Those Darned Agents – Miriam Altshuler, Part 1

by Bill Henderson

(I came away from a chat with Miriam with so much to say that I’m going to break this post up. What follows is Part 1 of 2 parts.)

Let’s suppose you have an unpublished manuscript, a novel, and you want to break into print. An agent is your next stop. But you’ve heard it’s almost impossible to get a reputable agent’s attention. What to do?

Independent agent Miriam Altshuler was kind enough to detail some of her own do’s and don’t for the writer who wants to submit a novel to her agency.

Here are a few tips from Miriam to ensure your submission will be taken seriously:

First, write a great 1-page cover letter. It should introduce you, introduce the book, and show you understand the market for it.

As an independent, Miriam finds it hard to handle the 300 to 500 queries per week she gets these days. “I could spend my week going through queries alone, but I have clients I have to work for. Obviously, the great letters will stand out.”

That means queries that show a clear grasp of their story, as well as some understanding of the agent’s needs, will get attention.

“Authors should be able to pitch their stories succinctly, in a paragraph or less. If they can’t, chances are the book is going to meander.”

This is only reality, folks: as an author, part of your job (not the whole job, obviously) is to give an agent what she needs to pitch the book to a publisher. Try to imagine her pitch—as well as how the publisher will pitch the book to the public.

Understand which publishing niche or category your story will occupy. If you think it “resists stereotyping,” think again. Any publisher will need to list your book in their catalogue. Booksellers will need to know whether to shelve it in mystery, romance, sci fi, thriller, etc. Help them out. Know your genre. If it’s none of the above, then categorize it as mainstream, or commercial literary.

Miriam’s Interview continues…
Those Darned Agents – Miriam Altshuler, Part 2

Also of interest…
Those Darned Agents – Why So Snarky? Part 1
Those Darned Agents – Why So Snarky? Part 2

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 peggy payne November 26, 2008 at 4:52 pm

Good job on this series, Bill.

2 Linda Gillespie July 17, 2010 at 9:22 pm

These comments about Miriam Altshuler were exactly what I needed to fine-tune my query-cover letter.

Thanks so much! Linda G.

3 Bill Henderson July 18, 2010 at 4:46 pm

Glad to help, Linda. Miriam’s a great agent, gracious, yet absolutely no nonsense. Any advice from her you can take straight to the bank.

And Peggy – a belated, MUCH belated thank you.

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