Emerging writers flock to conferences like the one just held by the Pacific Northwest Writers Association because they’re looking for information–from presenters with tips on craft and marketing, from fellow writers on lessons learned, from the bulletin board that lists local critique groups, and of course from editors and agents who are broadly viewed to hold the keys to the palace of publishing. We practice our pitches, memorize our log lines and synopses, update with lightning speed our writing credentials for our bios, all in the hopes that some paragon of the industry–or new agent looking to sign unknown authors–will ask for a partial manuscript. We feel the onslaught of butterflies invade our intestines when we’re instructed to give a specific subject line in our email message, like we’ve just learned the 21st Century’s version of “Open, Sesame.”
Before you click on that send button, do a few things:
1. Double-check the spelling of the agent or editor’s name–I know, it sounds so very basic, but do it anyway. They may still love your book idea, or they may stop reading and go to the next email message. Because there is always another email message waiting in the queue.
2. Only send what has been requested–If it’s 20 pages, don’t send 50. If they asked for the first three chapters, don’t send two or four. If they asked for your latest bio paragraph, don’t neglect sending that in the letter. Sure, this means tailoring each missive to each requesting agent, but this could be the first day of the rest of your career. These folks know what they’re capable of reading and they have their preferences, so check what you’re about to send with what they require.
3. Don’t ramble–Maybe you felt magic in those three minutes of the power pitch session, or perhaps the structure of the event reminded you of that time you made delicious eye contact during the speed dating night you signed up for a year ago, but refrain, under all circumstances, from attempting to relive it in your email note. First of all, they don’t care (and really, do we want them to?). Second, you are a blur in what was probably 8 hours of listening to people make their best cases for their projects, so that special sensation is yours alone. But most importantly, going on about how great it was to meet them at the conference is just a distraction from your project. And your project is the real focus here. Win them over with the words in your partial manuscript. As a bonus, you won’t kill your chances by coming off like a sociopath.
4. Make sure you reference whatever they’ve asked you to reference in the subject line–Often agents and editors use filters to deal with what are overwhelming amounts of email and paper letters. If they tell you to put their name in the subject line–one of the folks I met this weekend noted that–do it, because it may be the first line of defense against ending up in the slush pile. You worked hard to get the professional’s attention, so don’t waste that by forgetting any special instructions regarding the subject of the email. Unless you really really enjoy always standing on Square One.
5. Avoid mentioning any other project in the email than the one you spoke about earlier–If Ms. Agent told you she was curious about your swashbuckling pirate YA, don’t jam in references to the adult paranormal thriller you’ve also completed. She requested the one project, so only note the one project. Agents represent what they do for a reason, and they’re their reasons, not yours. If he or she takes you on as a client, then you can converse about all of the other glorious books in your cupboard or brain. Or cupboard brain, if that’s how your brain works–there’s no judging here.
6. Thank the professional again–Yes, you plunked down good money for the opportunities the writing conference would offer you, and the agent or editor booked their own ticket to the event, too. So thank them again when you close your note–say that you sincerely appreciate their interest and consideration. Because you do, of course. I myself have awkwardly signed off without a thanks and then bonked myself on the head for my poor manners. Remember, agents want to work with thoughtful writers, especially as they’re looking for a long, fruitful relationship with us.
It takes money and time to attend things like writer’s conferences and pitch sessions, and you spent a lot of energy–some of it nervous–preparing to showcase your best work. Now that you’ve gotten a request for a partial or full manuscript, give it one last glance for egregious errors, language that could use a little improvement, and craft. No agent is going to reject your email because you sent it to her one month after you spoke with her. It may not take that much time to review and polish your manuscript, but if it does, take the time. They’ll likely be impressed that you cared enough to send your very best.
No, don’t send the agent a greeting card with your partial.