subject matter and style of your book. It is extremely important to correctly identify the genre you are writing in as it will influence the whole of the creative and publishing process from the style and structure you follow when writing, to who will take your book on, who they will sell it to, how it will be marketed, the way it will be designed and where it will be sold.
A basic list of genres includes literary fiction, commercial women’s fiction, crime, thriller, psychological thriller, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, detective, historical, chick-lit, lad lit, romance, erotic, saga, comic. For excellent descriptions of various genres you can refer to The Oxford Companion to English Literature.
How do I ensure copyright?
Your manuscript is automatically copyrighted the moment you create it. So, copyright is yours as soon as anything is recorded on paper or disc or on a computer.
There is no need to take further action. However, if you are particularly anxious about copyright you can post yourself a copy of your manuscript and keep the package unopened. The postmark will then prove when you created the work. If you have a solicitor you can also send them a date copy for safekeeping.