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.
People do ask what a non-Christian needs to know about Christ.
I once was not a Christian,
but then I was enticed
by a mate who started pitchin’
what I could know of Christ,
that He hung out with drongos
(blokes, yeah, just like me),
and had no holy-holy pose,
when He sat down to tea
with prozzies and the taxmen;
He didn’t carp and preach,
but put it to them there and then
that there was hope for each
to escape a life that once was brill,
but now circled for the kill.
Well said, Mr. Hostetler!
LOL … appreciate the truth & the slightly sarcastic in your face delivery… an enjoyable & noteworthy read over my morning coffee. Thanks!
Love this, Bob. I also enjoyed your piece in the latest Guideposts. I know humor wasn’t in order for that submission, but I missed your tongue-in-cheek humor anyway.
I like your (writing) style! 😁
Ann L Coker
We always look forward to your weekly posts that bring us to appreciate following what’s right while we know you’re smiling. We are.
Yep, Don’t I agree? (eh eh). Still, every second crime novel I see has this agent stuff. How do they get there…!? . What about using Oh my gosh, for Pete’s sake etc.? Interesting that Allah, Buddha, Krishna, Hare. , etc., are not used. Ironically, even for non believers, the Name of our Lord has more impact.
Thanks, Bob! It needs to be said often. Like the Scriptures say, we need to be reminded. It’s amazing how quickly things are pushed to the back of our minds.
But … but … but … God TOLD me you were the agent to represent my children’s fantasy steampunk picture book about twins whose daddy was former CIA but now preached to the heathens on the streets of Detroit.
Linda L. Kruschke
I like the longer description of each point. It puts a little meat on the bones of your short list in the conclusion.
By the way, I have a dystopian novel I’m working on. Any interest?
Hey, don’t dish on sewer workers. 🙂 Seriously. That’s my industry for my day job (utility management). It could work if the protagonist is a sewer worker, and believe me, there’s lots of ways someone can die at a wastewater treatment plant or in a collection system (read, hydrogen sulfide if someone falls into a manhole or wet well at a pump station). But, I’ll leave that to others for now, as I’m not going to write about anything in my industry until I retire from it. 🙂
Well said, and so noted!👍
Joyce K Ellis
Great advice, my friend! I have decided we could call you the Cogent Curmudgeon. 🙂
Good thoughts, Bob. I enjoyed your candor. I agree with Andrew though. Non-believers, even believers, have misconceptions about Jesus. A book on the topic might help us. We wouldn’t assume things when talking to non-believers that maybe should not be assumed. In fact, Dr. Jeremiah did a series of sermons and a book entitled The Jesus you May Not Know. It was thought-provoking.