Pitching Your Novel to Literary Agents

Holy cow, that was fast! I submitted my query letter (and first three pages of my novel) yesterday afternoon about 5:00 pm using Query Manager according to the agent’s submission guidelines. Most agents take weeks, if not months, to respond to a writer’s query. Not this one; by 7:00 pm I had emailed the agent asking for any information about why the agent rejected my query. Eighty to ninety-five percent of agents don’t provide that info. The most they will say is the novel isn’t a good fit for them, or the first chapter didn’t “grab” them. I understand literary agents receive hundreds of queries so I can’t honestly expect a detailed explanation. Despite no response to my follow-up email, I am happy that this agent responded quickly so I don’t wait anxiously for months.

For those of you who are interested, here’s my three-sentence pitch and one-page query letter. Please don’t hesitate to provide feedback, suggestions, advice, comfort (you don’t have to send me a 6-pack of Guinness Stout, though), or humorous comments about my writing skills 🙂

By the way, I changed the novel’s title from “A Wished-For Love” to “Aida.”

Three-sentence Elevator Pitch:

“Aida flees provincial Bataan in the Philippines for Olongapo, site of a U.S. Navy base, to realize her dream: a one-way ticket to America with the first Sailor she can land, but Tom suspects she loves him more for his citizenship than for his heart. Aida does everything in her power to get Tom to propose, and he does, but has second thoughts when he meets Sasi, a smooth talking, Thai hotel manager who could be Tom’s beloved but dead Spanish fiancée reincarnated. When Aida finds out about Sasi, not even the trifecta of weather phenomena–erupting volcano, earthquakes, and super typhoon–can equal her fury.”

The elevator pitch is used to quickly describe your story to agents at writers’ conferences or to the agent you’ve cornered in an elevator before the door opens and she runs for the police. It is also used in Pitch Fests hosted by websites (like Savvy Authors and Twitter) where you pitch your novel to many agents on one site.

One-page Query Letter:

“Dear… ,

Thank you for taking the time to consider my query. AIDA, a 95,000-word contemporary romance novel, is a provocative story of fairy tale love, betrayal, innocence lost, and love renewed, and the life-changing impact on its characters.

AIDA tells the story of a young woman who flees her poor village in Bataan for Olongapo, site of a U.S. Navy base in the Philippines. Aida flees to realize her lifelong dream: a one-way ticket to America with the first Sailor she can land. Tom falls for Aida but soon suspects she loves him more for his citizenship than his heart. Aida does everything in her power to get Tom to propose, and he does, but has second thoughts when he falls for Sasi, a smooth-talking hotel manager he meets while deployed to Thailand. Sasi so closely resembles Susanna, Tom’s beloved but dead Spanish fiancée, in appearance, manner, and thought, that he sees her as Susanna reincarnated. When Aida finds out about Sasi through a letter from Tom’s old flame, Lek, who stalks him in Thailand, she confronts him with all the anger of a spurned lover before leaving him when an earthquake strikes the city. Not even the trifecta of weather phenomena–erupting volcano, earthquakes, and super typhoon–can equal Aida’s fury.

AIDA revolves around two timelines, with the main timeline telling the story of Aida and Tom. The second timeline tells the story of Tom’s parents and their fairy tale love, a love that Tom, an orphan, has come to believe is the only kind of love that exists. Tom’s mother died giving birth to him. His father, he believes, died in Vietnam. The timelines merge when mutual friends bring Tom and his father, very much alive, together. Not only does Tom find his father, and through him his mother, but he discovers that his search for love after Susanna’s death was a search for the fairy tale he made his parents’ relationship to be. Tom learns that love cannot be imitated or replicated, that each couples’ love is borne of two people whose love is unique. Tom finds that Aida’s love is the love he has searched for all his life.

The novel draws on the real-life struggles of Filipino and Thai women like Aida and Lek anxious to flee the poverty of their villages for the promised land of America. AIDA will appeal to adults who enjoy a love story, and to readers of Nicholas Sparks, Cecilia Ahearn, and Jojo Moyes.

Thank you for your time,”

The one-page query letter is submitted to literary agents following the guidelines you’ve read on their webpage. They will tell you exactly want they want in your query letter: title, genre, and word count; two paragraphs (more or less) that grab their attention and make them request more chapters or, best of all, the full manuscript.

I’m disappointed in the rejection, but life goes on. Writers write; writers don’t quit. If you know your story is good; if you know people need to read your story; if you know there is an agent out there who wants your story, you have to press on. You have to Write On!

Earnestly your,

Willmingway 🙂

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17 thoughts on “Pitching Your Novel to Literary Agents

  1. My personal opinion-well done! It’s a good pitch and letter! Nothing to worry about.
    The problem maybe only – ur story reminds a bit The Forsyte Saga. And it’s a great thing too but Im not sure if commercial fiction-world is ready for it.
    Good luck & continue! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  2. First of all, it asks for three-sentence pitch. I counted your pitch. You went beyond three sentences. Those people are so particular about their requirements. I checked the Savvy author website and they want three lines which is more difficult to do. Most of them require a 12-point font so you have to make it fit on three lines.
    I did not realize the book is so long. You might have to cut it down a bit. Less than 90K. I know that is hard to do but I leave that up to you. Agents I heard don’t like to read long novels anymore because readers nowadays have short attention span. I’m not one of them believe me. I disagree with previous comment about Forsythe Saga. Forsythe Saga is long but it is not the same time period. That was Edwardian England and high society story. I would compare yours to War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk. It’s two volumes and Pacific and Atlantic theaters. From Here to Eternity by James Jones is shorter but it is still almost 800 pages. Still a thick book. I have a hard time finishing both books. How many pages is 93,000 words? What font are you using? Stay with 12-point font.
    I also read that agents want a short info/bio about the author. Maybe 3 sentences.
    Hope this helps.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Bio/personal info wasn’t pertinent to the post so I didn’t include it. I updated the pitch in the post; I used the wrong one.

      The novel is about 250 pages long. 95,000 words is in the range for an unedited novel of this type.

      I’ve always used three sentences in the several Savvy Authors pitch fests I’ve participated in. I’ve seen longer ones get responses from agents.

      This is the first pitch I feel very comfortable with. We’ll see what happens.

      Thank you for the feedback 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 250 pages is a good number of pages.
        You might want to get hold of a book by Chuck Sambuchino – Formatting & Submitting Your Manuscript. In my opinion that book is the best around. Sambuchino is an editor for Writer’s Digest Books and has written so many articles on writing and has been featured speaker at writing conventions. Check him out.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi, Will. I really liked the title “A Wished-For Love” because it’s something that many people can relate to. This is just my impression though, but naming it “Aida” gives me the idea that she is the one Tom picks in the end. “A Wished-For Love” makes me wonder who that is…Aida, Sasi, or the fiancé from long ago?

    I guess what I’m getting at is that if it’s a novel about “Who will Tom choose?” then the title “Aida” makes me believe that’s who he is going to choose, so why read the book?

    I hope that doesn’t sound harsh because I don’t mean it to be. I’m only sharing what my original first impression is as someone who hasn’t read your posts in a while, maybe like someone who is reading your title and three sentences for the first time.

    You are one of my favorite writers here.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I’m churning in the same process. Will find someone to represent us, Will. I have no doubt. I’m pretty happy with my query (only two rejections out of eight so far lol), but it’s the synopsis that’s making me pull out my hair

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I just queried an agent who is looking for exactly what my novel represents. I totally personalized the query in the hope that I would pull at her heart strings. Her agency only responds if they are interested. I’m not getting my hopes up, though.
      I love your work. If I were an agent you’d be published yesterday. Keep querying; there are thousands of agents and publishers out there. My confidence in you backs you up.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Will, I can so relate! I went to a writers conference and did the 3 minute pitch to agents, then was asked to send entire manuscripts and was later rejected by 4, one not remembering months later that he had passed on my work. I know bizarre, but it is a big business and some successful agents have helpers reading and responding and then other agents will surprise me and write long letters of encouragement or specify what they liked or didn’t. One said she had switched gears and stopped taking Southern dramas but hadn’t the time to update her website. We just have to keep going and keep believing. I’m still sending out queries weekly for Between Thoughts of You and recently was rejected in such a kind manner by Whitney Ross at Irene Goodman who, 3 weeks after I had submitted, she replied that it wasn’t the genre that she was now currently needing to round out her portfolio (although her website criteria said otherwise, but maybe she had just signed someone) and she wrote: “Please don’t be discouraged, though. Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint, and you just need one person to catch that shared vision. Best of luck to you!” I’m taking that as encouragement and share with you as a fellow writer that we just have to keep going, taking those steps forward, and pitching. You are a talented writer. I love your posts. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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