Agent Etiquette: Ima Writer Interviews Literary Agent Empress Worthington
In the interest of helping new authors learn the etiquette of approaching literary agents, the following is a conversation with aspiring author Ima Writer and literary agent Empress Worthington.
Ima: I have an extraordinary manuscript, and I want an agent.
Empress: Congratulations on completing your book! Do you have a proposal as well?
Ima: Writing a proposal is a waste of time. I can pitch with a cover letter and manuscript.
Empress: On the contrary, agents need to see proposals. We ask because editors consider proposals vital to the author’s pitch package. Proposals help everyone understand the author as well as the manuscript. The Steve Laube Agency offers free proposal guidelines that authors can use to pitch to any agency here: Steve Laube Agency Proposal Submission Guidelines.
Ima: Oh, okay. Well, bummer. After I do all that work, I’ll want to get going as quickly as possible. Is it okay for me to submit my work to all the agents at your agency at once?
Empress: We prefer that you choose one of us, please. We are all different, and authors can find information about us on our site. Reviewing our wish lists and backgrounds will help you decide.
Besides, we have better things to do than throw pies at one another over authors we all want to represent. Hasn’t happened so far, but it could! Right? Or maybe I need to stop eating potato chips too close to bedtime, so I stop having these strange dreams.
Ima: I don’t want to be responsible for mussed hair and smeared lipstick, so I’ll submit to only one agent at an agency at a time. But what if the first agent at your agency turns me down? Can I submit my book to another agent at your agency?
Empress: Yes. This is because none of us agents speaks for all agents at the agency, especially when writing decline letters. The only exception is if Steve Laube or his assistant states that the decline is being sent on behalf of the entire agency. That form of rejection is rare and is sent to authors writing a project that will not work with our agency’s guidelines or mission. Like, Atheist Zombie Machines Conquer Tokyo. And no, don’t send that to Enclave, either.
Ima: But what about other agencies? Can I submit to one agent each at different agencies simultaneously?
Empress: Yes. We like it when you tell us if yours is an exclusive or simultaneous submission.
Ima: Great! I found a public database, and now I have a list of fifty-eight agencies with agents who’ll be eager to review my work. I think I should write one letter and submit my project to all the agents simultaneously, leaving the emails listed in the address field. This way, they know they’ve already got competition and will fight to represent my wonderful project!
Empress: No. Please don’t. For one, we know we have competition. Nevertheless, please offer us the impression that we are exceptional (however untrue you may think this is); and, thus, you believe your time is well spent sending each agent an individual letter. This magic should be effortless for authors of fiction to execute. If not, find a new career.
Ima: Surely you can understand my time is valuable. How about I use the BBC field to conceal that I’m sending the same letter to fifty-eight agents?
Empress: Nice try, but that won’t work since we’ll see you’re using the BBC field; and that also means the salutation of your letter will read: “Dear Agent” instead of using our names. This makes us feel almost as exceptional as being a “valued” customer of the local pizza parlor when they send out flyers.
Ima: So, agents want to feel special and be flattered!
Empress: Special, yes. Flattered, no. Some suggested reasons are: “I’m approaching you because you represent my dear friend Rich Author and he raves about you,” or “I enjoyed meeting you at the conference,” or “I appreciate your blog posts,” or “Since you represent (fill in type) books, I think you’ll be interested in my book.” Whatever makes sense and applies to the situation.
Ima: You must receive scads of proposals, so an author has to do something to get your attention.
Empress: Yes. An author gets my attention with a fabulous manuscript and proposal. Please let authors know that because I receive so many submissions, I’m forced to decline many meritorious works I genuinely wish to represent.
Ima: Wow! I was thinking I should send a gift. Have you ever received a gift along with a proposal?
Ima: Did it help?
Empress: No. While gifts can be fun and express the author’s personality, they do not affect my decision. If anything, I’m reluctant to represent an author I have no previous connection with sending me a gift. A manuscript I can get excited about from an author who’s a pro is gift enough for me.
Ima: Working on that gift now!
Empress: Wonderful! I look forward to reviewing your work!