Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pitching Agents I: The Right Way

A few weeks ago, I taught "Prep to Pitch" workshops at the Backspace All-Agent Seminar in NYC. As part of my preparation, I emailed every agent who was going to be at the conference, plus some others I know, and asked them what are the three things they do and don't want to hear from authors who are pitching their work. Here's a compendium of their responses, starting with:

What Agents Want to Hear
  1. A fabulous 2-3 sentence description of your book that entices me to read more! Being concise is a good thing—keep your description short, sweet, and clear.
  2. Optimism. A negative attitude doesn't serve anyone well.
  3. A willingness to work hard in partnership with the agent and future editor, and to do all that's necessary to sell and promote your work.
  4. The book’s genre, i.e. thriller, memoir, narrative nonfiction, a self-help parenting book. That helps me focus on the book immediately. If it’s nonfiction, what’s new that readers will want or need. If it’s fiction, what authors are similar; i.e., if you like Don Delillo, or Nora Roberts, you might like my book.
  5. That your idea is fresh and original, and what makes this book unique.
  6. Who is the market (useful for nonfiction), and why a large potential readership for your book exists.
  7. You know something about how publishing works and have realistic expectations.
  8. You are confident and a serious writer.
  9. If nonfiction, why are you the perfect person to write it? What are your credentials?
  10. That you already have a well-established platform (i.e., you're on the national lecture circuit, you have a weekly column, you’ve won a prestigious prestigious writing prize, you have a popular website, etc.), or have concrete plans THAT YOU HAVE BEGUN TO EXECUTE for creating/increasing your platform.
  11. About projects that you are already working on, not ones that you hope to someday work on.
  12. You’ve revised your manuscript or proposal—i.e., you’re not sending us a first draft.
  13. That, if you have a novel or memoir, it has already been THOROUGHLY workshopped and, perhaps, professionally edited AND proofread. We don't want to see your work until it's in absolutely the best, most finished shape. And that means no misspellings, punctuation errors, or awkward phrasing.
  14. That you’ve been published before in newspapers or magazines. If you’ve been published in book form, that your previous books have sold well (because authors tend to be held hostage to their track records); so know your sales figures.
  15. “I've been published successfully and am working on a new book and need an agent.”
  16. “I am writing the definitive work on the subject and have had access to rare sources that will make this a welcomed contribution to the marketplace.”
  17. “I'm looking for constructive feedback on my work.”
  18. “I've been reading in my genre for years, and I appreciate authors such as (fill in the blank). I feel that my writing would appeal to a similar audience.”
  19. What your book is like—comparisons/contrasts to published works/authors/movies, etc. can help me get a handle on where the book might "fit." However, these should be realistic and timely.
  20. That you have done your research, know what I represent and want me for your agent. “I’ve looked at your website, and think we would be a great match because …”
  21. How your book is similar to a book that I represented, or in the same vein. It shows me that you researched my tastes.

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