Saturday, July 18, 2009

How to Impress an Agent

by Jean Henry Mead

I was going through a stack of writer magazines, trying to decide whether to toss or keep them when I came across an article written by agent Lori Perkins. Her essay on impressing an agent made me laugh because the tips are so obvious. But I’ve been writing a long time and maybe there’s someone reading this article who doesn’t know the basics.

The most important thing you can do to impress an agent is to submit a cleanly typed and professional query. And never longer than one page because editors are very busy people who read a lot of queries. Sucessful agents receive a thousand or more a month. Make sure your letter of inquiry is on white paper—colored stationery doesn’t impress agents or grab the right kind of attention. Use 8.5 by 11 inch 20 bond paper. Absolutely nothing lighter.

Perkins said, “A dirty, tattered, handwritten letter” just doesn’t impress," no matter how good your manuscript happens to be. Because she represents a number of horror writers, Perkins receives pretty strange queries. Some have been written on black paper with white ink or with red ink to represent blood. She’s also received computer-generated stationery with vampire bats, skulls and coffin decorations, which wind up buried in the trash.

Use 10 or 12-point type and Times New Roman or Courier typefaces. The agent said not to type chapter heads as they appear in a book. And don’t try to bribe the agent with booze, Cuban cigars, coffee mugs or a box of Vidalia onions. (I’m not making this up.) Your work has to stand on its own merit. Never tell the agent that you have ten completed manuscripts in your closet that you’re willing to share. And wait six to eight weeks to call after you’ve submitted three chapters for her approval. Another NEVER is to tell the agent you’ve tried to sell the book yourself or have been rejected by every editor listed in Writer’s Market. Sounds silly but some would-be writers have done just that.

For heaven sake, don’t lie to impress the agent. There’s a well-told story about a writer who made up a quote from a bestselling novelist, which helped his agent sell the book for a six-figure book deal. When the bestseller heard about it and called The New York Times to repute the quote, the publisher dropped the writer before the ink was dry on his contract.

Perkins also said too much personal information call kill the deal. Wait until an agent-writer relationship has been established before you talk about your ex-spouse or that your car's been repossessed. If it doesn’t pertain to your book, don’t talk about it.

Don’t make assumptions about your book before you’ve even signed the contract. And don’t ask the agent about whether a movie deal will be in the works or how large an advance a publishing company is willing to pay. Start work on your next book and let the agent do her work. Give her your phone number, email address and enclose an S.A.S. E. (self-addressed envelope). And get those three chapters in the mail as soon as possible after they’ve been requested. If there’s some kind of delay, be sure to let the agent know.

Don’t forget to briefly list your literary credits. Perkins said, “Don’t be afraid to blow your own horn,” but do it as briefly as possible.


Ben Small said...

Good advice, Jean. An important read for unpublished authors, and some excellent reminders for those back on the market.

How much pith should one apply?

Jean Henry Mead said...

Ben, only enough pith to fit on one page and definitely your best writing. Grab the agent by the lapels and make him want more. :)