What I Look for in a Resume

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Sep 04 2019

I have educated writers for years on the finer points of a query letter, often comparing it to a resume. Just lately though, I’ve come to see how little people seem to know about resumes.

Of the 10-20 resumes I receive each month, I can honestly say I only open about 2-3. Not that different from my query percentages. I’m amazed at how little effort so many put into the job search, or the lack of understanding they have about what it takes to grab a potential employers attention.

The Cover Letter

Just as a query letter is the introduction to the author’s work, the cover letter introduces a job candidate and their work. I don’t open every resume I receive, only those with a letter enticing enough to want me to see more.

A cover letter is the email you write and send your resume in. It’s far more than just a few sentences, it’s what makes you and your resume stand out from the hundreds of others I receive each year.

The cover letter is, frankly, the most important piece of the resume package and often the most overlooked.

Making Yourself Memorable

The key to a successful job search is to point out those things that make you special and market yourself to what a particular agency wants.

The agents of BookEnds didn’t get here because they blindly sent me a resume with a few sentences telling me they wanted a job. Every single one of them convinced me they had something I didn’t already have. They sold themselves.

Amanda showed me that she was representing a hole on the BookEnds list–literary fiction and narrative nonfiction and Tracy was our first children’s book agent–bringing an entirely new market to BookEnds. Kim convinced me I needed a bigger staff even when I didn’t know I did and James just never left until there was a hole to fill.

Someday I’ll share the stories of how each agent brought their separate talents to me.

If you’re applying at BookEnds, you need to show me what you provide that I need. I also need to know that you understand what BookEnds is and does.

Know the Job

And that’s simply the biggest resume red flag. The cover letter that shows a clear lack of understanding of BookEnds and what we do is an instant rejection.

While an editor from a publishing house can make a great agent, it’s not necessarily because she has great editorial skills. It’s usually because she understands publishing and everything that goes with it.

The number one reason I reject based on cover letter alone is because the job seeker isn’t looking to work with an agency, but is instead looking for a job as an editor (something we don’t necessarily have on staff) or something else completely unrelated to publishing.

Another easy rejection is the cover letter and resume that looks like everyone else. Show me you’re special. I want to know what made you query BookEnds. Tell me about the books you’re reading and loving and show me what experience do you have that everyone else doesn’t. These are the things that make me want to see more. Use them.

And good luck!

4 responses to “What I Look for in a Resume”

  1. Avatar Carol Doeringer says:

    Jessica, your comment about the percent of queries you open caught my eye. Can you share the clues that tell you not to open a query? I’d love to see a blog post about that.

    • Avatar AJ Blythe says:

      Carol, I think Jessica means the percent of manuscript pages she looks at after reading the query, not the percentage of queries she reads (because she would read the cover letter and decide from that whether or not to open the resume).

  2. Avatar Emma Waverly says:

    I’d love to know what credentials or other background you look for in a writer’s query. Are things such as professional affiliations, etc… a deciding factor, previously published vs unpublished, etc…

  3. Avatar Jane Ripley says:

    That’s a really good idea. I hope to read that one.