The Agent Pitch
One of the more self-defeating things an author can do when trying to attract the attention of a literary agent is to ignore the agent’s submission guidelines, which can usually be found quite easily on an agent’s website. Most sites even feature a menu tab or a link labeled “Submission Guidelines”. But creating a pitch takes skill and practice.
With fiction, I know it’s tempting to give an agent more than they request. How can anyone possibly base their decision on whether or not a 300-page manuscript is any good from only the first 5 or 10 pages?
As an author in the process of pitching his first novel to agents myself, I get it. Still, if an agent asks for a succinct cover letter, a 2 to 3-page plot synopsis, and the first 5-10 pages of manuscript – do NOT send them 15-20 pages.
A good agent—like a good acquisitions editor—is bombarded with a plethora of proposals and manuscripts at any given time. When he or she does have time to consider new work, they are of course going to be attracted to something that is well written, but more importantly, it needs to capture their imagination from the onset. If you can’t do that within 5 pages, you need to work on your opener. If an agent likes what he or she reads, they will probably ask for more.
You have a bit more leeway with non-fiction since the submission requirements are different. Regardless, make sure you pay attention to an agent’s proposal guidelines before you submit your work. Or, if you’re not sure, email them any questions you might have. Don’t call. Most agents don’t like talking to writers with whom they haven’t already interacted.
The important components of a good non-fiction proposal are:
- Overview (3-4 paragraphs at most)
- Definition of the Target Market (Who is the book’s intended audience? Be specific!)
- Table of Contents (Chapter Headings with brief synopses of each chapter)
- Deliverables (When do you estimate delivering the complete manuscript? Any pictures, graphs, charts, or other illustrations?)
- Competitive Title Analysis (What’s already been published on your subject, when and by whom? How is your book different and/or better than its competition?)
- Author Bio (Who are you and why are you writing this book?)
- Marketing/PR Platform (What are you already doing to promote and brand yourself as an expert on the subject of your book? This is essential!)
- Sample Chapters (One or two usually suffice.)
Be comprehensive but succinct. If your proposal is anywhere upwards of 30 pages, it’s too long.
It’s also important to know how an agent prefers to receive submissions. Most prefer email though not necessarily with attachments. Many ask that you paste your proposal or sample writing content into the body of an email. Some still ask that materials be sent via regular mail.
I can’t guarantee these guidelines will score you representation, but they should at least get your foot in the door and your proposal read.
Jon Malysiak is the founder and president of JFM Editorial, a literary services agency based in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter: @JonMalysiak
Note: Jon also works with us at Networlding and has been a wonderful partner on many great book projects.