Craft Talk Rewind: Erik Hane’s “Ushering Your Book into the World”

By Karissa Zastrow

The Chippewa Valley Writer’s Guild kicked off their second season with guest speaker Erik Hane from Red Sofa Literary to discuss submitting to literary agents and how to find the right agent for you and your work.    

One of the first things Hane discussed during his craft talk was that writers should not be intimidated by literary agents. Typically, the person on the other end of that dreaded e-mail is a writer just like you, who will one day need to find an agent to represent their work. The important thing to remember when submitting to agents is to not be discouraged by rejections. While it is taxing to get rejection after rejection, Hane emphasized that the rejections are not reflections of your work, but rather that what you have written may not be the best fit for that agent.

Hane described the relationship between agents and writers as an equal partnership. The agent has to feel like he or she can have an interpersonal relationship with the writer since they will be working closely together for quite some time. The agent’s job is to keep everything on track from creating a social media presence for the author, editing the author’s work, advocating for the author, and explaining the whole process. Many agents work on commission and unless the book is sold, no one gets paid, so it is in everyone’s best interest that the agent feels confident in the relationship with the author and the author’s work.

One of the main topics at the craft talk was the query letter, which is most often an e-mail sent to an agent advocating your writing. This is not an opportunity to send your manuscript, but instead pitch who you are and what your book is like. Query letters should be brief (3-4 paragraphs) with a short author bio near the end, and information on your novel. According to Hane, agents love when it feels like the author has thought about where their book would fit in the current market. Don’t be afraid to name comparable titles that are similar to the novel you are pitching. The key here is to point to a book that is like yours, but explain what sets it apart and what makes it attractive to your audience. 

Hane offered some crucial information on the dos and don’ts of query letters:

• He stressed that these letters should be personalized. In the e-mail you should use the agent’s name and explain why you would want to send it to them. 

• Many agents include a paragraph on what they are looking for and what piques their interest on the website, so do your research before submitting your work. 

• Do not send a query letter to more than one agent at an agency at a time. This could lead to conflicts within their company and it puts everyone involved in an uncomfortable position. 

• Before you sent the query letter, your work should be completed and edited. It should be as polished as it can be before even thinking about submitting a query letter. 

• Never describe your novel as “recently completed” because it sounds like it has not been edited or like it has not even been completed yet. 

Using his professional knowledge as an agent along with his personal understanding as a writer, Hane encourages writers to look at the industry from a different perspective. Remember, the agent-writer relationship is a partnership, not one where the agent or the writer has the upper hand. Instead of getting discouraged when your work is rejected, refocus and tell yourself, “I guess that agent is not the right fit,” and start looking for another agent who might be perfect for you and your work. After all, you have worked hard to get your work to where you want it to be, why would you want someone not as invested in your work as you are?