Thursday, September 21, 2006

Finding An Agent, Part III

This is the third in a series of posts about how to find an agent.

As before, I am going to start by listing the steps I gave during the first post:

1) Know Your Manuscript
2) Identify Potential Agents
3) Beware of Scammers
4) Stay Aware of Industry Trends/News
5) Refine Your Pitch
6) Develop (and Then Refine) Your Query Letter
7) Maybe The Problem Is Something Else
8) Start Thinking About That Contract

We left off yesterday talking about the need to network. This is a part of Step #4: Stay aware of industry trends and news.

Agents who are looking for clients frequently make appearances at conferences where they are invited to talk about the type of manuscripts they are seeking. Even if you don't attend, by networking with other writers (either in person or online), you can frequently learn what happened at conferences just by staying in the loop with fellow writers. It's a great way to learn which agents are actively soliciting clients and what they're looking for.

Make sure your writer friends know that you are actively searching for an agent so that they will think of you when listening to agents talking.

On the first day of this series, I suggested writing a fifty-word summary of your novel. This is an important step for every writer because that summary becomes the heart of your pitch, your presentation of your product.

Don't sweat whether your pitch is forty-eight or fifty-four words. The important thing is that you must be able to describe your novel in two or three quick sentences. Obviously, you cannot describe every event in two or three sentences. Focus on the protagonist's goals, motivations and conflict--especially the conflict.

Conflict is the basis for any novel. I read a forty-five word pitch today that told me nothing about the story beyond the protagonist's name. It used vague words like "turmoil," "change," and "emotional," but didn't give me a clue about the plot.

When you're pitching, make sure you give the following bits of information:

1) Genre
2) Word count
3) That you have a completed manuscript (or very near to completion).
4) Essential conflict of your story, and how and why the protagonist responds as s/he does

If you've succeed in piquing the agent's interest, s/he is likely to ask how the story ends.

Again, be sure you are prepared to answer questions about the protagonist's goals and motivations. I have a friend who did a great pitch at a conference. The agent began asking questions about the protagonist's "internal conflicts." My friend wasn't expecting it, and she froze. Know what motivates your protagonist.

You can also use your pitch as the basis of your query letter. It is NOT necessary that you give a blow-by-blow summary of the novel in your query. That's what the synopsis is for.

Your query letter should be a one-page letter giving your genre, your word count, your pitch and a short description of your qualifications as a writer.

Rather than trying to do an exhaustive explanation of the query letter, I'm going to refer you to two blogs:
Rachel Vater ( and
Miss Snark (
Both agents have recently done numerous posts on what constitutes a good query letter.

Tomorrow we'll talk about mailing your query and what to do with the feedback you get.


lainey bancroft said...

Hi Maya,
I'm just embarking on THE BIG SEARCH, so I wanted to shout out a huge thanks. This info couldn't have been more timely for me. Some great pointers and terrific links.

2 weeks ago I might have said hmm...chick-lit, er woman's-lit... er romance???
IT IS romantic comedy.
Here's the quick pitch:
A cynical commitment-phobe collides with a rich recluse willing to do anything for her. He thinks fate brought them together. She discovers he could be destined to be a part of her life--whether she wants it or not.
Thanks again, and I'll be back!

Maya said...

Hi, Lainey: Congratulations on a good start. I'd do a couple of things:

1) Personalize it. Give your hero and heroine's name.
2) Get way more specific about the plot. You've got a conflict, but you've given no clue as to motivations. "Fate brought them together" is weak and a bit of a cliche. You absolutely want to avoid cliches in your pitch or your query.