As a literary agent, I review a lot of book pitches. A lot. And, not to belabor the point, but a lot.
Despite the overwhelming volume of submissions demanding my attention, I try to give each one a fair shake. Sure, if the recipient field of your email has a hundred email addresses in it, it makes it easier for me to say, “No thanks.” But, while that may be the quickest way to disinterest me, it is far from the only way. And I suspect that what is true for me is true also for other agents.
So, how might a pitch for a book project lose me quickly? Here are four (of many) ways:
- Pitch me your fantasy or sci-if novel. How many times do I gotta say I don’t represent those genres? Not because they’re not great; they are. And not because you’re not great; you are. But because, as I try to make clear in the info on this website and in my occasional speaking and teaching engagements, I don’t represent those genres. There are other, far more expert persons like Steve in our agency, who know those genres inside and out.
- For your suspense or thriller novel, make your protagonist an FBI agent (or former agent) or CIA operative (or, again, former). Not because such stories aren’t great; they are. (In fact, our agency has clients who are doing this with great success.) And not because you can’t pull it off; maybe you can. But because I’ve seen this sooooo many times. Do something new, as Janet Evanovich did in making Stephanie Plum a bounty hunter. Maybe give me a city sewer worker or home organizer who solves crimes. Okay, maybe not. That would stretch the bounds of credulity unless the victim is found in a sewer or under a pile of Amazon boxes.
- In your nonfiction book concept, answer a question with your book that no one is asking. Such as the pitch I received asking, “Can sumo wrestlers play American football?” Or “what non-Christians need to know about Jesus.” Or “what I did on my summer vacation.” Often as writers we feel a need to say something that no one (or nearly no one) feels a need to hear or to know.
- In fiction or nonfiction, use profanity. No, seriously. You’d be surprised. Yes, I know there’s a strain of evangelicalism that embraces profanity because it’s authentic, real, and expressive. I don’t care. As an agent, I get to choose what I represent (as consumers get to choose what they buy and read and editors and publishers get to choose what they accept and publish).
Do I sound curmudgeonly? It’s okay to answer yes. I can take it (sniff). Maybe I can turn my little tantrum into something a bit more constructive. Let’s see, let’s see. Try these tips, which are probably for any agent or editor: (1) Don’t pitch what I don’t represent. (2) Do something fresh. (3) Be sure you’re addressing readers’ already-felt needs. And (4) Watch your language. Huh. Maybe I should’ve just said that.