Hub articles

US-memoir-agents

US literary agents for memoir, true story, and autobiographies

US-memoir-agents

US literary agents for memoir, true story, and autobiographies



Breaking into the book market can be difficult, but luckily for you, we have all the advice you need to find the right agent for your book.


There are plenty of memoir-loving agents but finalising your agent shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.    

We’ve done all the hard work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there. So, why not take out our 7-day free trial to get complete access to all the US literary agent profiles.  

After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. Save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. Here’s some names to get you started: 

Margaret Bail

Sonali Chanchani

Dawn Hardy

Edward Hibbert

Jody Kahn 

Ed Maxwell 

Neil Olson

Latoya C Smith

Howard Yoon

Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors! 

The Memoir Market



The market for memoirs is easy, if you’re a celebrity that is. If you find that you’re not a celebrity, then things can prove a little harder. 

You will need to show that you have been part of something quite remarkable. Not my-friends-think-it’s-amazing remarkable, but the kind of remarkable that will captivate a perfect stranger, like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild 

The ability to transform those remarkable experience into excellent prose is another must. To hook an agent, you need to be able to bring to life the things you’ve seen and done. Masterpieces like The Hare With Amber Eyes and Empire Antartica are also great examples. 

Gripping stories like these are rarer than you’d think.  

More on US literary agents

The secret to getting an agent



Free submission pack template


US agents for food & cookery books

US-agents-food

US Agents for food and cookery books



The food and cookery market remains a dependable corner of the book market.

Agents representing food and cookery books



There are plenty of cookery-loving agents but finalising your agent shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.  

After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors should query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject areas, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. You can save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. We’ve done all the work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there.  

So, if you want to get to know the agents below (as well as the other 900+ literary agents!) a little better, then take out our 7-day free trial and get searching. 

Rica Allannic 

Jennifer Chen Tran 

Mark Gottlieb 

Sandy Lu

Amanda Jain  

Deborah Schneider

Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors! 

The market



This is an area dominated by full-colour, hard-copy books. The ebook revolution has done little to change the basic market. Which is good news. 

The bad news is that this means the market dynamics are very challenging for debut authors in this area. A sure-fire way to get a cookbook published is to have a TV show first. Or a column in a national newspaper. Or, you’re a celebrity. But for ordinary cookery writers, it is hard to get published. It’s hard to get publishers interested enough to invest in a book, not only because the high production quality means that a book needs to shift a lot of copies to break into profit. 

There are still opportunities for new debut writers. Especially if you are an expert in an under-explored area of food and drink. 

More on US literary agents

The secret to getting an agent



Free submission pack template


US-agent-romance

US agents for romance

header-US-agent-romance

Agents for Romance



From Jane Austen and onwards, romantic fiction is one of the most popular of all genres.


There are plenty of romance-loving agents but finalising your agent shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.  

After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors should query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject areas, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. You can save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. We’ve done all the work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there.  

So, if you want to get to know the agents below (as well as the other 900+ literary agents!) a little better, then take out our 7-day free trial and get searching. 

Jessica Alvarez

Rachel Beck

Beth Campbell

Susanna Einstein

Thao Le

Nikki Terpilowski

Elizabeth Winick Rubinstein 

Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors! 

Agents looking for Romance authors



Although Romance is a popular genre, it hasn’t necessarily always got the respect it deserves. Romance is generally used in modern publishing to distinguish between ‘women’s fiction’ (this is fairly literary, upmarket and serious) from ‘romance.’ A term normally associated with happily mass-market brands such as Mills & Boon and Black Lace, as well as fun, frolicky romances from big publishers. 

As the genre is so broad, it’s not enough to simply look for agents with an interest in women’s fiction. You need to find those who are expressly interested in fiction at the more commercial end of the market. You can find the agents interested in representing Romance here, on AgentMatch.

More on US literary agents

The secret to getting an agent



Free submission pack template


US-agent-horror

US agents representing Horror

US-agents-horror

US agents for Horror



Looking for an agent that represents horror? Then look no further, we answer all your questions here. Plus, we’ll even introduce a few agents you may like to query! 

Agents seeking horror



There are plenty of horror-loving agents but finalising your agent shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.  

After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors should query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject areas, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. You can save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. We’ve done all the work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there.  

So, if you want to get to know the agents below (as well as the other 900+ literary agents!) a little better, then take out our 7-day free trial and get searching. 

Michael Bourret

Elizabeth Copps

Heather Flaherty

Connor Goldsmith 

Caitlin McDonald

Maxmillian Ximenez

Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors! 

The horror market



Since Stephen King revived and expanded the genre, horror has been a reliably steady element in the book market. The emergence of teen paranormal sagas has brought new readers to the genre, as well as changing the genre’s boundaries even further. While the ebook revolution has also introduced new readers to the genre, namely young men (traditionally more reluctant book-buyers) have been more willing to purchase fiction via their tablets and smart phones. 

It’s important to remember that the genre shouldn’t be seen in too restrictive terms. Contemporary authors, such as the award-winning Lesley Glaister, have added quality to the genre. While well-respected authors like Susan Hill, have actually been writing horror fiction for years, albeit not for the typical audience associated with the genre. 

You might find that some crime and thriller authors also plough through the classic horror territory. 

(Oh, that noise from the old stone cellar? It’s nothing. Really, nothing.) 

More on US literary agents

The secret to getting an agent



Free submission pack template


Agents for Women’s fiction

US-agents-womens-fiction

Agents for Women’s fiction



Are you predominately writing for women or about women, and in need of an agent? Then look no further, we answer all your questions here. Plus, we’ll even introduce a few agents you may like to query!  


There are plenty of agents looking for women’s fiction but finalising your agent shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.  

After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors should query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject areas, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. You can save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. We’ve done all the work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there.  

So, if you want to get to know the agents below (as well as the other 900+ literary agents!) a little better, then take out our 7-day free trial and get searching. 

Betsy Amster

Rachel Brooks 

Jennifer Chen Tran 

Jessica Faust

Jennifer Jackson 

Donald Mass 

Quressa Robinson 

Latoya Smith

Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors! 

Women’s fiction



Women’s fiction is a rich and broad market. It covers many sub-genres: romance, domestic noir, and literary fiction, for example. A literary fiction novel need not cancel out that the novel may also be classed as a romance. Nor does a sub-genre like domestic noir mean that this is a genre read only by women, even though the publishing world tends to market the genre as such. 

So, it’s important to be careful how you choose your book genre. Is it really a book club type of novel (i.e. accessible and literary)? Is it romance? Erotica? 

Just because your book may be about a woman and her relationships (not necessarily a romantic one), it doesn’t mean that you should be describing your novel as women’s fiction. Instead think more about what kind of book it is and what type of agent you’d like. 

More on US literary agents

The secret to getting an agent



Free submission pack template


US-agents-paranormal-romance

Agents for paranormal romances

header-US-agents-paranormal-romance

Agents for paranormal romances



Looking for an agent that represents paranormal romances? Then look no further, we answer all your questions here. Plus, we’ll even introduce a few agents you may like to query! 


There are plenty of agents looking for the next top-selling paranormal romance but finalising your agent shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.  

After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors should query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject areas, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. You can save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. We’ve done all the work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there.  

So, if you want to get to know the agents below (as well as the other 900+ literary agents!) a little better, then take out our 7-day free trial and get searching. 

Natalia Aponte 

Jenny Bent

Joquelle Caiby 

Llori Perkins 

Paige Wheeler 

Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors! 

Paranormal romance and the market



The success of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight created a huge sub-genre in paranormal romance. Having said that, authors like Anne Rice have been writing in the genre for a long time and clearly point to its longevity. 

It is a genre tailor-made for the ebook generation, and has inspired a number of films and TV series, covering the whole nexus of paranormal romance, urban fantasy, and YA dark romance. 

So, to join the ranks of the paranormal romance market, your novel must: 

  1. Offer good, clean, readable prose. 
  2. Have a twist on the basic genre that’s new and compelling. 
  3. Create a romance that will capture your audience’s heart. 

Once you’ve perfected your manuscript, you can start your search for the right agent, here. Best of luck!

More on US literary agents

The secret to getting an agent



Free submission pack template


header-how-long-chapters

How long should a chapter be?

header-how-long-chapters

HOW LONG SHOULD A CHAPTER BE?



How to figure out the right length for your book.


You’ve started your book. You’re brimming with ideas. You start hammering away at your text. And then – you hit a pause. 

So now what? 

Do you create a page break and start a new chapter? Or do you just do the three little asterisk thing? Or just crash straight on? 

And what if your chapters are too short? Or too long? Will your readers laugh at you? Will you cause literary agents to spill their lattes with laughter? 

Well, no. 

Honest truth? Chapter lengths don’t really matter too much. No manuscript has ever been rejected by an agent or neglected by a reader just because a chapter was too short or too long. 

That said, chapter breaks are one of the key rhythmical features of a novel. Your story’s most obvious beats. So, it makes sense to use those beats to enhance everything else you’re doing. Getting that right is what this post is all about. 

Chapter length, in a nutshell

  • Too short: 1000 words or under
  • Very short: 1000-1500 words
  • Short: 1500-2000 words
  • Standard: 2000 to 4000 words
  • Long: 4000 to 5000 words
  • Very long: over 5000

Those are the rules for adult novels. Kids’ books will have chapter lengths that vary by age range. And there’s no wrong here. Ducks, Newburyport has no chapters and it’s 400,000 words long. It’s still amazing.

What is a chapter? And why is a chapter?



OK. You know what a chapter is. A chapter is generally the major (and often the only) sub-division to be found in a book or novel. It’s marked, almost always, by a page break. The new chapter may be numbered or titled or even both.

In terms of scale, some books will also be divided into parts. (Part 1 might include 10 chapters, and so on.) Individual chapters may have minor separation breaks indicated by an asterisk, or similar. 

But you knew all that. More important is why is a chapter? Why have them? Why do books need or want them, even after the concept of an actual printed book has become a bit blurred out by e-books and audio books? 

And the answer is that any story has beats in it. Punctuation marks, in effect. Moments when the story – and the reader – want a moment’s pause. So the question of how many words there ought to be in a chapter is really a question of: how much text should a reader be asked to read before you give them a break? 

To answer that question, we need to figure out when a reader is likely to demand a pause. 



What is the purpose of a chapter?



The purpose of a chapter is to allow the reader to pause, and those pauses are most essential when: 

  1. There is a change of point-of-view character
  2. There is a major change of scene 
  3. There is a major jump in time 
  4. A major sequence of action has just been completed 

Put like that, it’s kind of obvious why you need a pause. You need a pause to avoid confusion. If you simply continued from one paragraph to the next while implementing a major switch of character / time / place / action, the reader would be perplexed. They’d need to read the section two or three times to figure it out, and that would (paradoxically) cause a weird slowdown in momentum. 

The chapter break, in effect, tells the reader, “OK, you need to hit the reset button and prepare for something a bit different. The story is continuing, but that last scene has now ended.” 

That convention means that as soon as the reader has flipped the page, they know to wipe the slate clean and prepare for some new scene to get going. 

And that’s also why you need to be a little bit careful here. You can’t just say, “Oh, that scene was in a café, this one is in a street, that one is in a park, so we need a total of three chapters to handle all that.” You need to use your judgement too. If the same pair of individuals simply wandered through a city, having a conversation about the same thing, it doesn’t matter at all that the locations they pass through vary. The reader, correctly, regards that as a single unit of action. 

If on the other hand, it’s not just the scenery that changes, it’s also the participants, their concerns and the type of action, you need to chop that sequence up into chapters accordingly. 

Read more on plotting the chapter breaks, here and here.

Free plotting worksheets



Make the hardest part of writing easier


What is the right word count for a chapter?



With all that in mind, we can start to figure out how long our chapters ought to be. (Clue: it’s your story that is going to govern this in the end. Your story, and your readers.) 

But here, for example, are some famous novels, along with word counts and chapter lengths: 

  • A Suitable Boy, by Vikram Seth, 592,000 words, 19 chapter, average chapter length a totally insane 31,000 words. 
  • A Game of Thrones, by George RR Martin, 298,000 words, 60 chapters, average chapter length 4,970 words 
  • Twlight, by Stephenie Meyer, 118,000 words, 25 chapters, average chapter length 4,720 
  • 1984, by George Orwell, 89,000 words, 24 chapters, average chapter length 3,700 
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, 216,000 words. 75 chapters, average chapter length 2,880 words. (Book is also divided into 7 parts.) 
  • The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green, 65,750 words, 25 chapters, average chapter length 2,630 
  • Talking to the Dead, by me – Harry Bingham – 113,000 words, 49 chapters, average chapter length 2,300 words 
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood, 96,400 words, 46 chapters, average chapter length 2,100 
  • Along Came A Spider, by James Patterson, 106,000 words, 97 chapters, average chapter length 1,100 

You can pretty much forget the first of those examples – the Vikram Seth one. His book was almost boastfully extravagant in terms of length. That was its selling point, in a way, and it is such an outlier, you can discard it. 

Martin’s Game of Thrones is epic fantasy fiction and its 5,000 word chapter length pretty much benchmarks the very top end of normal. 

Likewise, Patterson, with his famously rapid-fire fiction, pretty much benchmarks the bottom end of normal. Most books (including, I discover, my own) lie in the 2,000 to 4,000 word range. 

How to figure out what chapter length is right for you



In truth, you won’t really choose your chapter lengths. You’ll write your story, and your story will insert its own natural breaks, as you change scene, viewpoint or whatever. But as you can begin to guess from the data in the previous section, the story you tell is likely to impose a varying set of chapter lengths on you. So, from smallest to biggest, here’s what different stories are likely to need. 

Very short chapters, under 2,000 words

Fiction with very short chapters has a kind of jump-cut, fast-edited quality to it. It will work for action fiction, but even then, it’ll work for the very fastest – and least reflective – action writing. 

James Patterson is the huge benchmark of this type of fiction. You can’t really get shorter, faster, snappier writing than his … and notice that his chapter length doesn’t dip below 1,000 words (or not really. I expect that somewhere in his massive canon you’ll find an exception.) 

That means if your average chapter length falls below 1,000 words, you are probably trying to cut too often – or that you haven’t yet given enough weight and depth to the scenes you are telling. Remember that even action fiction needs space to make an impression. 

Normal chapters, 2,000 to 4,000 words

Just take a look at the list above. You’ll notice an impressive range of fiction in this ‘normal’ range. 

There’s young adult fiction (Fault in Our Stars). There’s my own crime fiction. There are a couple of absolute literary classics (1984 and The Handmaid’s Tale). 

In other words, whether you’re writing genre fiction, or literary, whether you’re writing for adults or teenagers, chapter lengths in this broad range will strike the reader as normal, expected, nothing to be alarmed about. 

Very long chapters, 4,000 to 5,000 words

If you’re writing chapters that regularly exceed the 4,000 word mark, you are, in effect, announcing to your reader that your story has a more than normal amount of heft and swagger. So George Martin’s Game of Thrones announces its genuinely epic aspirations in part by those epically sized chapters. 

For authors of epic fantasy, long chapters will certainly work. The same probably goes for authors of some kings-n-queens type historical fiction. But this will be the exception. To most readers, most of the time, very long chapters will just feel … very long. 


Chapter rhythms: mixing it up



So far we’ve spoken of average chapter lengths, which is all well and good. But you can have long ones and short ones, as well as plenty of middling ones. 

The shorter ones, especially, will mix up the rhythms of the rest and jolt the reader, in a useful way. 

At the longer end, I still wouldn’t generally advise going over 5,000 words all that often. It’s just a plot of text, and readers need to be able to put the book down now and again. 

At the shorter end, short can be very short. I’ve quite often written chapters that are 500 words or so. (That’s a page and a half or so of an ordinary paperback.) If you want to go to 300 words or even less, you can. All I’d say is that the hyper-short chapter is a little bit of an attention-seeking device. You risk having the reader think about you the author, rather than the story you have placed in front of them. 

And the story, of course, should always come first. 

You can find out more about standard word counts, here


header-how-long-chapters

How to end a chapter



Chapters end at natural breaks in your story. OK. We know that much. But you don’t just want to stop abruptly. You want to give your reader a satisfying ending for the chunk they’ve just read. Here are four great ways to end a chapter. They’re not mutually exclusive, so you might use more than one technique in a single place.

Symbolic reversal

A scene or chapter is there to tell its own mini-story, with its own beginning, middle and end. And because stories are about change, scenes are about change too. So, a scene is typically based around some kind of story question, which is then resolved or changed by the end of the scene.

One good way to end a chapter is to find a way to highlight or encapsulate the change that has just happened. So let’s just say we have a proposal scene. Mark Manly has just gone down on one knee to propose marriage to Winona Winsome. He offers her a single red rose. 

She says no. She rejects him. 

There’s an argument. In the course of the argument, the rose is damaged. Winona marches out of the room. 

The scene ends with Mark clutching a bare-rose, no petals. A sign of his failure. 

I’m not sure that’s a super-brilliant way to handle a non-proposal scene, but you see the point I’m making. The rose comes to symbolise the hope at the start of the scene and the failure at the end. That’s one nice way to handle things.

Looking back

Alternatively, however, let’s say that Winona says yes. 

And let’s say that Mark has secretly loved Winona since he was an 11-year-old boy, seeing her arrive in (um, I don’t know) a skiff, a carriage, a hot air balloon outside his castle. 

The triumph with which our current scene ends – she said yes! she said yes! – could be a reason to look back to the past, to that 11-year-old boy, and the long trials and tribulations of his love. 

Again, a closing paragraph that looks back to the past could be a nice way to end the chapter. 

Looking forward

Let’s twist the lens again. 

Winona wants to marry Mark, yes, but the Dark Lord of Boundercad Hall has sworn to enslave her. He is coming for Winona that evening accompanied by (oh, I don’t know) twenty mounted troops and a very scary parrot. 

So now, terrific, the intrepid couple see the prospect of infinite wedded bliss – but only if they can figure out a way to escape the clutches of the Dark Lord. So this chapter would naturally end with a look to the future. A glance up to the brooding presence of Boundercad Hall. Or a mention of the sound of horses being saddled, or a scary parrot squawking. 

That hint of the future isn’t a cliffhanger, exactly, but it reminds the reader that big things are on the point of being decided. 

Looking sideways

If you have a dual-protagonist drama, then scenes (and chapters) will naturally switch from Person A to Person B and back again. 

So let’s say, instead of a proposal scene, Mark and Winona are planning to elope. We’ve just had a chapter with Winona buckling on a sword, preparing her horse, saying farewell to her beloved three-legged cat. And now – the chapter ends. She’s ready for her night of adventure, but what about Mark? 

You don’t have to make that question overexplicit in a chapter ending. (In fact, too explicit, and it’ll sound weak.) All you need to do is prompt the idea in the reader, as subtly as you like. So your chapter might end. “She was ready. All that mattered now was that Mark would be on that ferry.” 

Again, that’s not really a cliffhanger, but it switches the story question from Winona to Mark. The reader will now think, “Jeepers. Yes! What about Mark?” and they’ll be all prepped for a scene where we see Mark facing some obstacle to getting on the ferry in time. 

The classic cliffhanger

You might think it’s odd that I’ve left the classic cliffhanger scene to last … and that’s because such things are quite rare and usually quite crass. 

The very first example – where the term came from, in fact was Thomas Hardy’s A Pair of Blue Eyes, and it’s terrible. (See here for more.) It’s terrible, because the chapter ends with a man hanging (thoughtfully, calmly) by his fingertips from a cliff … and the next chapter starts with the exact same person hanging (still calmly) by his fingertips in the exact same spot and the exact same situation. 

In fact, the badness of the Hardy scene reminds us that chapter breaks belong where stories have their natural breaks. There probably are good examples of the classic cliffhanger, but really, not many. For the most part, techniques 1-4 or some variant thereon will do you better. 

 

That’s it from me. Have fun with your chapters – and, as ever, happy writing. 


About the author 

Harry Bingham has been a professional author for twenty years and more. He’s been published by each of the three largest publishers in the world. He’s hit bestseller lists, had a ton of critical acclaim, and has been published in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, China, Japan . . . and lots of other places too. His work has been adapted for the screen and he’s enjoyed (almost) every minute of his career. As head of Jericho Writers (and previously the Writers’ Workshop), Harry has helped hundreds of people find agents and get published. He’d love it if you were next. (More about us.) 

(You can read more about Harry here and here, and more about his books here). 

Other areas of interest

Free plotting worksheets



Make the hardest part of writing easier


US-agents-travel-nonfiction

US agents for travel non-fiction

Agents for travel non-fiction



So, you’ve written a travel memoir and you’re ready to find an agent to represent it?


There are plenty of travel-loving agents but finalising your agent shortlist can be a painstakingly long, dull task. Unless you’re using AgentMatch, that is.  

After selecting your country (we advise that US based authors should query US based agents), genre or non-fiction subject areas, you’ll receive a personalised list of suitable agent profiles. You can save your search results and work through them one by one, at your own pace. We’ve done all the work for you: scoured the four corners of the web for every interview, interesting fact, and noteworthy quote, it’s all there.  

So, if you want to get to know the agents below (as well as the other 900+ literary agents!) a little better, then take out our 7-day free trial and get searching. 

William Clark 

Rachel Dillon Fried  

Wendy Levinson 

Alison Mackeen 

Dan Mandel 

Need more information? We break everything down in our guide to finding a literary agent – it’s invaluable for all querying authors! 

Finding an agent



Finding an agent sounds much easier than it is. There are so many agents, with varying preferences and requirements, and so many sites to explore and notes to take. It can be a daunting task. 

If you’re writing a travel book, it needs to set itself apart from others like it in the market. Take a look at Into the Wild, Eat Pray Love, or Under the Tuscan Sun, what sets them apart and makes them so appealing to readers? Bear this in mind when querying agents, and show them what makes your book unique.

We’ve at least made your agent search easier with AgentMatch.

Good luck!

More on US literary agents

The secret to getting an agent



Free submission pack template


how-i-got-my-agent-Helen-Fisher

How I Got My Agent by Helen Fisher

How I got my agent by Helen Graupp-Fisher

How I Got My Agent

By Helen Fisher



In this blog post, Helen Fisher tells us about her journey to finding a literary agent for her debut novel, Spacehopper

Did I always want to be a writer?



I’ve always wanted to write a novel, but didn’t do it until I was 44 when a friend bullied me into it. She told me to write a chapter a week and send it to her. Clocking in with her was a great incentive, although I realise a lot of authors like to write the whole thing before they let anyone see it.

About 30,000 words in, I panicked: I DON’T KNOW HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL, I thought (constantly) and – realising I needed help – I bought Harry Bingham’s book: How to Write. I read it cover to cover and quickly discovered I wasn’t alone in any of my thoughts – neither the negative ones (I CAN’T do it) nor the positive (I CAN do it). As well as practical support, that book provided the emotional support I needed. I read it and went back to my novel, and – with steam coming out of my ears, and springs coming out of my head – I finished it. I commissioned a really useful editorial report via Jericho Writers, and submitted it to a few agents. But ultimately I shelved it.

A year later I wrote my second novel, Spacehopper, the one that’s going to be published. I was in a better place to do it, because this time I had some tools in my belt before I started: the ones I didn’t have until I was 30,000 words in the first time round: I’d read How to Write, been to a JW Getting Published Day and used the resources I found on the JW website.

What I learnt and how I learnt it



I learnt a lot from reading books about how to write. Not just Harry Bingham’s book, but the famous On Writing, by Stephen King, and other books like that. Reading about writing inspired me and made me believe I could do it; I needed that. Mind you, the feeling would wear off quickly, it wasn’t long before I’d start thinking I can’t do this, again. It was like a drug I had to keep topping up to get the same effect, so I kept reading.

Reading novels also helped. I found I was reading more attentively now, really looking at what I loved best in novels, so I could more knowingly make an impact on readers through my own writing. I took out a month’s membership at JW as a birthday present to myself, it was a luxury I found hard to afford – it is fantastic value, but I was skint – so I made the most of it: joined up when I knew I could make best use of the online videos. I immersed myself in the information, made notes, and soon felt like I had a bag full of stuff to help me get through the writing process.

Unfortunately, at that stage, it did feel as though I was simply trying to get to the finish line, rather than enjoying the process. I’m an impatient person, and novel-writing isn’t ideal for the impatient. Now, I’m getting there: learning to enjoy the process. With my new novel, Gabriel’s Cat, my agent asked for a synopsis early on, something I’d never done until the book was finished. Being clearer about where the story was going has helped. I feel less frightened about what will happen next when I sit down to write. I have never enjoyed writing more.

I learned a lot at a JW Getting Published Day. There were lots of really interesting and practical sessions during the day. I left with more inspiration, and was buzzing because I’d spent a blissful succession of hours with people who could talk all day long about writing novels, without glazing over once!

The secret to getting an agent



Free submission pack template


My first draft



It took me four months to write the first draft of Spacehopper and I gave it to four friends to read in chunks. These were the same friends who read the novel I cut my teeth on the previous year, and this time was different. They didn’t really have any criticism, just wanted me to get on with it, so they could find out what happened next. This boost to my ego was essential: much as I wanted honest feedback, I think I would have crumbled, possibly stopped, if the feedback had been bad. I wanted them to be honest, but I wanted them to honestly love it. Spacehopper has a big twist; I didn’t think of it until I was more than halfway through writing the novel, and as soon as I decided on the ending, I couldn’t write fast enough. I wanted to hear what my readers felt about the ending. When I made them cry, I punched the air.

When the first draft was done, I did the same as last time, and commissioned a full editorial report through Jericho Writers, from the same editor as last time. It was a stretch on my finances, and I knew I would only be able to afford one round of feedback. The report I got back was worth every penny, not only in its practical suggestions, but because the editor said she was certain it was a novel that would be published. Hearing that from a professional, gave me the confidence to keep going, make a few adjustments and start to get ready to submit to agents.

I think I would have enjoyed writing Spacehopper more if I’d planned out the story in more depth before starting, and followed more of the plot structures that make stories work. Not just because there is something nice about knowing where you’re going with a story, from beginning to end – indeed I truly believe you can know too much about what’s going to happen in the novel you’re writing: things that you don’t plan will be some of the best bits. But when you understand the plot structures that make stories work – even if you don’t follow them strictly – you will surely have more confidence that your story is going to be better told. Understanding what makes stories work, makes us better storytellers.

From first draft to final version



The editor who conducted a full editorial report, via JW, suggested I make some changes. I’ve looked back in my notebook and I see I made 39 changes to Spacehopper based on her recommendations. It might sound like a lot, but the majority were fairly straightforward. Essentially the novel remained unchanged (in comparison, when I made changes to my previous novel, it was a huge task and I felt I had a different book by the time I’d edited it).

I worked for a couple of weeks tweaking Spacehopper, and after that, without the finances to put it through another round of editorial revision, I started getting ready to submit to agents. I didn’t give it to anyone else to read at this stage. As I mentioned, patience is not my strength, and I had to get it out.



How I got my agent



In September 2018, I put together my submission pack to agents. I trawled resources online and in books, to make sure my letter was just right and I used JW’s AgentMatch to look up agents that might like my type of novel. A problem for me was that my novel includes time travel, but it’s not science fiction, or fantasy, it’s about love and grief and what we would say to those we loved and lost, given the chance. But it’s hard for people to see beyond the time travel element.

I put my synopsis together and finally decided that I needed to get a submission pack assessment done: I didn’t want to mess up my first impression with agents before I’d left the starting blocks. Again I commissioned this via JW, and after that I began submitting with confidence that my submission pack, at least, was as good as it could be.

I’d read enough to know I needed to brace myself for rejection. It was a rite of passage, everyone said so, and even if I was to get an agent one day, I knew I would have to taste rejection first. But knowing you’ll get your heart broken, doesn’t make it any easier when it happens. The first time I saw the name of an agent in my email inbox, I held my breath. I was at work, and I stopped everything: the email wouldn’t open. I trotted to another part of the college trying to get a connection, all the time thinking what if they want me?? When the email opened and I saw it was a rejection, I realised I wasn’t really prepared for the disappointment; the way it stuck in my throat and made it hard to swallow, the way I teared up because this email had been the difference between my dreams coming true and my dreams basically, not coming true.

And then I got another rejection, and another, and another, each one feeling like a shovel full of dirt being thrown over me, until I felt buried. Fourteen rejections between October and Christmas brought me to an all-time low, which I managed to hide from most family and friends. I remember thinking that if I couldn’t write, then I couldn’t do anything I really wanted to do. Plus I’d made the mistake of telling everyone that I was submitting to agents. One of my friends who’d read my book and loved it said he would help me self-publish, and I said I’d think about it. But first I needed to get myself into a better place. I’m usually a happy person and I was so down. I needed to get back up. Over Christmas and January 2019, when I’d put Spacehopper in a drawer and locked it, I convinced myself that I’d been happy before I wrote this novel, and therefore I could be happy again. Eventually I started to come to terms with the idea of not getting published, even though I still believed so strongly in this novel that I’d locked away.

Then a little bit of fate stepped in. Last year – before I started submitting to agents – my ex-husband’s fiancé asked in passing if she could read my novel, and after some deliberation, I agreed. Then in February this year, I got a message from her saying I just read a book that makes me feel a bit like your book did. That’s nice, I thought. The next day I happened to be in Waterstone’s and picked that book up, wondered if the agent was mentioned in credits. She was. Maybe – I thought – maybe I’ll try just one more agent – Judith Murray, at Greene and Heaton. And I did.

I submitted my letter, synopsis and manuscript to her in the middle of February. When I got an email saying that Judith was loving Spacehopper and could I send the rest of the manuscript, I wasn’t prepared: by now I was only prepared for rejection. I sent the manuscript, and held my breath for three days. She rang me, and on March the 1st I found myself meeting Judith in a restaurant in Borough Market in London. At last I felt I had opened the wardrobe door and stepped into another world. Meeting Judith was one of the most delightful experiences of my life, hearing her thoughts on my novel, getting to know her and that feeling that I’d met my fairy godmother and she was going to do everything she could to get me to the ball.

My author-agent relationship



After we met, Judith and I talked about making changes to my novel that she thought would give it its best shot at being an attractive prospect for publishers, and she gave me a set of notes to work from. Everything she said struck a chord, and I enjoyed working on the edit. Where the changes were trickier to come to terms with, Judith explained why they would work, and by Jove, she was right! By the beginning of April, Judith was ready to submit to publishers.

She told me that waiting to hear back from editors/publishers could be nerve-wracking (why does everything about this business have to be so bloody nerve-wracking!) and Judith clearly knows that some authors need more support than others during this stressful process. She was always there at the end of the phone or email and did what she needed to do to help me not lose heart. I always felt she was there for me, even though I knew how busy she must be with other authors and all those submissions. She kept in touch regularly during those early days of submissions and we talked on the phone weekly, or more if necessary.

Even though we now have a deal and things are calm at the moment, we still talk and email. She is an utter joy to work with, and I feel incredibly lucky that I found her, and that fate led me directly to her door. I trust her completely, she is wise, and kind and life is better for knowing her. And if that sounds over the top, don’t forget she’s negotiating on my behalf to make my dreams come true.

Last piece of advice



I have two pieces of advice I would give to anyone who wants to get published (I have more, but am sticking to two, as I’m well over my word-count limit!). The first is to listen to anyone who says your novel needs changes. If they are professionals, in particular, I think that for the most part you should trust that they’re right. You might not want to change things in the way they suggest – no problem – make changes in your own way, but certainly, listen to their advice and act on it. Similarly if your friends or family feel that something doesn’t work, even if they’re not professional writers or readers, they are still readers, and if they feel something’s not working, then they’re probably right.

Secondly, targeting the right agent is key. You know that, I knew that, I’d read it a million times. But while the information available on agents’ likes and dislikes is useful, in the end, for me, it was finding a novel that felt something like mine that led me to the right one. If you can read a lot of books and find out which agents are likely to go for a story like yours, then hopefully, you will hit a bullseye.

About Helen



Helen Fisher lives in a small Suffolk village, with a black cat and two pinkish children. Before turning her hand to writing fiction, Helen worked in a number of interesting jobs, including as an ergonomist for the RNIB (blind people, not lifeboats). Her debut novel, Spacehopper, will be published in hardback in January 2021, and in paperback later that same year, by Simon and Schuster. It’s also going to be translated into German, Swedish, Polish and Portuguese. It won’t be called Spacehopper because in America, Space Hoppers are known as Hoppity Hops, so the publishers are currently wrangling over a new name. The deal with Simon and Schuster and Droemer-Knaur (the German publisher) is a 2-book deal so she’s currently working on her next novel, which is called Gabriel’s Cat (and hopefully always will be, because in America they’re also called “cats”), and is due to be released in January 2022.

The secret to getting an agent



Free submission pack template


How I got my agent by Paul Braddon

How I Got My Agent by Paul Braddon

How I got my agent by Paul Braddon

How I Got My Agent

By Paul Braddon



The first in a regular new blog series, Paul Braddon takes us through his journey to finding a literary agent.

My Writing Journey



The writing bug first bit as a teenager when I entered a sixth-form essay competition run by Barclays Bank and shocked myself by winning a runner’s up prize.  Heady stuff! But the real surprise was how much fun telling a story could be when I wasn’t being told what to write. Anyway, I was now sold on a career as a novelist and the only sensible step was to study English Literature at university… although unfortunately, after three years of Dickens, Wordsworth and the major works of Shakespeare, I was no nearer to being published.

My biggest hurdle was thinking I knew everything just because I’d read a few novels. I spent years on a lovely story titled The English Witch – a sort of Sabrina meets Harry Potter (all before JK Rowling put pen to paper) set in the 1930s – that I couldn’t interest agents in, although my friends were generous. ‘Better than Tolkien’, one told me, although that isn’t as great as it sounds because he was no lover of Tolkien.

After The English Witch, I wrote an historical novel about a piano-playing German girl and with it made my first sensible decision – I commissioned editorial feedback. Nervous as to what I was paying for, I opted for Jericho Writers (Writers’ Workshop as it was then) on the basis that the offer included a follow up ‘conversation’, a guarantee in effect that the editor would have to do a half-decent job. In the event I got lucky and was allocated the truly excellent Liz Garner, who wrote me several extensive assessments, each followed up by a long phone call.

I took my now much-improved piano-playing German girl manuscript to the York Festival of Writing but failed to interest my chosen agents in it. However, one of these agents was the fantastic Joanna Swainson, who was eventually to sign me, so not all would be lost, although of course I could not know that at the time.

By now fed up with historical fiction, I was willing to do almost anything to succeed and turned my hand to a contemporary thriller set in Finland. The process of leaving my comfort zone was like casting off heavy boots and this book – The Butterfly Hunt, was my best work to date. Three of the first four agents I queried (including Joanna) requested the whole manuscript but the feedback I received was consistent, that although the first third worked, I needed to rewrite the rest. Which unfortunately was easier said than done! I think the lesson I learned is that when you change significant elements of a carefully structured plot, you can end up twisting it completely out of shape and end up with less than what you had before.


How I got my agent by Paul Braddon

In early 2018 I started on The Actuality, a further genre shift, this time into speculative fiction. The Actuality is set a hundred years in the future and could be best described as a cautionary tale of friendship, love and advanced bioengineering.

My approach to writing The Actuality came from my experience on previous projects. My method has become to first plan out an overall structure, getting the main beats in place and when I’m happy with all of that, I dive in to see how I do. If this appears to work, I merely keep writing, filling in the plot details and editing chapters as I go, and if all continues to go well, in four or five months I have a reasonable first draft. That’s the plan anyway, but in the case of The Actuality it wasn’t so simple.

In fact it was a massive struggle and this was because I grew to believe that the story of an AI living with her ‘husband’ at the top of a Thames-side high-rise complete with rooftop garden was almost certainly unpublishable. In the end, after rushing through the last couple of sections, I did make it to the finish line, but the word count barely scraped 62,000.

Anxious as to what I had created, I only sent it to Joanna, hoping I could trust her not to laugh. To be honest, if she had, I would have shelved it. Instead, amazingly, she actually liked it, and liked it enough to chat about it and encourage me to expand it to a commercial length. Confidence regained, this I did, adding 18,000 words, and shortly after that in October 2018, she took me on!

The secret to getting an agent



Free submission pack template


Last piece of advice



I think, if I was passing on any advice, it would be three things. Number One (and I think most readers will have worked it out for themselves by now) – Seek Professional Advice, whether that is through courses, editorial assessments or reading up on the craft – don’t spend years thinking you know everything. Two – Escape Your Comfort Zone – perhaps try a completely different genre, you can always go back, you never know you may not want to. And Number Three – Don’t Be Afraid of Trying Something a Bit Different, if that’s what you fancy – different will stand you out from the crowd if nothing else and if there is passion behind it, that will make a huge difference too.

About Paul Braddon



Paul Braddon lives in London with his wife Mary and son Thomas. He got the writing bug after coming runner-up in an essay competition as a teenager, and went onto study English Literature at Reading University. His debut novel, The Actuality, is due to be released in 2020 (Sandstone Press).

You can find Paul on Twitter here, or have a nose around his website here.


If Paul’s story strikes a chord with you, head on over to Townhouse and tell us about your writing journey.

Are you on the lookout for representation? If so, why not check out AgentMatch, our database recording all UK and US literary agents.

Or, are you about to embark on your first round of agent submissions? If you are, then you’ll probably find this really helpful!

The secret to getting an agent



Free submission pack template