Thursday, August 13, 2015

What NOT to Say to a Literary Agent (or Editor)

There are many dos and don’ts in pitching an editor or an agent. Some are obvious—like don't pitch a book to an agent in the bathroom, or don't tell them your mother loved it. But some of these might not be so obvious, or maybe you hadn’t thought about it from the agent’s/editor’s perspective before.

Either way, I want you to have the tools to succeed, so here is some advice I’ve heard directly from agents/editors. This article is geared toward nonfiction writers.

Side note: When we talk about editors here we are referring to acquisition editors in a publishing house, not freelance editors.

The DON’Ts:

Don’t say your book is the next best seller.

Don’t be informal. Address the agent by name in your query (or in person). This means DO NOT send a mass email to a hundred agents and editors, not even three.  Each letter must be for the sole intended recipient.

Don’t pitch a book in a genre/subject matter the agent doesn’t accept.

Don't say, “My book is for everyone.” That’s just not possible. No book is for everyone. Think about the audience that would actually want to read your book. Feel free to include that in your query – such as my book is for teenage boys in small towns.  

Don't ask an agent/editor to sign a NDA. It doesn’t benefit them to steal your idea. What are they going to do with it? They need the writers so they can sell the story. And agents will not go through extra hoops to read your work. They have hundreds, even thousands, of submissions to look through.

Don't start your query with a question. This has become too commonplace and too cutesy. Agents just want to get right into the meat of your work, not futz around with authors who are trying to be clever.

Don't say how many books you’ve self-published. Unless you’ve SOLD over 5k for one book, the number of books you’ve published before does not matter to an agent. 

*97% of self-published books sell less than 100 copies.

Don't say your book is completely original and unlike anything else. No one's book is 100% unlike anything else. Even Shakespeare’s works were variations of similar stories told time and time again before.

Don't say you are the next "so and so". Let the agent decide how to place your book when selling to an editor.

Don't say you can get X celebrity endorsements which are clearly out of reach. That is a wish list. If you can truly get an endorsement from a celeb or someone important in your field/genre, state enough to show how this claim is actually obtainable.

The DO’s:

Do know your platform. In nonfiction you must not only sell your subject matter, but also why you are an expert in this field—why you are the person to represent this book. You must show your expertise, your current platform (website, social media, speaking gigs, and more).

Do understand the guidelines and expectations required in proposals. Agents do not expect you to have the entire book written (unless it’s a memoir, in which case it is treated like fiction). For nonfiction you can include a beginning sample of your writing, but the content and goals of the work (and your platform) are the most important aspects. Often times, publishing companies will bring in a ghostwriter.

Do have a professional look over your proposal before pitching.

Do list the (correct) genre, and list only one. Genre, in the most basic explanation means where on a bookstore shelf would this book belong? If you aren't sure—go to a Barnes and Noble, look at the shelves and the labels for each, and figure out where you'd put your book. 

Do follow the agent’s guidelines. Each agent has a different set of expectations for queries, so be sure to read their requirements before submitting. Don’t start on the wrong foot by pitching them a book they would never read, or sending items they did not request.

KATIE McCOACH is a developmental editor working with authors of all levels. Her motto is, “Let’s work together to create your best story!” In the past, she worked at a publishing house and apprenticed at a literary agency, where she evaluated agent queries. Her specialties are young adult, new adult, fantasy, romance, and Christian fiction. She is a member of the Editorial Freelancers Association and Romance Writers of America. She is a participating editor in Pitch to Publication, and recently judged the 2015 Golden Hearts Awards and the 2014 Stiletto Contest. Katie is also a writer, with essays published in TrainWrite and Kalliope, and is currently working on a contemporary romance novel. She is based in Los Angeles.

Visit her blog for more advice for writers, or connect with her on Twitter: @KatieMcCoach

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