Pitching to Agents: Lessons Learned

Dear lovely people,

I’ve submitted my query letter for Honey Ko to twenty-two literary agents  since May 9th. I’ve received four rejections so far, which is pretty good considering all agency websites inform you that, due to the high volume of submissions, they cannot respond to every submission. They tell you they can only respond if they want the writer to provide more information, as in a synopsis or full manuscript.

So, I consider myself fortunate to have received four rejections. That’s an odd thing to be happy about isn’t it? Of the four, though, only the one from Caitlin Blasdell was actually written by her in real-time. The other three were automatic responses (I guess there’s an auto-reject letter button an assistant presses when your query is deleted that sends the auto-response. I’ll bet it has a frownie face on it.) Two of the others were rather formal: we regret; not for us; wish you success, etc. So, in case Caitlin reads this: “Thank you, Caitlin, for responding.” By the way, I responded and told her that. Always respond to an agent’s response. You never know….

One, from Molly Friedrich, gave me the feeling she actually cried while writing it. Although an auto-response (I assume so, since she says so in so many words), it was the nicest rejection I have ever received, even nicer than any of the Dear Will letters I received in my school days. It almost seemed like we were having coffee on 5th Avenue, chatting about writing, publishers, writers… and she reached over and laid her hand on mine and, with tears in her eyes, said, “I’m so sorry, sweetie. Your book isn’t for us. Dammit, I feel so awful. I swear, were it up to me….” If Molly reads this, I want her to know, “It’s okay, Molly. It was so sweet of you to write such a warm and friendly auto-rejection letter. Geez, I almost wish I hadn’t sent you my query letter and put you in such an awful position. sniffsniff.”

Too bad, though. You can tell a lot from what someone says in a letter. I had the feeling Molly and I would have hit it off and become great friends. Sigh, alas.

I admit to making a couple of rookie errors in my first two submissions. This is the first time I have submitted to an agent, so I did a lot of research on various writing sites, shared my query letter with folks, and wrote and rewrote, and rewrote and rewrote my elevator pitch and had it critiqued. However, I left the elevator pitch off of my first two submissions. I blanched when I realized my mistake and dashed off apologies to the agents along with my pitch. Unfortunately, you only get one chance to make a good first impression.

Other than that, my query letters are grammatically correct, concise, Times New Roman, 12pt font, and one page. All agents accept email queries, most prefer them, one or two only accept email queries. Only a few agencies provide tips for submitters. The one tip above all others a writer should obey is: Make Sure Your Query Letter Is Written Well. Mispeled wurd, unintelligble gibberish, and queries that exceed one page will cast you in a dim light and cause the assistant to press the frownie button.

“This is Dick. Dick is a bad speller. Dick will never get an agent. Don’t be a Dick. Spell correctly. Get an agent.”

Doublespace any portions of your manuscript the agent asks for with your query letter. None of them ask for the same thing. Don’t blindly forward an email you’ve already sent to another agent without first making sure it is exactly what the next agent asks for. Never give them more than what they ask for. If they want thirty pages but that chapter ends on page 31, send only the thirty. They are examining your writing skill, your voice, and your storytelling ability, not reading your novel. Also, for the query letter itself, I space the lines at 1.5 lines to make it easier for the agent to read. Hopefully, it helps my case, or at least doesn’t hurt it.

Your future agent receives tons of query letters, so you have to make her want to read your book. How do you do that? Sell it in your pitch. I’ve worked through twenty iterations of my pitch and am finally satisfied.Will I adjust it again if it brings me rejections? You bet. I’m in this for the long haul. I’ll rewrite that sucker as often as I need to.

I’ll rewrite it until I hear an agent screaming:

“OH MY GOD! I have to read that book! Assistant Suzie, get me that manuscript! NOW! We cannot deprive the world of this magnificent literary masterpiece!”

But, don’t take my word for it; I’ve not found an agent yet. I’ll let you know when I do 🙂

Will

2 thoughts on “Pitching to Agents: Lessons Learned

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