How to not be a jerk when you pitch to agents

(a.k.a. agents are people with jobs so be nice)

Agents cant promise a deal, but they can give a clear, meaningful plan for how to best position a writer and their work. Their role in pre-sale is to champion an author’s work by providing editorial suggestions and advice on navigating the publishing industry. During the sales process they should communicate transparently and have ethical business practices as they move through stages of contract negotiation. They are advocates for you, their client, as they attempt to sell as many rights as possible to your work while helping you develop a sustainable, long-term career.


Unsolicited submissions, writing contests, literary magazines, op-ed pieces, queries, MFA visit, referrals, slush, Twitter.


No. 1) Read Agency Submission Guidelines
  • The most important rule to submitting. Agents receive massive amounts of submissions every day. Submissions which do not adhere to guidelines are discarded or unopened.
No. 2) The best pitches are tailored to specific agents and include in the email body:
  • Honest, simple explanations of why the writer thinks an agent is a good fit for them. Be realistic, not aspirational.
  • Salient, straightforward, intriguing descriptions. Brevity is key.
  • A clear sense of what drives the tension and conflict within the book.
  • A relevant author bio.
No. 3) Do not simultaneously query multiple agents at an agency. Your pitches should not include:
  • Irregular formatting. Standard formatting is black font 12pt Times New Roman, double spaced.
  • Unnecessary voice (like this flash sheet), desperation, or 10 megabyte attachments.
  • Complex synopses
  • More than one project at a time.
  • The phrase “fiction novel”

Can include excerpts of a manuscript length work, a full manuscript, or a complete proposal (excluding memoir) including a marketing section and a few sections or chapters (not necessarily sequential) with a detailed table of contents indicating the books structure. Proposals are typically acquired based on a combination of document strength and bylines.


While all agency guidelines are different, typically submissions are the beginning 20–50 pages of a novel manuscript. If you are querying the agent, your manuscript should be complete. If the agent queries you it is acceptable to submit a polished incomplete manuscript. Fiction is difficult to sell.


Comp. titles, or “Comparative titles,” are titles of books which help frame your project which were ideally recently published. These comparable works help place your book in a “frame of market” which helps agents 1) envision the sale of your book and 2) understand how you perceive your project.

While you do not necessarily need to be thinking of comp. titles while you are creating a manuscript, they are a large part of first pitching your books to publishing houses, then selling your book to booksellers who use comp. titles to ascertain who your readers are and then place your book in their hands. Comp. titles are not necessary to pitching, but can be distinguishing. Your Comp. titles should not be aspirational (Girl On The Train, Moby Dick, Infinite Jest, Pachinko) and instead should be realistic.