Those Darned Agents – Miriam Altshuler, Part 2

Might as well face it: to get your novel into print in today’s crowded publishing universe, half the battle will be getting an agent’s attention.

Veteran agent Miriam Altshuler observes that, at a time when publishing opportunities are fewer and competition stronger, more queries are hitting her office than ever.

Unfortunately, there’s not an equal increase in quality:

“Of say 300 queries I receive in a week, over half of them will not be anything I would handle. Do yourself and me a favor by researching which categories I will consider and which I won’t.”

As writer, my own point of view on this point is purely strategic: just do a few simple things and you’ll automatically set your submission apart from over 50% of the others. And that’s before anything else is considered!

Submit to the agents who handle your category, forget the rest. How hard can that be?

Let’s make it even easier: visit the AAR website – that’s the Association of Authors’ Representatives, Inc. Click on “search for an agent,” chose your category in the drop down menu, and up will come a list of agents looking for that genre. Presto. You’re ahead of more than half the pack.

Increase your odds even further by submitting IN THE FORMAT the agent specifies (incredibly, according to Miriam, many don’t):

“Some agents are all electronic, others ask for printed material. Personally, I don’t like a long synopsis attached. Some agents do. Find out how your target agent operates before you submit.”

Miriam also responds favorably if the letter is personalized in some way. For example, having found some appropriate agents on the AAR site, you’re in a position to address each of them by name. Never use “Dear Agent.”

“Open, say, with a sentence like, ‘I’m writing to you because I know you represent [a favorite author]…’” It many not sound like much, but every little bit of positioning adds up to your advantqge. “Just to write a non-generic letter pretty much ensures I’m going to pay attention to it.” Easy!

Disclaimer: none of these things guarantee Miriam’s or any other agent’s interest. Only the story itself, as you describe it, can do that. The good news is, you will hear back fairly quickly if she’s interested. But you may not hear back at all—that’s the bad news. But don’t let it get you down. It’s not personal contempt, just the reality of a busy office.

“Some agents respond to queries received, some only if they want to see more. I’ve gotten to the point where I can’t respond anymore and I say so on my website.

A few more don’ts:

“Don’t resend your letter. Maybe once, just to make sure it didn’t go astray, but beyond that it’s just a nuisance.”

“Don’t call the office. There is not enough time in the day to take queries on the phone.”

“Don’t ever send your full manuscript unless an agent asks for it.”

Miriam warns particularly about misspellings and other basic language boo-boos. When you submit a query letter to any agent, mistakes like these (my mother called them as “illiteracies”) are like egg spills on your tie. And don’t think an agent won’t react. Here’s Miriam:

“Please, no typos or bad grammar. It stops me cold. If you can’t write a decent cover letter, how am I going to believe you could write a book?” You can’t argue with that logic.

Finally, and perhaps most important, don’t approach an agent with a novel that’s not finished, really finished. Resist that first blush of excitement that comes from writing “The End.”

I’ve heard writers say they want to send half-finished work to an agent, hoping for helpful feedback. Maybe Thomas Wolfe could do this, ages ago, but publishing is a very different ball game now. If you’re lucky, a completed manuscript will get read–once. Even if you revise and resend, an agent is unlikely to give it a second chance. So if one read is all you’re going to get, better make the most out of it by being double-certain it’s ready.

Take a deep breath. Put it away and work on that all-important query letter. Give it a fresh read in 6 or 8 weeks. Put it out for comments to a few other readers– knowledgeable readers, who you trust to give you their critical take. Have another go at revising…

Then – only then – should you consider submitting.

Miriam’s Interview, Part 1…

Those Darned Agents – Miriam Altshuler, Part 1

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

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