Happy Agent Monday! And a very happy Veteran’s Day to you amazing people who do so much for us all… Today (on a completely unrelated note) I’d like to talk about the many tricks and gimmicks some writers use to get an agent’s attention. And the truth of it all: that no tricks are required. I know it feels important to get noticed. You want your manuscript or your query to stand out, to make an agent suddenly pay attention. You want to be memorable. But, trust me, if you are using a gimmick or some sort of sneakiness to get attention — it’ll backfire on you.
Here are some of the gimmicks and tricks I’ve seen over the years…
1. The Spectacle:
I’ve heard plenty of ridiculous stories about authors creating a spectacle to get noticed. What I’ve experienced myself? At pitches, authors dressed as their character and playing that role. It can get pretty awkward, especially in the realm of children’s literature. Will I remember you? Sure. I can picture some of these authors right now. Do I remember their actual pitch? Not at all. Did I request their full manuscript? Not a one. The concept and writing are the stars of a pitch. When the author does something campy, it’s like they are saying: Hey, I know this isn’t that exciting an idea, so let me distract you with this thrilling schtick instead. But this isn’t an acting audition. It’s about words on paper and a phenomenal idea. It’s that simple.
2. Misleading Message Lines:
In queries, message lines that look like the book has a pending offer from a publisher (it didn’t), or was tied in a significant way to a celebrity (it wasn’t), or was being made into a movie (yup, also not true). All are a huge fail.
Will I open your email fast? Maybe. Will I reject you even faster? Absolutely. So you know someone, or took a seminar with someone who said something kind, or even chatted with someone at a cocktail party once. Maybe someone said, hey, send it to me when it’s done. Even someone in the industry saying your project shows merit is a far cry from a celebrity endorsement, a book contract offer on the table, or an inked film option. I promise you that agents know the difference. When the writer is misleading, that signals someone I don’t want to be in a business relationship with. I honestly don’t care how red-hot the writing is. As they say on Shark Tank: I’m out.
3. The Inflated Self-Pubbed Claim:
This is done by folks who have self-pubbed, but then want an agent for that same book in order to get a traditional publishing deal for it. All too often these writers claim their already self-pubbed manuscript is a runaway success and has crazy press and mega-reviews. It’s a huge hit!
Okay, here’s a heads up. I personally know the self-pub circuit well, probably better than most agents do. I just might have self-pubbed a YA novel or two of my own that has, in fact, gotten awesome press, rankings, awards and solid reviews, plus I may currently have a novel up at WATTPAD that has over 400,000 reads. So here’s what I know: If your ebook on Amazon has a few kick-ass 5-star reviews, all within a month or so of publication, then that is probably family and friends helping out, and not significant. If your ranking is in the millions, you haven’t sold at all. If your ranking is in the 100,000’s, then you’ve sold 1-2 copies lately. If your ranking is in the 100s, you may have just come off a free giveaway there, which boosts you for a week or so, or you may even have had a handful of copies purchased via friends (but funded by you) to boost that. Yikes, right? Also, you could be a top 10 in an obscure subcategory on Amazon – again with under 5 sales. If I jump over to Goodreads and find nada in readers and reviews, then I google your book, and ditto, I know you are blowing smoke up my you-know-whatski. I’ll feel tricked. Not cool. So tread carefully, folks. What does matter to me? If the writing and concept is awesome, and if you have like 10,000 or more PAID purchases within a short period of time, and true review buzz. That’s noteworthy. No tricks required. Even better? If you have all that, but are querying me with your next ms. which is still unpublished.
4. The Prologue Trick:
I see this a LOT. A manuscript starts off with a prologue full of darkness and danger and a life or death decision. It’s often, basically, a preview of things to come later in the manuscript. And it never works for me. It reminds me of those posters that start off with, in big bold letters: SEX! And then continue with: Now that we’ve got your attention… Followed by the real purpose of the poster.
It’s a gimmick that comes from a desperate attempt to grab attention FAST! And it signals a lack of confidence in your writing. Plus, there’s the added fact that it’s hard to care about this gripping action when we haven’t even met the character yet and don’t care about his fate. Do you really need to trick the reader into continuing? Is that what you need to do to hook them? Why can’t you hook them from chapter one with writing that pops and a situation that we are drawn into? That’s the sort of attention that you want.
So, about all of these tricks… I suggest you just skip them all. The real trick is having wonderful writing and an engrossing story. Focus on that. Work hard on your craft. Get it right and believe in yourself. Then agents and readers will notice you for real.
*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.