Last week I mentioned some Don'ts about how to pitch your novel to an agent (or editor, or Hollywood, or any pro, really), as described in Donald Maass's The Career Novelist. As promised, here are some things that could tip the scales in your favor instead:
Write a letter (or email) -- check the agent's website for preference (key if you want to make a good impression.
"A relaxed but businesslike approach is probably best."
Make it simple and straightforward:
What the writer wants.
What is being offered.
Information helpful in selling the work.
Something (but not much) about the writer.
Make your manuscript sound appealing within a few lines (not paragraphs) --difficult but not impossible. Answer the main questions:
Where is your story set?
Who is your hero(ine)?
What is the main problem he/she must overcome?
Where do you think this novel fits in the marketplace?
Editors appreciate brevity, especially when sifting through hundreds of query letters every week.
Model Query Letter:
Proper letter format shows that the writer is serious and businesslike.
Introductory paragraph makes a connection (even if remote) between agent and writer and states the writer's purpose.
Short summary of the story including 3 key ingredients to the story:
Writer's biography that's relevant to writing career/story. If not writing experience is available (yet), just keep it short and simple.
Closing which offers two options for submission (if writing a letter instead of an email, you may enclose a Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope, or SASE).
There are many sites out there from agents/editors that offer help on how to write awesome queries (or how to avoid writing repelling ones). One I find rather amusing is Query Shark's blog.
Though I have decided to bypass the traditional publishing route (for multiple reasons), I still find the following counsel by Mr. Donald Maass to be quite interested (especially as it can be applied to other areas beyond the literary field). Besides, I find more and more people are asking me questions about publishing, so I figure this might help.
So here's a little bit about how not to pitch from The Career Novelist (interspersed with some personal notes):
"My novel is very timely. You have to move fast!" -- The likelihood of succeeding with a novel are very slim at best (especially when trying to get your book published the traditional way). And "[w]hile it is true that so-called "instant" nonfiction books can be written, produced and shipped in a matter of weeks, this is never done for novels (save for the occasional movie tie-in). From the date of delivery to a publisher, virtually all novels take a year or more to reach the stores."
"I know my novel is dynamite. Impartial test readers have told me so!" -- In Mr. Maass's experience, "test readers are not reliable forecasters [of sales]" unless these test readers happen to be from authors, editors or agents that he already respects. Possibly because he's noticed a certain trend: people are more easily going to trashed a published book than an unpublished one (I think that would make for some interesting psychological reading, eh?).
"This book is my baby. I want an agent who loves it as much as I do." -- This might presage a writer who might have grown a little bit too emotional about his/her work, to a point that it might have rendered him/her somewhat blind, leading to being over-protectiveness of his/her work and ultimately a problem author.
"Never before has there been a novel like mine. It breaks new ground!" -- "There is little that is harder to sell than books that are ahead of their time," especially in the traditional book publishing world where we see more books published that follow a certain trend (sizzling hot vampire romances anyone?), until someone else has broken the mold (which then creates a whole new entire trend).
"My novel combines the terror of Stephen King, the suspense of Tom Clancy, the glitz of Judith Krantz, and the romance of Danielle Steel! It will dazzle mystery fans and history buffs alike!" -- Error! Error! Overcomparison! Excess of humility detected! Besides, it usually portends the novel to be somewhat of a mess. The writer may compare his/her novel to others like it, but should keep it simple.
"Believe me, I am your dream client! No one will work harder for you than me!" -- "If overeagerness was the only fault here, [Mr. Maass] would overlook it." However, these writers more often than not have a secret drawer stashed with old manuscripts that very likely failed being sold. But these writers cannot hope to get the agent to save these "mediocre projects." Or this pitch may hint at an individual who "lacks self-confidence, perspective," or may even be lazy (my own biggest demon).
"Mr. Maass, this is your lucky day!" -- Oi, don't be pushy, people!