Attracting An Agent's Interest
Part One in a Series of Three Special Articles
by Deidre Knight
The Knight Agency
"While I can't give you a magic formula, I can certainly give you some pointers on increasing your odds of success."
Question: I've submitted my manuscript to several agents, and each time I've received a form rejection. How can I attract genuine interest from — and hopefully obtain — an agent?
Answer: Most agents receive dozens of query letters daily, and of those letters, the agent may only request a few manuscripts. Despite being so selective with queries, agents still receive piles of manuscript submissions weekly. Of those submissions, agents reject 98 to 99% of what they see. Given such stark statistics, authors often wonder how they can beat the odds and attract the interest of an agent. While I can't give you a magic formula, I can certainly give you some pointers on increasing your odds of success.
First, make sure you're submitting your best work. Edit, edit and reedit your material. If possible, obtain professional feedback at writers conferences or from published author friends. Notice I said "published" authors–I've seen writers go astray by listening to well-meaning friends who aren't really writers. I'm not suggesting that there aren't plenty of very talented writers still striving to find their way into print, but rather if you're going to take their suggestions, make sure they really do know what they're talking about.
"Don't call the agent to pitch the project, as opposed to sending a query."
Next on my advice list is to follow industry protocol in approaching agents. Send a solid, one page query letter that succinctly describes your novel or proposal, and that also tells the agent your qualifications. For instance, if you've already published a novel or have won a contest, then be sure to mention that in your query letter. This query should be sent by snail mail, or if you know the agent is receptive to e-mail queries, then in the body of the e-mail. But don't send your letter as an attachment, as that poses too great a risk of viruses for the agent. And here's another "don't" in my opinion–don't give the agent your website address and ask them to visit in order to get an idea of your work. Agents are overworked and drowning in submissions, and will rarely take the time to visit a website. And, of course be sure to include a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope with your snail mail query letter, otherwise you will wonder why the agent hasn't replied.
I also strongly recommend that you avoid some of the following mistakes. Don't call the agent to pitch the project, as opposed to sending a query. Agents stay swamped with work, so phone calls from potential clients are usually something of a turnoff. Besides, agents want to see the query letter to get a first impression of that writer's ability to craft a sentence, and the phone call doesn't accomplish that. Another taboo is calling to follow up on the submission too frequently. I don't mind a quick follow-up phone call after an appropriate amount of time (six weeks), but when a writer begins calling two weeks after submitting their material, and continues to call weekly, that is a real red flag for me. The same goes for following up too soon and too frequently via e-mail. If you want to make sure the material has arrived at the agency, I suggest including a return post card to verify that the manuscript has been received.
"Most importantly, remember that it isn't the agent's job to sell you on themselves until they offer representation."
Other mistakes are easy to avoid. Send a nicely printed copy, not one that's barely legible because of a used up printer cartridge. Make sure the manuscript is double-spaced and single-sided. Include a Self Addressed Stamped Envelope with the manuscript, as well as the query. And make sure your contact information is current. The contact number and e-mail should be on both the manuscript and the cover letter. I also recommend sending a copy of the original query letter with the manuscript. Many times I've received a submission with a cover letter that simply states, "As discussed…" Without the initial query letter, I may not remember which project I have in hand.
Most importantly, remember that it isn't the agent's job to sell you on themselves until they offer representation. An agent doesn't have time to tell you how they'd uniquely promote your work should they take on the project until they know they want to represent the manuscript. But once the agent is ready to work with you, then you can comfortably ask for recent sales info, client referrals, and that agent's marketing ideas for your particular project.
About Deidre Knight Deidre Knight is the owner of The Knight Agency. In just four years, the aency has built a solid client list, selling nearly 100 books to major publishing houses in a broad range of categories, including personal finance, business, music, popular culture, African American history, self-help, religion, health, parenting, romance and literary fiction. Ms. Knight is among agents included in the special online agency directory for Authorlink-listed writers.