Submitting to an agent – what not to say
If you’ve reached the point where you think you’d like to find an agent or publisher for your writing, there’s plenty of advice online. My own book – Please find attached – is rammed to the rafters with tips on how to attract attention, write a query letter, synopsis, bio and generally convince the gatekeeper that you’re good enough to be let in.
But what about the things you should really keep to yourself? There is such a thing as Too Much Information. The ‘good ideas’ that risk ruining everything. And if that happens, here’s some advice on dealing with rejection. So what do agents and publishers insist are their biggest turn-offs. How can you turn ‘maybe’ into ‘no’?
Don’t send your cover design. Even if you paid a lot of money for it and you know that it’s perfect. Writers get very little, if any, say on the cover design for their books at big publishing houses. Agents less so. Nobody needs it. Never send it.
Don’t try to stand out by writing the query letter in the voice of one of your characters. Professional is your touchstone. Quirky lives elsewhere.
When asked for a bio, don’t be tempted to attach a CV or beef up a few ideas into a puff piece. The one or two short lines in your query letter will be enough.
If you absolutely must include your publishing history, avoid mention of anything that might peg you as an amateur. This usually means flash fiction contests or other competitions run by unpublished authors, disreputable poetry contests or off-the-grid Who’s Who listings. Keep quiet about self-published books – unless you can prove you sold 20,000 copies. Sold, not gave away free.
When you talk about how your work might sit well with other writers, you’re doing it to show you’ve thought about marketing. It helps the agent or publisher understand how you see yourself fitting in. Don’t go too far with this. Never compare yourself directly with other great writers. You’re looking to prove you know how to ‘sit alongside’, not equal or better. Absolutely never say you’re the new anyone, and avoid claiming that your book is ‘just like’ an existing title. Who wants to read the same book twice?
On the subject of knowing your market, don’t claim your novel will appeal to everyone. It won’t. You need to prove you understand the market. A teenage boy and a retired businesswoman are unlikely to read the same books. Claiming wide appeal suggests you have no market in mind.
You might think your book would make a great movie. Hold that thought. And never talk about who you would cast in what role.
Rhetorical questions sound cheesy. Avoid them in your hook and query letter. Stick to the facts of your story and avoid clichés. Too much gameshow host smarm and you undo all the good.
Avoid insincere flattery. ‘I would be honoured if you could spare the time …’ Your query letter functions like a job application. Would you apply for work like this?
Don’t tell the agent or publisher that this is the first book you ever wrote. Inexperience is no turn-on. Equally nobody cares if you’ve been writing since you got into long trousers. ‘Writing is my dream‘ suggests you could well be a nightmare to represent. There’s little value in explaining how your friends, parents or probation officer loves the book – unless the have influential columns in the national press … or notoriety. The only opinion that matters is that of the agent or publisher reading your work.
And never ever slate other writers. It’s a guaranteed rejection.
Finally, it may be good to talk, but don’t for one minute think that calling an agent to pitch is going to end well. You’re a writer. Write!
There are plenty of books that teach you how to write – or write better. But then what? ‘Please find attached‘ is a guide for writers who are ready to submit their work to agents or publishers. It explains the role of an agent and the publishing process. It helps writers decide if self-publishing might work better. Along the way, there’s solid advice on how to write a killer query letter, tackle a synopsis that sells, and how to present your work at its best. Practical tips cover formatting and the etiquette of approaching an agent or publisher. It’s invaluable help that other guides tend to gloss over.
A must have for any writer ready to take the next step.