Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The Agent Submission Process

I’ve been asked before how an agent, or more specifically, I guess, how I submit a client’s work? I believe I’ve done posts on this before, but it never hurts to repeat or to delve a little deeper into the process.

Once a work is ready to go, my first job is to draft my query letter. I usually have two letters. The first is a shorter query pitch that I e-mail out to editors telling them about both the author and the book. The query pitch is usually no more than three paragraphs and goes something like this:

Dear Francie:

I had an amazing time at lunch the other day and can’t stop thinking about that baklava. I might have to make a trip in just to get some more. I know you’re probably packing up for a summer trip, but I didn’t want you to miss the exciting opportunity to read this new book proposal by Linda Lou.

Currently published with Avon for her erotic romance, Linda is looking to break into paranormal romance with the delectable Call Me Flannery, the first in a series featuring shape-shifting military police officers. Think Suzanne Brockman meets Christine Feehan.

I’m so excited about this series. I truly believe it is Linda Lou’s best work yet. Please let me know if you’d prefer I send this via snail-mail or e-mail.

There’s a couple of reasons I e-mail this query. The first is that most editors hate phone calls. No one has the time to waste on the phone, and I’m horrible at a verbal pitch. It always sounds so canned to me. Therefore the e-mail pitch is sure to be stronger, it entices the editor into asking to see more immediately, and, more important, ensures that the editor actually wants to see what I’m sending rather than getting blindsided by it.

Once the editor requests the proposal, which they almost always do, I send a more detailed letter along with the proposal (full manuscript if it’s a previously unpublished author) as an e-mail attachment. On the rare instance I will snail-mail it, although when an editor asks me to send it snail-mail I’m usually convinced they weren’t that excited in the first place and mentally rule them off my list.

The second letter is more detailed and will go something like this:

Fabulous news! I can’t wait for you to read this.

Linda Lou has been called “a rising star,” by PW and “one of the genre’s best” by Romantic Times. And of course I know they’re right. This is the book that will allow Linda to transcend the erotic romance market and gather the fans she so deserves.

Carl Flannery is one of Zorban’s elite military police. Trained from the time he was a teen, Carl is a machine, fighting to protect his world and the people in it at all costs. That is, until he meets Sophie Jin, his high commander’s daughter and the woman he’s been ordered to protect. For the first time in a long career Carl’s emotions are involved, and Carl is concerned that unless he learns to control them he won’t be able to save the one woman he’s grown to love.

Linda plans to continue writing erotic romance for Avon, but hopes to establish a strong relationship with a new publisher for her paranormals.

Attached you will find this amazing proposal. The story gave me chills and I can’t wait to hear what you think.

Please note that I totally made these letters up off the top of my head (pitches too), so please be kind.

And then we wait. Hopefully not too long, but we do wait to hear back from editors. In my experience, if a book sells, we usually sell it in a matter of days or just a few weeks. If we start to go too long after that we usually don’t sell it. Of course that’s not always true either, because in this business nothing is always true.



ORION said...

What? It's not going to be available??
I was SOOO looking forward to reading about paranormal police...

Christie Craig said...

Great post, Jessica.


Anonymous said...

I'd love to see a pitch that you would do for a brand new author, as I am. :)

Anonymous said...

Those would just be first drafts, right?

You wouldn't really use the word "amazing" in correspondence with another adult, would you, or say "so excited"?

Loren DeShon said...

I tried to resist picking this nit, but couldn't because it is a pet peeve of mine.

"There’s a couple of reasons I e-mail this query."

How about "There ARE a couple of reasons...."

Also, I agree with greg, lines like "Fabulous news!" in the pitch make it sound like it comes from a late night TV infomercial.

But, if it works for you ..........

Anonymous said...

Okay, Linda Lou like, totally, stole my story idea!

Anonymous said...

For Greg and Allen,

Jessica's pitch/query reads a lot like the pitch/queries my own agent uses to submit my work. Its casual, conversational tone also matches the tone in letters I've seen from other agents submitting the work of other published authors. Honestly, I don't know what you guys were expecting -- maybe a formal business letter? That's not the norm in publishing, where agents and editors form close working relationships and all correspondence is usually signed, "All best," instead of the traditional, "Sincerely yours" found in the business world.

Shaun Carney said...

Agents and editors deal with each other all the time and, I'm sure, get to know each other. It's no surprise to me that the tone of the letter is informal. I rather like the idea too.


BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

Actually I might use the word "amazing" in a pitch. Why not? These are people I have close personal relationships with. They are friends as well as colleagues and when we have lunch together we talk business, we chat about relationships, we share publishing horror stories and yes, we have an amazing time. If you've ever met me you know I'm not someone who's caught up on formality and when sending a query to people who I've built relationships with I think it's important that my excitement shines through. Writing a boring query letter isn't the way to share my excitement with an editor. I want her to see what I really think about the project because enthusiasm is contagious and I want her to catch my bug.

As for the grammar test, thanks Allen. Luckily when sending queries I will spend sometimes hours drafting, writing and reworking until it's perfect. Unfortunately I don't have that luxury with blog posts. I'm a busy gal and have a lot to do in a day. Certainly focusing my time on my clients and their work is more important then a grammatical error.

Heidi Willis said...

It struck me as amusing that after I exhaust myself writing the perfect query and trying to excite an agent, the agent is then in the same position as I was, albeit with people she knows, who respect her.

Thanks for the insight into the next phase of the project. It seems like it is such a long road!

Anonymous said...


Thanks for a great post.

Personally, I think the more friendly your relationship with an editor the more likely they'll be to respond to your queries.

The editor-agent relationship is critical to the success of a writer's work. It's the writer's responsibility to select an agent that she can build a strong relationship with...and then trust her to do what she does best.

I always learn from your blog and this is no exception.


Ps Loving the pitches!

Anonymous said...

Allen, geez. Nice way to thank someone for their time.

ryan field said...

I thought this was very helpful. And it shows the differences between how writers pitch to agents and how agents pitch to editors.

John Arkwright said...

I dunno.

A fighting machine that falls in love with the woman he is supposed to protect.

Sounds like I've seen this book many times. Many times.

Ach! I missed a chance to polish the apple.

Anonymous said...

Sheesh guys! You all have been critiquing too many pitches. (I believe it is well over 100 now.) Get out of crit mode for a second. I've heard remaining in crit mode for too long can cause your brain to ooze out of your ear.


Eat a cupcake and enjoy life for a sec.

Anonymous said...

I just gotta hide behind a lamppost and ask this. How would you pitch a novel from a complete unknown with zero credits? IE: Joe XXX is a plumber in the daytime, but at night, on his old Underwood, paranormal policemen come to life--Etc.

Anonymous said...

If I were the agent, I'd probably say something along the lines of, "Joe X is a dynamic new talent with a brilliant voice. His suspense thriller [i]Even Kittens can Kill[/i] is going to break new ground in the genre. I can't tell you how excited I am that I have a chance to show you this riveting book."

Or something like that. LOL, basically, I'm sure as an agent, the sell on new talent, is that they are that, new but in your opinion, brilliant.

Loren DeShon said...

I've thanked Jessica before for her time and I'll thank her again at the end of this post.

I'll thank her right now (thanks!) for taking the time to respond to my post and explain to us that with her personal relationships with editors she can (dare I use the word?) gush with excitement in her pitch on behalf of her authors.

She's been giving us an invaluable course in pitch writing, and based on that I think that if my pitch to her went something like "Fabulous news! I'm so excited about the book I wrote that I'm giving you the amazing opportunity to read it and sign me as a client!" she would likely use it as a stellar example of what not to do.

That's what struck me, and because of my comment and her response we've all learned a little more.

As for the grammar thing - well, I will apologize about that (I apologize!) - and I certainly should have recognized that its just a blog post and kept my peeve to myself.

Before I forget - Jessica, thank you again for all your time and effort. I hope to be a Bookends client some day, and whether I become one or not your blog is a great help.

Anonymous said...

Re: "amazing, exciting, excited, fabulous" in an agent query.

The way I think of it, I'm not competing with an agent to see who the better writer is. I'm not expecting an agent to dazzle an editor (over can-be-messy baklava) with her wit, her way with words, that clever phrase the editor will go back to the office with, impressing all her coworkers, a big laugh for everyone late in the afternoon. No, just sell my book.

Be on such good terms, have such a thorough knowledge of each other's taste, that you can use friendspeak and be understood: "amazing, exciting, fabulous." If a friend tells me something or someone is "amazing" I trust her judgment. If I read "amazing" in, say, a personal ad, I'm highly doubtful – after all, I don't know that person, it's just a few words for a few dollars on a website. Now, how much are you spending to send a snailmail query? To (usually) a total stranger? Not much. And all those freebie emails...better pitch and hook, backflip and plie your way through it. (I have to throw in plie, because on the show "So You Think You Can Dance?," one of the judges asked: "Do you know what a plie is?" and the contestant said no. "Next.")

I just wonder though, in pitching literary fiction (upmarket women's fiction? that's a thread over at Absolute Write) – are there some other adjectives you'd have to use? Can lit fic be "amazing, exciting and fabulous?"

Wanda B. (let's hope I didn't screw up plie the way I did Stairway to Heaven/Ramble On, Zen/Dao the other day...)

Kate Douglas said...

LMAO....oh sheesh...after reading this I'm wondering how the HELL you ever pitched Wolf Tales! I mean, without getting the post, Jessica.