Now, I’m gonna say that I’m not a literary agent. I read books. A lot of books. And websites and stuff. So when Jodie emailed us and submitted an agent query for a pitch slap, I was briefly confuzzled, then nervous, and then I dove in. Here’s my canary stab at talking about agent queries!
For this pitch slap, I’m going to press pause on the blurb itself and instead talk about the stuff around it.
First! The agent. When I first started writing, before I realized I was really a reader at heart, I thought the entire authorship process went something like this.
- Finish book. (Edit book. Rewrite book. Edit book again. More book…)
- Get agent. Any agent.
Those question marks? The agent was supposed to deal with those. Which, I suppose, they kinda do. Agents send your novel out to publishers, negotiate offers and contracts for you, keep track of your payments, and snag a percent of what you earn. Then some do idea bouncing, light critique, encouragement, coaching, angry emails, whathave you.
But not all agents are equal. And even the great ones might not be right for you.
Now, in an ideal world, you will have researched the agent you want representing you in depth, and you’ll know the work they’ve represented in the past, and have maybe even asked around about their reputation and personality. If you don’t know the name of the agent you’re emailing, you need to stop and take a deep breath. Why this agent? Is your book like any of the ones this agent had represented in the past? In the same genre? Why would your book fit splendidly into this agent’s portfolio?
This isn’t just good investment research for you; it’ll also help you sell yourself to the agent in your letter. A brief sentence or two personalizing your query for This Specific Agent will set your letter apart from the horde.
Second. Copy-paste smart. For the love of whatever you hold dear, please, please, please make sure all your font is the same size, color, and typeface. You don’t want to send an email where sections look like they’ve been copy-pasted together. Sure, yes, you will copy paste cover letters together – it’s a survival mechanism. But, before you click send, make sure it’s formatted the same. Then double check.
In the letter above, I noticed that the author bio section was a different, darker font color than the rest of the email. Which makes sense, I suppose, since it was lifted directly from the author website. Speaking of…
Third. Make it different. This one is a bit trickier. In her agent query, Jodie took the official book blurb and the author bio directly from her website, and then added an intro and closing sentence to make it a letter. This method works fine if you’re email blasting indiscriminately, but, well, it’ll be noticeable. I noticed.
Every section of the email should be targeted to convince the agent that you are a good writer – a good investment. This will mean an interesting, well-written book blurb, but it may also mean an author biography that showcases your writing skills. For example, travel experience will be great for memoirs or a travel book, but how does it work in your favor for a sci-fi book?
Here are a couple initial tweaks I’d make.
I added a name (I used a first name, which might be a risk, but also ups the personal touch), expanded the description of what the novel is about (growing up, etc. Though for all I know, it could be paranormal romance), and switched some of the facts around in the bio to focus more on the writing part of Jodie’s life. My next step would be to add a few lines about Why This Agent to round it off, tweak the language a bit more, add some more spit-shine and BAM, you got yourself a query.
Do you have a pitch or synopsis that you’d like to send to the sacrificial altar? Email it our way to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Pitch Article Submission” in the subject.
Looking for a few more pitch slaps?