What NOT to Say When Pitching an Agent (or Editor)
It’s the dream of so many authors and would-be authors to be traditionally published; to have a major publishing house wanting our work. And the first step in that process is to find, and get noticed by, a literary agent, or a commissioning editor at the publisher of your dreams.
But what do you say when you approach this dream contact? The person who holds the future of your book in his or her hands?
In my work with writers, and my contacts with agents, I see too many people fluff-up that first approach; often from over-enthusiasm, or simply from nerves.
It might be obvious that you don’t pitch to an agent in the bathroom, or tell the agent your mother loved it. But some of these might not be so obvious, or might give you a little insight into the agent’s, or editor’s, perspective.
With this list, I want to give you a checklist of do’s and don’ts so that you have the tools to get it right first time.
- Don’t say your book is the next best seller.
- Don’t be informal. Address the agent by name in your query (or in person). This means DO NOT send a mass email to a hundred agents and editors, not even three. Each letter must be for the sole intended recipient.
- Don’t pitch a book in a genre or topic the agent doesn’t accept.
- Don’t say, “My book is for everyone.” That’s just not possible; no book is for everyone. Think about the audience that would actually want to read your book. Feel free to include that in your query – such as my book is for teenage boys in small towns.
- Don’t ask an agent or editor to sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA). It really doesn’t benefit them to steal your idea — what are they going to do with it? They need the writers so they can sell the story. And agents will not go through extra hoops to read your work. They have hundreds, even thousands, of submissions to look through.
- Don’t start your query with a question. “Interested in how to lose those stubborn last ten pounds?” This has become too commonplace and too cutesy. Agents just want to get right into the meat of your work, not futz around trying to be clever.
- Don’t say how many books you’ve self-published. Unless you’ve SOLD over 5,000 copies of a single book, how many books you’ve published before does not matter to an agent. (and since 97% of self-published books sell less than 100 copies the agent knows you have something special if you can get into the thousands.)
- Don’t say your book is completely original and unlike anything else. No one’s book is 100% unlike anything else, even Shakespeare’s work is a version of the same stories told time and time again.
- Don’t say you are the next ‘so and so’. Let the agent decide how to place your book when selling to an editor.
- Don’t say you can get X celebrity endorsements that are clearly out of reach. That is a wish list. If you can get an endorsement from a celeb or someone important in your field/genre, state enough to show it’s actually obtainable.
- Do know your platform. In nonfiction you must not only sell your subject matter, but also why you are an expert in this field — why you are the person to represent this book. You must show your expertise, your current platform (website, social media, speaking gigs, and more).
- Do understand the guidelines and expectations required in proposals. Agents do not expect you to have the entire book written (unless it’s a memoir, in which that case it is treated like fiction). For nonfiction you can include a beginning sample of your writing, but the content and goals of the work (and your platform) are the most important aspects. Often times, publishing companies will bring in a ghostwriter.
- Do hire a professional to look over your proposal before pitching.
- Do list the (right) genre, and list only one. Genre, in the most basic explanation means where on a bookstore shelf would this book belong? If you aren’t sure — go to a Barnes and Noble, look at the shelves and the labels for each, and figure where you’d put your book. If you still don’t know where your book belongs, you have some reevaluating to do.
- Do follow the agent’s special requests or directions. Each agent has a different set of expectations for queries, so be sure to read their requirements before submitting. Don’t get off on the wrong foot by pitching an agent a book they would never read, or sending them items they didn’t ask for.
I hope you found at least one gem of wisdom that will improve your next pitch to an agent. Put your heart into it and make it real!
This post is written by Katie McCoach, a developmental editor working with authors of all levels. She is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and Romance Writers of America and recently judged the 2015 Golden Hearts Awards. Katie is currently working on her own contemporary romance novel.
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