This is an exciting part of agenting, and there’s a ton of hard work behind it.
The author has worked their butt off to finish writing the manuscript and to polish it. Never mind all they had to do to craft an excellent query letter and research and snag the right agent for them!
The agent (that’s me) has done a ton of work culling through endless queries to find this gem. Has worked with the author to get the final polish on the manuscript before it’s ready to submit. Plus the agent (me again) has done her own extensive research about the perfect editors for this work. That includes deep online research, studying numerous publisher’s imprints, meeting with countless editors, chatting with countless editors on the phone, too.
And after all of this, I sit with the manuscript and think of the perfect way to position this book. Just as it’s important for the author to pitch their novel in the best way to an agent, it’s crucial that I pitch my client’s book to the editor in a manner that perks up their ears and makes them think, “Yes! I MUST see this one!”
So I spend time selecting my words carefully. If I’m comparing a book to the epic scale and passion of The Thornbirds, you better believe I first make sure this comparison is accurate (BTW, it is! Shout out to my author Harmony Verna). Because if it isn’t, then I’ve just set up my submission for a fail. I don’t want an editor to get all excited about this only to think, hm, I’m not seeing the comparison. Or, hm, this is not nearly as good as what she’s comparing it to. The goal is for them to think, “Zowie! This DOES have elements of that book, but so much more!” I also make sure I pick comparables that most folks will know, even dipping into TV and movie references for these. I want to give an editor something they can latch on to. Something they can take to an acquisitions meeting and use to excite folk. That can’t work if the people there are scratching their heads instead of going aha!
Lesson for writers: in your own pitches and query letters – make sure your own comparisons are accurate and understandable.
Another thing I’m very careful about in my pitch is nailing the genre and market for this book. Is it upper YA? An older middle grade? Is it a literary historical? Is it a gothic thriller? Does it fill a niche in the marketplace (folks looking for the next such and such, etc.). Get this right and the editor is already slotting the book in their list to see if it’s a fit. Get this wrong, and the editor will be confused by the read.
Lesson for writers: pay attention to genre and market in your query and you’ll be giving a potential agent the tools they need to market your book. When I read a query that does this well, I find I’m already thinking about the perfect editors for this book before I even read the sample pages. You want that!
When I connect with editors over the phone with my pitch, my job is to give them a clear picture of what I’m sending to them in just a few sentences, to get them excited about it, and to position the pitch in a way that the gist of the work and its tone comes through. If it’s a heartfelt book, I craft the pitch in a way that’ll raise goosebumps. If it’s a girl-power kid book, I emphasize the overcome the odds aspect of the work. If it’s a hilarious mid-grade, I’ll pull in some fun examples that will make the editor grin and nod. As in all aspects of this business, words matter.
Lesson for writers: highlight the tone and gist of your work in a succinct way when you query. Also, when seeking an agent, if you get to talk to them at a conference or hear them on a panel, ask yourself: is this person eloquent? Do I think they’ll communicate well with others and be able to convey my book’s pitch to editors successfully?
Pitches are powerful things, and I know when I’m hitting the right notes with editors. I hear them laugh when they should. Or they say, “I like the message behind this story.” Or they simply say, “Wow. Great pitch!”
Then I know I’ve done my job. Then I send the manuscript to the editor. Then it’s time for the author’s words to take their proper center stage.
*Marie is an Associate Agent at the Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency in New York City. To keep up with all her posts, subscribe to her site by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s site here” link located on her page on the upper left margin.