Marina Sergeyeva

A medley of art, medicine, and understanding...

Writer's tips

Going for the gold (Big Publishers)

10/15/11--- Part I: Dealing with agents

The lecture I attended today inspired me to recap some beginning author tips regarding a writer's etiquette toward agents. Some of this may be common sense, but as the tips originate from the mind that's actually judging, I thought that I'd better compile and analyse the list of these wise opinions from someone who's on the other side of the business.

First, your wisest action before submitting work to whomever is reading the specific guidelines. READ EVERYTHING. (You've heard this about contracts.) Read and understand what is communicated to you since they wrote it for your benefit. You can go as far as skimming examples, if available.

Also, if you studied the company's site, you should get a feeling of its legitimacy. Maybe other sources will serve for that as well. A good, rough criteria for your judgement is if anyone makes you PAY UPFRONT, it's not for you. Clean companies expect royalties. That's the going rate for agents (about 15% of your check.) This is that kind of business--nothing more. (Don't give away your food supply to swindlers!) AAR members abide by ethics, but some great companies are not members.

Finally, approach the right agent: both work ethic and work style. By work ethic, I mean, he or she may be a Big Fish, but is the agent willing to do the job or are you paying for doing the job yourself? Are you being represented to your benefit? By style, I'm implying a proper fit of the agent's portfolio to your book's style. If the agent sees the potential of a marketable book but is not passionate or not a fan of your genre, better wait for someone who is. Only then will your book receive the deserved attention.

Now, onto a good query letter... [1-page cover sheet in three paragraphs: hook for book, mini-synopsis, writer's credentials for a book business.]

  1. Address the editor/agent by name. Find it! Be personal. Don't get it wrong. This sets the tone for your short relationship during the time the person gives you the chance. They get swamped with submissions, and if you carefully researched, you show agents your motivation and competence (extrapolating on those abilities to promotional skills!) You don't want the impression that you're desperate and sending the same letter to everyone and anyone who'd accept. Otherwise, you are wasting their time!

  2. Know your book. Can you describe it?... What is the genre that dominates your work? What's the word count? Why did you write that particular story and in that manner? The more you know about your work, the easier it is to describe it. Your good attitude about your creation will translate into the book?s overall aura because you should find at least a few others who'd share your enthusiasm for that book.

  3. Don't talk too much or steer from the standard. Just like with a conversation; no one listens if you don't follow the rules. Go for complete advice from AgentQuery.

  4. . . .Yet, give the full story in the mini-synopsis. Even the end. Agents don't want to be surprised or to spend time searching for info in you novel. They need info to judge if the consumer/publisher will be interested in the plot. Or will the end completely ruin your book. If they sense a successful book, agents will move to the next page: your full synopsis. [Hint: query letter synopsis]

  5. Mention in your credentials plans to keep writing. To make money, this business demands more than a one-hit-wonder, although few might make exceptions or differ in opinion for something really exceptional. (Gone with the Wind proved to be a big success.) But it's a gamble if you have no other ideas.

  6. Don't insult, write a contract, or give (in the query) a time limit. Obvious! Pretend to be the reader; don't say something to make you retract from considering your work.

  7. Don't give up. Send many queries. Keep sending them with purpose, and don't expect the initial step to be an easy, fast journey. If you do, RUN away!

Get a rough idea.

For more Do's and Don't's. and here under General Advise

More advise from the pros.

More good advice and do?s, though for an article.

For another take on this and more links. (The sample letter there is not the best and seems outdated. It's best not to place your address front-line in an email as some agents find it enoying.)

For help with revising YOUR letter. (Quite tough judgement!)

My advice: skim those links. The consistent advice everyone stresses is important for new authors.

      The rest will be in part II, but the agent and founder, Holly McClure, I mentioned in the beginning can be found on