Gather ‘round children, I’m going to tell you a little story.
Once upon a time there was a very nice agent. She devoted a good bit of her time to attending conferences in order to help fledgling writers and scout potential new talent. After one particularly long day of teaching workshops, sitting on panels, taking fifteen-minute appointments and generally “doing the agent thing,” nature called. As she settled in for the first private moment she’d had to herself all day, she heard a voice from the next stall.
“I sure am glad I finally found you. Your appointment list was full, and I’ve got this novel I want you to take a look at.” Not two seconds later, a large manila envelope came skidding across the tile and came to rest on her brand new Franco Sarto slingback.
Sad but True
There is a response to this letter floating around out there, and I imagine there are many people who wish they had used it. The editor, having seen the story from God letter one too many times, evidentially said:
“Dear Writer: While I thank you for thinking of our publishing company we will not be able to use your story. Since God wrote the best selling book of all time, I can only assume He can spell better than what was evident in you manuscript…”
Now let’s have a show of hands from those of you who have ever written such a letter. (Wait, you there in the green socks … get that hand up). Not many, but a few.
The Road to Professionalism
So … how does the average writer
get in an editor or agent’s good graces? It’s not as difficult as you may
First, be respectful. Remember the magic words, please and thank you. And don’t forget the advice given by every card-carrying mother on the planet: mind your manners.
Don’t call editors and agents by their first name unless invited to do so. For example, “Mr. Laube, may I speak with you for a minute or two about the project I’m working on?” will probably make a more favorable impression than, “Hey Stevie-Boy, hang on a minute and take a look at this proposal while I go get some lunch.”
Here’s another tip: Don’t carry a full book-length manuscript with you to your meeting. Most
agents and editors don’t want to have to carry a stack of manuscripts with them
on the plane. If they are interested in your project, they ask you to mail or
e-mail the manuscript to them.A proposal and first three chapters is sufficient.
In short, act like a professional, even if you aren’t one … yet.
When communicating via mail or e-mail, keep the letterhead simple, professional, and as error-free as possible. No garish colors of fancy fonts.
When dealing with these nice folks in person, bring a clean, well-edited manuscript, proposal, one-sheet, or whatever is requested. Make sure it is formatted properly and meets their criteria (number of pages, etc.).
Think about what you want to say even before you arrive at the conference, or before you write that query letter. Have a clear image of the heart of your story in mind before you actually make the pitch. Then practice your pitch. A lot. Doing otherwise could very well scuttle your project in a matter of seconds. A seasoned editor or agent will know in less than a minute how much thought you have put into your idea.
When dealing with writing professionals, having a polite, professional bearing can carry you a long way. Accept criticism graciously, and always thank the other person for her/his time.If an agent or editor sees the potential in you and your work (you are, after all, a package deal), they will work with you to make the project the best it can be, and to help you become the best writer you can be.
You see, bad writing can be fixed, but a bad first impression is much harder to overcome.
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Thomas Smith is an award winning writer, newspaper reporter, TV news producer, playwright and essayist. His supernatural suspense novel, Something Stirs, is available at a bookstore near you. In addition to writing he enjoys teaching classes for beginning writers at conferences and local writers’ groups. He has been a joke writer for Joan Rivers and his comedy material has been performed on The Tonight Show. Currently in his fifth decade of service, he is considerably younger than most people his age. Find Thomas onTwitter and Facebook