At Storymakers 2010, Agent Laura Rennert, a senior agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, shared an agent’s eye view of the process. I’m happy to report that she is both friendly and engaging as a speaker.
The question she asks of every query and pitch session is: “who, what, where, and why should I care.”
The WHO is your protagonist, and yes you should include the name. WHAT is your main conflict. WHERE is the setting, which can be geographical, temporal or both. And WHY SHOULD I CARE is that little detail that makes your story different from any other like it.
“Keep the query short,” she cautions. And be careful not to overhype, by making all sorts of glowing statements about your work. A simple exercise you can use to revamp your query:
1. Write down the title, category, setting, protagonist, and central problem.
2. Write down one vivid detail that makes any of the above elements different.
3. In your story, identify credibility, inherent conflict, originality, real emotional power, and voice. (By the way, original voice is the biggest factor for what new clients she takes on)
4. Come up with 3 “big words” relating to your story. (love, journey, destiny)
5. Set a timer for 5 minutes and crank out a query using the information you wrote down. Be sure to use one of the “big words” in the last sentence.
For your pitch, use credentials or anything that makes YOU the perfect author for this book. (Give a glimpse of the story behind the story) For instance, as a farmer who lives on the reservation, I’ve got a good handle on what that is like for my characters.
Another thing she looks for is your platform. Do you have an online presence? One of her clients, Maggie Stiefvater of the NYT bestseller SHIVER, had a great website which suddenly got loads of hits from a publisher as they were deciding whether or not to buy the book. Getting yourself “out there” is a good thing, my friends.
Be very cautious of exclusives. She suggests that you should only consider doing exclusives that are 2-3 weeks tops. An easy and polite way to avoid the exclusive dilemma is to send out your work to more than one agent/publisher at a time. Then you can politely say, “I’m sorry, but I’ve already sent it out to another person for consideration.” She says this response is not offensive.
How to get a QUICK REJECTION:
1. Have multiple email addresses in the “To” line on the email. They know you send it to several places, but having it shoved in their face without even a customized email is irritating.
2. Send the wrong agent the wrong category. If you write Horror, and send it to an agent that only works with YA, you’ve just wasted a stamp and both of your time.
3. Hyperbolic praise. (My story is so cool that Stephen King will weep when he reads it)
4. Not being able to situate a book in the market. Be squarely in a category for your first novel so that agents don’t run at your declaration that it is a mainstream, horror, fantasy, YA book with a chick-lit twist. Um, what?
5. Careless errors, such as typos and grammatical errors.
6. Not following instructions. Every agency/publisher has submission requirements. Find them. Read them. Follow them.
You can learn more about Laura and her agency at http://www.andreabrownlit.com/agents.php , and you can see some of her work at http://www.laurajoyrennert.com/ .
I think the biggest thing I learned from her was that agents “are just people who really love books.” If you have a good tale to tell, then she wants to read it. It was a pleasure to meet her, and I hope her advice helps you as much as it did me.