The first GLAWS special speaker event of the year was held last weekend on Saturday, January 17, 2015. The topic was “What Not to Say to an Editor or Agent” with speaker Steven Hutson. Mr. Hutson is a literary agent and editor who receives thirty to forty letters a week from aspiring writers looking to publish their book. Most are professional, well written letters. But some have a line or two that tells the agent that you are not at a professional level yet, that you don’t understand the publishing industry. That’s the quickest way to get your letter rejected.
With thirty or forty submissions a week, you can see how an agent wouldn’t have time to read even a sampling of that many novels. So making a professional first impression is very important. Here is a sampling of a few of the wrong thinks to say that Mr. Hutson has received:
“Dear Agent:” Unless you are writing to Joe Agent that is not his name. Be courteous enough to at least address him or her by their name.
“I’m a bestselling author.” Really? Where? If it’s not on the New York times best seller list, this is a meaningless claim. First, if you are, why are you looking for an agent? Second, if you are self-published, the way the Amazon rating system works is tricky. On a given day, you could out sell Harry Potter between the hours of 3:00 am and 4:00 am. BAM! You’re a bestselling author.
“Sign this non-disclosure form” By asking them to do this, you are implying that you think they are going to steal your work. Agents don’t do that. If they did, it would come back at them and end their career.
“My book is 275 pages long.” Again, this is meaningless. What size page? What size type? What an agent or publisher looks for is word count. Mr. Hutson suggested that 110k words was about the limit for a new author.
At this point, literary agent and attorney, Paul Levine, spoke up from the audience. He said that 60k to 80k words for a new author was the limit. Any more than that and it becomes too expensive for a publisher to edit, print and ship. Again, this is for a new author. Once you are an established writer with a following, this no longer applies.
“My book won’t need editing.” EVERY book needs editing. Now, if you’ve have had your book gone over by a professional copy editor, content editor, or book doctor, that worth noting.
“I will seek an endorsement from…” Just because you are going to seek an endorsement from an established writer, celebrity or expert in the field doesn’t mean you’ll get it. If you don’t already have an endorsement, don’t talk about it.
“I have self-published 100 books.” Not impressive. Anyone can self-publish, and most self-published book aren’t any good. Unless you’ve sold 10,000 self published copies of a book, like “Fifty Shades of Grey”, a publisher won’t be interested.
“My book is for everyone.” No. Every book has a target audience.
“My book is ground breaking / life changing /the next “Harry Potter”.” Don’t boast. It’s very bad. The agent will decide for himself how you book stands.
You can see more of “What not to say” on Mr. Hutson’s blog at www.wordwisemedia.com You can even look at his submission guidelines and download the query form if your work is ready.
GLAWS, The Greater Los Angeles Writer’s Society has Special Speaker Events ten times a year. They are free to the public. You may check for the next one at www.glaws.org.