New Girl on the Book(s)

An Internship Experience in a Literary Agency

The Art of Letter Writing

It’s been two weeks since I posted last, but I definitely have kept busy in that time. Filled with letters both written and received, this is what I have been up to the last two weeks:

Pitch Letters:

Up until now, I’ve written only editorial letters. But, I got to write my first pitch letter this past week! After the manuscript is finished, the pitch letter is the next step in the process. The agent writes this 1-page letter to a publishing house that would be a good fit for the author and his or her book. Including marketing information for the book and author, the pitch letter serves to get an editor excited about the book. When writing the letter, there are a few things that you want to make sure you cover/watch out for:

  • Overselling- It’s easy to be excited about an author’s book, but it will also be easy for editors to tell whenever you’re trying too hard to sell it. Staying true to the manuscript and pointing out what truthfully stands out as the book’s strength will win an editor over more than over-glorifying it.
  • Comparisons- For editors to get a general idea about the book in terms of genre, audience, and voice, comparisons are key! However, comparisons should always be with bestselling books, because these are the ones that everyone knows and placing a book in the realm of popularity is best. Also, don’t compare a fiction book to a non-fiction book, and vice versa; this comparison just doesn’t work and will leave the editor scratching his or her head.
  • Fiction vs. Non-fiction- You have to pitch these two genres differently. With fiction, you want the pitch to interest the editor so much that she puts down what she is working on and picks up the book that very moment. One way you can do this is by pointing out what makes the book special compared to others (which is where comparisons come in handy). On the other hand, a non-fiction pitch should focus on the platform. You have to sell both the book AND the author. Do they have a social platform (i.e. a blog, website, or social media presence)? If so, make sure you include that information, too. With non-fiction, also focus on the target audience as much as you do the author and book topic.

Client Press Kits:

I’ve also been working on the client press kits with the rest of my team. Press kits, or publicity packages, essentially serve as a marketing tool for Paige when selling the subsidiary rights (such as the film, foreign, audio, and digital rights) to the author’s work. The kits include a few basic details about the author:

  • A biography
  • Author’s website, social media accounts, etc.
  • Most recent and notable works
  • Press clips, such as book reviews, of the most recent and notable works
  • Awards received
  • Bestseller lists a work has hit
  • Sub rights that are already licensed to a work
  • A listing of all other works, including series
  • Organizations the author belongs to

Compiling and updating these kits wasn’t too difficult once we found the information. The tricky part was researching and finding all of the details to put together. With a little team work (also dividing and conquering) we got them all completed and ready for use!

Query Letter Team:

This past week, Paige and Ana-Marie decided to form query letter teams within our already established reading groups in order to sort through the endless amount of unsolicited submission letters in the office. They asked for volunteers to read through the queries and make a decision on whether Paige should request the first three chapters or not. While reading through the submissions, I found myself torn a lot of times. Similar to when writing the reader reports, I wanted to say yes to every idea.  Unfortunately, that’s not realistic though and I had to rely on a few criteria that helped me make a decision. Here are a few things that have helped me in the deciding process (some that I found on CMA’s website here!):

  • Is the idea new and fresh? Would you want to buy this book in a store?  Sure, the concept of a book may sound interesting and exciting, but if it is the exact same as every other book on the shelf, then it will not make a reader buy it over any of the others. The book should have some unique feature, whether it be a fresh voice, independent and strong main character, or a compelling story line. Whatever it may be, there should be some aspect that makes it marketable.
  • Fiction or nonfiction? What is the genre? Manuscript length? This one goes back to one of my previous posts when I talked about the word counts for the different genres. For example, if the author proposes a Young Adult book that he advertises to be 100,000 words, you know that it’s too long and will probably take a lot of work and time to trim down and streamline. And in most cases, it will take more time and funds than what it will be worth.
  • How compelling is the proposal? Does the author have a sense of what he/she is writing? If the author describes his or her book and wins you over with the characters, plot, or general concept, then it will likely be easy to sell to an editor. Even though the author may seem excited and have what seems like a clear and developed plot, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the reader will have a good understanding of the plot. If the author knows what direction he or she is going with the story, then the reader will, too.
  • Does the proposal letter flow and make sense?  The query letter is the vital step in kick-starting the publishing process for an author. So, the letter should be neat, polished, and clear. Not only will an agent get a sense of the book from the letter, he or she will get a sample of an author’s writing style. So, if the letter doesn’t flow or make sense, the manuscript likely won’t either.
  • How experienced is the author? Does he/she have an interesting biography or credentials?  An author with writing  experience or a fascinating biography will simply be more appealing to an agent and editor. The more professional or serious writing experience under your belt the better!

With all of the letters in my week, for the first time I am finding myself saying I’m glad old-fashioned snail mail is a thing of the past. (Could you imagine how much more time and resources it would take for this all?) That’s all I have for now! Until next time at least!

1 Comment

  1. Hannah, what a great post – so specific and full of information and ideas. I love that you are experiencing all the different stages of trying to get a book out there – and that you are figuring out how to control the impulse to just like everything – or at least to see the positive in everything! Sometimes it’s difficult to be discriminating when you are aware that someone will experience rejection and when there is so much that is subjective in the decision you make. I like the way your post shows how one can eliminate that subjectivity, though – these are such concrete pointers. Hope your week went well!

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