Writing a book is no easy task. After all of the hours you’ve poured into your manuscript, you want to ensure that your proposal stands out — after all, literary agents receive hundreds of pitches a week. So how do you secure an agent? A well-crafted pitch and a strategic approach will make all the difference in helping you find the right representation.
Focus on agents who are looking for your genre
Before you even begin writing your query, you’ll want to research literary agents and compile a list of those who are looking for work within your genre. Most agents describe exactly what they’re looking for, and their personal tastes and genre focus can be found on their agency profiles or on publishing websites. Some agents don’t accept blind submissions at all, so you’ll want to check that they’re even open for submissions before pitching them.
You’ll also want to avoid agents who have recently published a book exactly like your own, as they’ll likely be on the lookout for something totally different. Create a list of agents whose current interests align with your work so that you know your pitch will be reaching the correct audience. If, for example, an agent clearly states they aren’t interested in poetry, and you’ve got a manuscript of collected poems, then they aren’t the agent for you.
Look closely at submission guidelines
Every publishing house and agent will have specifications on how they want pitches to be formatted. If you don’t follow these guidelines exactly, it’s an easy way for an agent to move on. Do your due diligence and take note of any preferences — i.e. no attachments in the email — and construct each pitch to fit within these parameters. It will likely change slightly from agent to agent, so pay close attention.
Make your pitch personal
It can be helpful to have a general template that you rely on from pitch to pitch, but you will want to edit your query to be personal to every agent. Since agents are reading dozens of pitches per day, you only have a few sentences to stand out — so open with a personalized greeting and mention why you think they would be your perfect representation.
Demonstrate that you’ve researched their past work, their agency, and their current interests. Seasoned agents can tell when you’re reusing a pitch, so spend time tailoring it to each agent. Though it might seem obvious, double-check that you’re spelling the agent’s name and any published works correctly.
You will likely have plenty to say about your manuscript but try to be succinct in your pitch. Instead of writing numerous paragraphs about yourself, your book, and your ambitions, home in on the key details: your interest in the agent, your logline, your genre, your word count, and examples of already-published books that are similar to your own. Long-winded pitches only hurt your chances, as an agent has limited time to read through all of the information and may miss critical information.
Study successful pitches
There are many examples online of successful queries, and they are quite varied in their style. Study the pitches of authors whose work is similar to your own and glean takeaways for your own pitch. Perhaps they phrased their synopsis in a surprising way or shared a notable story detail that helped make their manuscript stand out. There are even examples online that feature feedback from agents explaining why the pitch was successful, which can give you a better sense of how the agent-author relationship works.
Expand your online presence
Though not necessary as part of your pitch, it can be helpful for aspiring authors to have an established online presence, either on social media or bolstered by news articles or press releases. Try a Google search of your own name and see what comes up; if the results are bare, consider investing in your social media handles or a personal website to represent your career ambitions.
If there is existing material that is beneficial to your pitch — such as already published work — include that briefly in your pitch or as part of your email signature.
Some agents’ websites explicitly state how long it takes them to respond to pitches, but in general it will take at least a month to hear back (if you get a response at all). Do not send follow-up emails asking if the agent received your pitch or checking in on the status of your pitch. Most often, if you don’t receive a response after several months, it means the agent has passed.
If your pitch is rejected, it’s unlikely you can pitch it again to the same agent unless you make significant changes to the overall theme and genre of your manuscript. There are many reasons an agent chooses to pass on a manuscript besides personal taste — it may be that your book just isn’t what they are seeking to represent currently.