by Leslie Lynch
I’ve been told that as an author I *must* develop a web presence, and that two effective ways are via Facebook and Twitter. You are probably light years ahead of me here. But I dragged myself (and my laptop) out of my cave and joined Twitter.
Since I’m most curious about agents whom I’ve targeted, I have followed several of them – and discovered that several do a “10 queries in10 tweets” feature on occasion. It’s an anonymous trip through their slush pile, from the agent’s point of view, and is a real eye-opener. Hopefully, you have learned how to write a good query letter, because most of the following can be avoided by doing so, but it is a surprise to me when I see this feedback. Perhaps we need to be reminded.
Their rejections fall into two main categories. First is the general structure of the query letter. I have learned:
1. Do your research. Go to the agent’s website. Learn how to spell his/her name. Learn whether the agent is a him or a her. Address the person accordingly.
2. Do not include a long list of agents in the “To”line of your email. They take a dim viewof the practice. Think spam. They do.
3. Back to research. Make sure the agent reps the genre you are pitching.
4. Describe the project. Do what you do well: write a clear, concise description of your book. Do not tell the agent that everyone will absolutely love your manuscript. Do not ramble.
5. Do not send sample pages unless the instructions on the website tell you to do so. Then,follow the directions and do not send attachments, unless specifically directed.
6. Remember this is a business. Pitch your story or project. Do not tell the agent about you except as information that directly impacts your credibility as an author selling this project.
The second area is craft. These rejections give me a much clearer picture of what an agent/editor looks for when they read.
1. Lack of motivations for the characters. This is a biggie. Agents look for depth and originality. Give it to them, and they’ll keep reading.
2. “Didn’t connect” with the characters. This is similar to #1, but deserves a little extra attention. A couple of techniques help. First, make sure your characters have several ‘rooting elements’ – snippets that demonstrate that they are likeable no matter how down and out or rough around the edges they are. Second, find a way to show a character’s core belief; toss them a conflict, then show how they react.
3. Telling. In fiction, the best way to get the story across is through a balance of action, dialogue, and internal thoughts. Show rather than tell.
4. Amateurish writing.
5. Poor grammar, misspellings. If you know this is a weakness, run your work by someone who’s better at it – and remember, spell check doesn’t catch misused but properly spelled words!
Words of etiquette: never pitch via Twitter, unless it’s an event set up for it. (Good luck, if that happens! Your book in 140 characters? There’s a challenge!) Last but not least: When you get rejected, do not, NOT, NOT shoot off a scathing response. I am amazed at the number of tweets about nasty-grams agents have found in their email. Make sure that all the work you’ve done in writing an awesome book or article isn’t for naught. Either move on, or send a quick, polite note thanking the person for their time.
I hope this foray into the life of an agent is as helpful l to you as it has been for me. I’m hooked. And it’s fun to see how excited an agent is when they request a full. Have you gleaned specific and useful information from Twitter or other networking platforms? Please share!
Leslie Lynch gives voice to characters who struggle to find healing for their brokenness – and discover unconventional solutions to life’s unexpected twists. She is an occasional contributor to the Archdiocese of Indianapolis’s weekly paper, The Criterion. She can be found at www.leslielynch.com and is on facebook and Twitter.