Sands, Katharine. Making the Perfect Pitch: How To Catch a Literary Agent's Eye. Watson-Guptill, 2004.
Getting an agent is an effort almost as Herculean as writing a book in the first place. Constructing a query letter or developing a pitch requires an entirely different skill set than creative writing, whether it's a novel or non-fiction. It's no wonder that many beginning writers throw up their hands in despair. One book that can help is Katherine Sands's Making the Perfect Pitch. Although the subtitle is "How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye," it's not a how-to book, but a collection of essays by agents on what they look for in query letters.
This book is not for the easily discouraged. These agents are very blunt about the huge quantity of queries they receive, and what the means for the prospective writer trying to become a first-time author. It's easy to come away from the book feeling that if you don't have an MFA or an existing mass audience, you might as well not even bother. But there's plenty of encouragement as well.
Since it's not a how-to, you'll have to mine the chapters for the advice you need, but it's well worth spending the time to read each agent's advice. You'll find that some of the advice seems contradictory. One agent says that it's important to work the setting into a query letter for fiction; another says it's irrelevant. There's no single, magic formula. But if you study these chapters, you'll quickly discover the common elements that agents look for in queries... and in those who query. Agents aren't just looking for good writing--they're looking for good writing by people who understand that publishing is a business and who are willing to present themselves in a professional manner.
The bottom line: if you want to be published, you almost certainly need an agent. Making the Perfect Pitch can help you get an agent's attention.
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