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Can a writer get an agent through pitching queries?

Can a writer get an agent through pitching via their submission guidelines?

No not that sort of pitch
The first question I ask myself is, can I even get an agent submitting to them through the slush pile? There’s growing evidence that pitching to agents at writer’s conventions is the only way to go. Personal contact is key to securing an agent, but since I live in Australia and I’m not heading to New York in the near future, submitting via the agent’s submissions inbox is the only way I can do this. And I have to believe that it’s possible, otherwise why would agents even have a submissions page?

My husband is a fisherman, and there’s a saying he tells his clients. You’ll catch more fish with more lures in the water. And he’s right. When I first began pitching to agents, I had written one novel. So everything hinged on landing a publishing deal with one novel. I was lucky in that The Bird With The Broken Wing was accepted by a publisher after 18 pitches to a mixture of agents and publishers. It was accepted by a small press publisher, Etopia Press, and to me it was the biggest deal of my lifetime. We all start somewhere and this was my start. I pitched my second YA  novel Feedback straight to Etopia Press and they accepted it. They passed on my third YA novel Little Red Gem, and this book was the one I submitted to over 100 agents and it was not picked up by anyone.

Lesson 1 learned from this pitch. You can’t sell ice to an igloo. I was pitching this as paranormal romance and the editors were sick of PNR.

Lesson 2 learned from this pitch. I didn’t know my genre.

Still the wrong type of pitcher

It can’t be paranormal romance because the chick didn’t end up with the guy, she rebuffed him. It’s technically fantasy/magical realism but I hadn’t heard of that genre. Currently there are many publishes and agents seeking magical realism so I will begin pitching Little Red Gem as this genre, but then I love the book and the cover so much that I’m still considering keeping this self published. I gotta say, it’s nice to have the choice.

Not long after I self published Little Red Gem, Etopia Press dropped their YA range so the rights for two YA novels reverted back to me. Now I had three YA titles to pitch, but I decided to go with self publishing them all so I could focus on writing for adults.

What’s the difference for me with pitching at them moment? For a start, I have one adult sci-fi novel currently being pitched to agents, with a few requests for full manuscripts and partials. And I’m a few weeks off finishing a different stand alone book that I will pitch to these very same agents. Because this book is a very similar genre, I’ve already done the ground work of establishing who I can submit queries to. And since I’ve been able to generate some interest already, and I’ve introduced myself, it should look good on my part that I’m able to provide a second book rather quickly. And I can also still pitch my three YA novels if I come across a publisher or agent who is interested. So that’s five lures I’ll have in the water to (hopefully) attract a big fish.

April's efforts to pitch of my sci-fi apocalyptic series were once again worthwhile, even though unsuccessful. I've submitted to 39 agents, received 6 nos, and one request for a partial. So off went 50 pages to this agent. I’ve got my fingers crossed that he likes enough to request the entire manuscript. I’m still submitting via the submissions guidelines. I have to believe I can be successful this way.
Still the wrong type of pitcher. No wonder I'm getting stuck.

Overall, I believe an agent is the way for me to go with my current books. They are for broad markets and agents can provide access to publishers with a far greater reach than I can muster up. Agents are also far quicker at saying no than publishers. Yet, here are two important tips for anyone venturing down the same road as me.

Important tip 1 - Do not use the agent as your critique buddy. Only submit the work you think is at its final stage.

I submitted my sci-fi apocalyptic novel to the first round of agents believing the book was finished. It was not (though in my defence I thought it was), and I had to do major reworks when I received critique from an agent. It’s mortifying to have an agent give you critique. This should have been done earlier. There is no second bite of the cherry. I can’t resubmit the same book, but that’s okay, a different book is almost ready to go. I’m applying that old saying, I’ll catch more fish with more lures in the water. And since I’ve done all the ground work already, I can’t wait to get this manuscript finished and pitched to these agents.

Important tip 2 – if you are going to submit to agents and publishers, always submit to agents first.

Often, agents will pitch to the same publishers as you have already done, and if a publishers says no to you, they’re not going to say yes to an agent. Never. You should be aiming to widen the net, not closing it up. So exhaust all agent queries before submitting to publishers.

As they say, it takes only one agent and/or publisher. And that’s all I want. One agent and/or publisher. I’m not begging, but really I am.

I’d love to hear your story of landing an agent and/or publisher. Have you got any tips or advice to share?

Here's a look at the two pitching sessions for the same novel. The original version and the reworked version.

Original manuscript (pitched June 2015)

Query 46
No 23
Partial 1
Full 1
No reply 22
critique  1

Reworked manuscript (pitched April 2016)

Query 39
No 6
Partial 1
Full 0
No reply 0
critique  0


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