Inside Scoop: Dish from the Literary Agency Intern

8025427_1Here’s advice from my intern, Cindy Francois. Cindy screens queries and does first reads on manuscripts for me. She makes my job infinitely more do-able!

As an intern, there are a few things I’ve learned that prior to my internship would not have occurred to me. While they may be obvious, they continue to be some of the more popular reasons why I find myself rejecting queries and potentially great book ideas.

To clarify, we interns are encouraged to be ruthless in our execution of instructions. For example, since Linda doesn’t read mysteries, if you pitch her something you call literary fiction but it’s mostly a mystery, I’ve been instructed to give it a pass. This is the best way for me to learn how to evaluate a manuscript, looking for what she wants. Any uncertainties are double-checked with her, but generally I’m supposed to be unforgiving. Linda is looking for accessible literary fiction but if I find myself reaching for a dictionary 3 times within the first paragraph of your sample (yes, I’m well read), I have no choice but to reject your manuscript. Sounds simple, but I was miserable the first few weeks of my internship. I am a writer rejecting fellow writers, and it can feel horrible!

In terms of your query, it should be as precise as possible. This is your first opportunity to showcase your voice, so…

  1. Do follow directions to the letter: You dedicated a large chunk of time to writing your novel. Give it the best chance to be heard. Since Linda requests the first 20 pages in the body of the email for fiction queries, do not send an attachment.
  2. Do be impeccable with your words: Nothing is more frustrating than a brilliant idea poorly executed. Really! I get giddy when I read an unusual premise and die a little when the first paragraph, and sometimes the first page, fails to measure up.
  3. Do not query multiple works in the same email, even if connected.
  4. Do not query multiple agents in the same email (or worse yet repurpose the email but fail to update the salutation, e.g. email addressed to Linda but begins with “Dear June”).
  5. Consider the books being published in your market. Read a few of them. How does your book compare, both in terms of structure and language? Find an avid reader with an eye for story arcs and ask them to take a look.
  6. Also, keep an eye on how you format your query. Be sure to include a bio and short summary before your sample pages. This will be visual confirmation that the information we require is included. I’ve reviewed too many queries where I had no information on the sender. That is not okay; you don’t really get another opportunity to pitch the same story.
Cindy Francois

Cindy Francois

If you’re anything like me, you view your manuscript as your baby (for lack of a better word). You’ve worried over it, been baffled by it and maybe even cried a time or two. Honor the courage it took to write it by doing what you can to give it a great introduction.

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4 responses to “Inside Scoop: Dish from the Literary Agency Intern

  1. Some helpful info. Thanks. Also, some scary info about how ruthless you are instructed to be, but something authors need to know.

    • FYI “ruthless” in this case means that I encourage my interns to reject queries that don’t follow my submission guidelines; that “good ideas” that don’t have excellent writing backing them up = rejections; that even writing that has some promise to it can’t fix a weak or wandering plot. Contrary to some writer’s interpretation of what rejection from an agent means, we’re on your side. We have just as much to gain by saying yes as you do! When training an intern it’s my job to toughen them up, or every other submission would end up a “yes” due to soft heartedness. That’s just not a feasible business plan, because those manuscripts wouldn’t subsequently sell.

  2. Thanks for sharing your insight.

  3. Lesley C

    I applaud your resolve to be ruthless, Cindy. I don’t know if it’s something I can do. I would probably do a Paula Abdul and Linda will fire me within a few days! Keep up the good work!