It is the small things that, while you might think are not that important, are enough to, as one of my esteemed agents noted, "give me a reason to reject you."
Let's look at a few of those.
EMAIL ADDRESS: I know this might seem like a small thing. but your email address needs to be clear and available. You cannot simply rely on email address that you sent it from. If you are like me, I am operating off of 7 email addresses daily. Make sure the one you want them to contact you at is there either at the beginning of your correspondence, or right below the signature line.
But here is the big one. What does that email address say about you? You might have created an email address when you were in college thinking it was "really fun" at the time. But is this a professional email?
YOUR OBJECTIVE: Are you making it clear from the beginning what you want in this correspondence? Are you making it clear that you want this person to represent you or to publish your work? Are you making it clear that your objective is a clear match to what the agent represents or the publisher puts on the bookshelves?
Far too often, I receive emails that give me no sense of not only what the person wants, but also how I fit into the equation. Often, I get just a manuscript cut and pasted into the body of the email. Not the way to go.
WHAT ARE YOUR QUALIFICATIONS? We need to know why we want to hire you. Yes, the story is important, but many editors out there say the same thing over and over again. We are not signing a book, but we are signing and author for a long-term commitment.
Even if this is your first books, make sure to demonstrate that you are not just a one hit wonder. Show us that you are already seeing this as a professional career and not some hobby where you hang out with your friends on the weekend and "have writing sessions."
One element is to demonstrate what professional writing organizations you are part of, or even contests that you might have entered and won. The idea is to show that you are connected. Show that you are in the know.
YOUR NAME: I get that some of you plan on using a pseudonym. I also get that some of you like to sign your names with just your initials and your last name, but, in professional business writing, you have to include your legal first and last name. We can work through that pseudonym thing later. Here is the big reason why. How do I address the letter to you and keep it professional.
Take for example J.K. Rowling. Now, we know that Ms. Rowling is a female, but if she were to write a letter, leaving out all of the gender specific language, how do I answer?
- Dear J.K.?
- Dear Mr/Ms/Miss?
- Dear Author (now does that sound like a form letter?)