Sing out Louise or How to Get Out of The Slush Pile?

In the musical Gypsy, soon-to-be-Burlesque-queen Louise is uneasy when her mother says to her "Everybody’s gotta have a gimmick."

As a writer with one green eye focused on getting published I know this is true. No foolin’. I watched the biopic musical Gypsy with Natalie Wood and Rosalind Russell, and I know Rosalind Russell wouldn’t lie. I mean, Roz didn’t tell porkies to her "Little Love" Patrick Dennis in Auntie Mame, so why, when she plays mother Rose in Gypsy, would she steer me wrong about the gimmick thing? I believe Roz and my belief is bolstered by a well-known literary agency I submitted a query to. This agency’s website offers submission advice to prospective authors. There are agent bios that allows an author to see the types of novels a particular agent likes to read. Plus, the website states the company wants to know what sets YOU apart from everyone else, which you just know a fancy way to say, "What is your gimmick?" 

Then there are the agencies out that are more along the lines of the TV series Dragnet. Like Sergeant Joe Friday, they want "Just the facts, ma’am," in one tidy little paragraph contained on a single page that is both your pitch, your bio, and your introduction.  It’s so very assembly line and homogenous. In what way does that sort of query set you apart from the rest of the herd of authors hoping to be noticed and published?

There’s another kind of agent I’ve seen in the flesh, in real time, at a writer’s conference, and this is what we’re up against. This agent demonstrated the amount of time she normally gives to a query. If she didn’t like your introduction, your simple, Dear Marina Agento (a totally made-up agent’s name), My name is Fred Zimberbaum and I write time-travel erotica, you wound up in the trash BEFORE she even get to the sample chapter. Clearly, this kind of agent is not who you want to send your Time Travel Erotica to. She’s a waste of postage. Your manuscript never gets a chance, which is a freakin’ shame because writing a letter is vastly different to writing a novel.

Very different.

So how does one be professional, courteous and gimmicky enough to get the agent or publisher’s attention? How is one to be all and everything at once? How can I get your attention, Mr./Ms Agent and Publishing Editor? 

Well. guess what? I’m pragmatic. I know, no matter how good you are, no matter what your gimmick, it comes down to two words. Crap. Shoot.

Ok. One word. Subjective.

Since that’s the case, if a query letter also comes down to a matter of subjectivity, doesn’t it make more logical sense (and save trees) to send a note that contains a short synopsis, along with the first, say five pages of your manuscript? Better still, make all of this querying electronic. Hey, Agents, put your tastes on your bio page, so the author can target you and not wind up in the garbage because you only like erotica when it’s Regency erotica. It would save on postage and time. No one would wait around for nine months to hear if your letter has been received. Go the route of Avon Books (the Harper Collins arm for Romance novels). They are speedy and to the point when they say No thanks.  How about y’all get together to make some kind of industry standard?

I’m not really complaining. Really. Honest. But there is something I want to know. Will bribery work? Or would you prefer me singing for my supper? Because I can really belt out Let Me Entertain You. If you give more than just my query letter the chance.

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