The Agent Submission Process, Part Deux

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jan 24 2008

Yesterday I gave you some idea of how an agent submits your work to publishers. A couple of you wondered what my pitch would be if the author were unpublished, since my pitch so heavily stressed Linda Lou’s previous publishing credits. A great question, so here we go. . . .

With a previously unpublished author I would go about my pitch in much the same way. I would start with a shorter pitch letter and follow up with my query. In many cases I will probably talk up the author with editors over lunches or while on the phone. Of course I do that with my published authors, too, especially if I know it’s an editor who is already a fan.

So here’s an example of a made-up pitch letter:

Dear Betty Sue:

Happy New Year! I hope you were able to take some time to relax over the holidays. I’m thrilled to start off 2008 with one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

I Heart Cookies by Marla Merryweather is one of the funniest books you’ll read this year. A cross between Jennifer Crusie and Rachel Gibson, I have no doubt this book will take the romance world by storm and very quickly find its way to bestseller lists.

No one ever thought Lil’ Sal Simpson would amount to much; her mother didn’t and neither did her grandmother. So when she announces to all of Groundwater Falls, KS, that she’s opening the Demonic Detective Agency, everyone simply rolls their eyes—that is, until the Demons moved to town. Trey Demon was nothing if not sexy, but sexy is never going to be enough when your baggage includes a 345-year-old grandmother, a centuries-old curse, and a black cloud hanging over your head. All Trey is looking for is peace, quiet, and a dry day, but that’s never going to happen as long as he’s living next door to Lil’ Sal. The gal who’s been hired to chase him, and his kind, out of town. But when Lil’ Sal does what everyone in Groundwater expects and botches things up, it’s up to Trey, the extremely delicious demon, to save her.

I know you’ll love this book and can’t wait to get it to you. Please let me know if you’d prefer I send it via snail-mail or e-mail.

When putting together my query and my query pitch, my first plan of action is to get the pitch together, and for that I always go to the source by asking the author to send me a one-paragraph pitch for her book. Sometimes the pitch is dead-on and I can use it verbatim. Other times it’s my starting-off point. By having a pitch in front of me I’m able to run with it and create something that’s truly spectacular. In this case I was trying to make up an entire story in one paragraph, which is why you’re getting something less than spectacular.

The beauty of getting the pitch from the author is that often her voice will shine through, and in many cases that’s what will grab an editor’s attention first, whether she knows it or not. No matter where the pitch comes from, however, I always try to make sure it highlights the key points of the story and shows the drama, the comedy, or the suspense. It will also show the editor what makes the book stand out from others.

Just like before, once the editor requests the book I send a more detailed letter along with the full manuscript. Usually I like to have a full manuscript for unpublished fiction. However, if the hook is really strong and the author’s three chapters shine, I will be more than happy to try to sell on proposal.

With unpublished authors the second letter isn’t much more detailed than the first, especially since we need to give them a lot of story material up front. But it might go like this:

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

Marla Merryweather’s debut novel, I Heart Cookies, is bound to become a romance favorite the minute it hits the shelves.

A southern girl with sass, Lil’ Sal has never led a charmed life, unless you consider her ability to “see” Demons charming. After failing as a waitress, rodeo clown, and even crossing guard, Lil’ Sal decides that it’s finally time to use what charms she has and opens the Demonic Detective Agency. This seems like a great idea, except that no demons live in Groundwater Falls—that is, until yesterday. Trey Demon and his family—a 345-year-old grandmother, Zombie sister, and blue nephew—have just moved in next door. Finally Groundwater Falls sees some use for Lil’ Sal and she has the opportunity to prove herself by chasing the Demons out of town.

I Heart Cookies is the first book in Marla’s proposed Demonic Detectives series and I can’t wait for you to read it.

Attached you will find this hilarious manuscript as well as synopses for the next two books.

So there we go. A really poor pitch for an unpublished author. Needless to say I don’t have hope for Marla’s book.

I had also mentioned yesterday that in many cases a book will sell in a matter of days or just a few weeks. And that’s true. Typically I find that a sale is made fairly quickly. However, we have many, many stories at BookEnds of books that had been nearly everywhere, and rejected nearly everywhere, when the call finally came. In fact, we have one book that had been sitting for two years when we got an offer. The key is enthusiasm. As long as we still believe in our authors, and still think there are viable places to submit to, we will continue sending that book around. And sometimes we will even consider pulling it to wait while the market changes. I have a few books now that I’m just waiting for their time to come. And when it does, trust me, I’ll pounce.


17 responses to “The Agent Submission Process, Part Deux”

  1. Avatar Diana says:

    Thanks for this explanation! I wondered how this process worked – and who wrote the actual description of the book.

  2. Avatar Jen Baum says:

    OMG — I just spit coffee when I read “Trey Demon”, lol.

    Thanks for the enlightenment and the entertainment!

  3. Avatar Anonymous says:

    It’s wonderful to hear these examples, yet the thing that strikes me as so unfair about this process is that you, as an agent, can say, “I know you’ll love this book and can’t wait to get it to you,” while we, as writers, can never say something like that, unless, perhaps we know an agent or editor really well. My former agent described my novel as a “gem” in her pitch letter, while it would sound foolish if I described it that way myself. A flaw in the system, perhaps, but I have done fairly well at pitching directly to editors using the accepted “professional approach.”

  4. <<...the thing that strikes me as so unfair about this process is that you, as an agent, can say, "I know you'll love this book and can't wait to get it to you," while we, as writers, can never say something like that, unless, perhaps we know an agent or editor really well.>>

    Ah, but Anonymous, it’s one thing to say “I know you’ll love this” when talking about your own work, and a very different creature altogether to say it about someone else’s work. Saying it about your own work can come off as presumptuous and vain. Saying it about someone else’s work is simply sharing your excitement.

    And we do have ways we can let our enthusiasm for our stories shine through, even if it would seem silly for us to come out and say it so bluntly. After all, we’re writers. Words are our tools, and we know (or should know!) how to use them to our advantage.

  5. << Needless to say I don’t have hope for Marla’s book>>

    I don’t know – something about that black cloud, blue nephew, and the Zombie sister really drew me in.

  6. Avatar Claudia says:

    Betty Sue!

  7. Needless to say I don’t have hope for Marla’s book.

    I don’t know. You normally couldn’t get me near a book with a romance between a demon and a demon hunter, but this is one I’d actually give a chance because it sounds so funny.

  8. Avatar Chessie says:

    I agree, that plot sounds like a hoot.

  9. Thank you for the post – for the pitch, can you use the pitch the author used in their query? I’d think if they did a good job with that one it might work well for you to incorporate in this pitch to editors (really, I’m just wondering how many pitches I’ll be writing on my novel 🙂

    I’m wondering, too, if you had a client whose book wasn’t picked up in a two year span, but they finished a second novel in that time – would you automatically take on the second novel or does it go through the regular query process? And how awkward would it be to pitch the second novel to editors who have rejected the first? (I also like to know the worst case scenario)

    anon 9:03,

    As Kris Fletcher pointed out, it’s very different to hear flattering things about an author’s work from a third party than it is to hear it from the author. I don’t think it’s a flaw in the system at all – I think it’s one of the numerous reasons it’s advantageous to have an agent.

  10. Avatar sufi says:

    Can you outline the process for a non-fiction book? How much do you emphasize platform and how big does that have to be?

  11. Avatar corine says:

    It’s actually heartwarming to realize that agents have to deal with the exact same query/rejection process as writers do.

  12. Interesting to see the process. Thanks for sharing this. Of course, I am a bit skeptical about a lady rodeo clown, but the rest of the story really sounded fun to me. Kind of wish it was a real book.

  13. Avatar AstonWest says:

    Like anonymous, I found it interesting that agents use the very things authors are told to never, never do (“I know you’ll love this book”)…

    Understandable that it’s a different situation, but still interesting nonetheless.

  14. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Please suggest this pitch idea to one of your authors, because I really want to read this book.

  15. I especially love the 345-year-old grandmother – except I would make her 333 years old – that way when someone asks her how old she is, she answers “3-3-3” and the questioner ponders a moment, assumes she might have a touch of senile dementia (or is that, senile demontia?), then figure she’s saying 3+3+3=9, therefore she’s 90 years old!

    Also there is that old “666” as sign of the devil stuff – the townfolk could start whispering that “333 is half the sign of the devil, so what if she meets up with another 333’er?”

    A little late night (early morning) embroidery –

    Wanda B.

  16. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for sharing all this with us. I’m curious, though – what’s more common for a sale – a few days or a few weeks?

  17. That belief is so important. What I tell my fellow writers (and remind myself) when a rejection comes in is that finding the right agent or publisher is like finding the manuscript’s soul mate. It doesn’t always happen the first time out. Sometimes, you have to date around for awhile.