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What can you learn about getting a top literary agent, publisher, and book deal by getting locked out of your house?

A lot.

Here’s what happened…

A few weeks ago, my wife and business partner, Ingrid Elfver, and I arrived home from a relaxing Friday night dinner out. It was about 8 pm and dark outside as we got undressed, put on our robes, and started looking for a good movie to watch on Pay-Per-View.

That’s when we heard it.

Water running outside our bedroom window.

Apparently the sprinklers were still on, even though they’d been on since 11 a.m. Not good. Thoughts began racing through my mind. What’s going on? Wait, oh no! There’s a water restriction!! They might fine us hundreds or thousands of dollars!!!

I panicked and
put on my slippers.

“Ingrid, where’s the sprinkler control box?”

“Probably outside the house,” she said with a smile.

“That’s not funny,” I said. “Come on, let’s go find it.”

Although we’d been living in our new house for five months, we’re renting the place and our landlord has a gardener who takes care of the yard.

We were clueless.

I didn’t expect Ingrid to go outside with me, but she did. Love you, honey. But, after stumbling around outside for fifteen minutes, groping around trees and bushes and the side of the house, the only thing we’d gotten was soaking wet.

“Let’s go inside and call the gardener,” I said.

“But he doesn’t speak English.”

“What choice do we have?” I asked.

Fortunately, we got the gardener on the phone using FaceTime (video call) and I was able to show him what was happening. And his English was good enough that he could tell me the sprinkler box was hidden behind a hedge near our garage.

After that, Ingrid got back in bed and I went outside to fix things. At least that was the plan. But I’m apparently not that smart. Although I can write an irresistible query letter to make literary agents swoon, I can’t figure out how to turn off a sprinkler system.

So many dials and settings…

#$@&%*!

Back in the house I went.

“Ingrid, I need your help. I can’t figure out how to turn the stupid thing off. I even unplugged it, but it must have a battery backup.”

[“This line of dialogue intentionally deleted to protect Ingrid’s reputation.”]

After Ingrid and I fiddled with the sprinkler box again, unsuccessfully, we called the gardener back. He showed us how to turn off the water supply for the sprinklers instead. Good enough for the moment.

Problem solved.

Ingrid and I hugged each other in the cool night air, and then we trudged back up the stairs of our entryway to finally watch our movie.

But…

The front door
was locked.

Yep.

Dear God,
please make it stop.

I looked up at the stars in the sky and waited to see if anything would happen, but my prayer went unanswered. So we called a locksmith.

I thought the locksmith would simply pick the lock (like they do in the movies) and let us in, but he gave me an education instead. It seems there are three different ways to get through a lock. You can pick it, bump it, or drill it.

Picking a lock is best because it’s quick and easy (and the cheapest). If that fails, you have to “bump” the lock… stick something in it and tap it in a way that the lock hopefully surrenders (more expensive). Or, you can drill it. That’s the worst option because it ruins the lock and you have to pay for a new one.

Ingrid and I sat on the
concrete steps and waited.

Pick, pick, pick…

Nothing.

Time to bump it.

Tap, tap, tap… we’re in!

Sweet.

After I paid the locksmith
I started thinking…

Getting a top literary agent, publisher, and book deal is a lot like getting in your house when you’re locked out. In other words, there’s more than one way to do it. In fact, there are often several ways.

And that’s something
you need to know.

When I’m working 1-on-1 with an author coaching/consulting client and I’m rewriting his or her query letter… I always see many different ways to pitch their project. And I have a Plan A, B, and C.

Pick it, bump it, drill it.

If something is incredibly important, you don’t just have one plan or approach and give up if the first one doesn’t work. Some things, like getting in your house (or getting a top literary agent, publisher, and book deal), are too important for that.

So, how do you actually apply this type of
thinking when pitching your project?

Here’s my favorite example…

It involves a client I’m working with right now who registered for an Introductory Coaching Call with me, and then decided to hire me to help him rewrite his query letter and get the attention of top literary agents.

I didn’t just come up
with one pitch.

I came up
with three.

That’s because you never know which pitch is going to get the best results. That’s right. Not even me. Yes, I know. I’ve helped authors get top literary agents with literary agencies such as Trident Media and Fine Print Lit. My authors have gotten six-figure book deals, been on bestseller lists, and sold millions of books.

But you should never
get cocky in this business.

Because…

The second you think you start believing you know it all, something’s going to happen to remind you that you don’t.

Plus, every book
is different.

Pick it, bump it, drill it.

So…

Take a look at the following three openings to my client’s query letter and see if you can figure out which one generated the best results.

Just keep in mind…

Agents aren’t going to read past the first few sentences of your query letter unless you hook them. So the first few sentences of your query are the most critical.

Click here if you haven’t yet read my article
about the 8-second Query Letter Rule.

* * *

Query Opening #1

.

Dear [Mr. or Ms. Last Name of Agent]:

On the Edge of Everything (100K words) is an intelligent adventure novel that straddles the commercial/literary boundary. It chronicles the rocky paths and motivations of six people who, across the span of a dozen years, entwine themselves with two well-known mountain peaks in Colorado. One climber seeks adventure, another seeks balance, and yet another seeks immortality. Two more climbers are looking for love. And Ruth, the sole woman in the group, ends up finding something she isn’t looking for at all. Behind everyone is the drive to succeed and conquer, to establish oneself—and the grim specter of death.

* * *

Query Opening #2

.

Dear [Mr. or Ms. Last Name of Agent]:

Are you a risk-taker? What’s the most dangerous thing you’ve done in your life? Why did you do it? And how did it change you? Those are some of the questions I explore in my novel.

On the Edge of Everything (100K words) is an intelligent adventure story that straddles the commercial/literary boundary. It chronicles the rocky paths and motivations of six people who, across the span of a dozen years, entwine themselves with two well-known mountain peaks in Colorado. One climber seeks adventure, another seeks balance, and yet another seeks immortality. Two more climbers are looking for love. And Ruth, the sole woman in the group, ends up finding something she isn’t looking for at all. Behind everyone is the drive to succeed and conquer, to establish oneself—and the grim specter of death.

* * *

Query Opening #3

.

Dear [Mr. or Ms. Last Name of Agent]:

What motivates people to put everything at risk to participate in dangerous sports like mountain climbing, and how does it change them?

On the Edge of Everything (100K words) is an intelligent adventure novel that straddles the commercial/literary boundary. It chronicles the rocky paths and motivations of six people who, across the span of a dozen years, entwine themselves with two well-known mountain peaks in Colorado.

One climber seeks adventure, another seeks balance, and yet another seeks immortality. Two more climbers are looking for love. And Ruth, the sole woman in the group, ends up finding something she isn’t looking for at all. Behind everyone is the drive to succeed and conquer, to establish oneself—and the grim specter of death.

* * *

So…

Which query letter opening
in the samples above
generated the best response?

It wasn’t
number one.

That opening
got us nowhere.

Even though I thought it was interesting
and intelligent, we bombed out with
that one during our first
round of queries.

No nibbles.

That’s when I changed the query
to the second version.

Bingo!!!

We started getting requests for
sample chapters and full manuscripts.

So…

Why did one version work
while the other failed miserably?

The first letter was well-written and, in theory, it should have worked. But it didn’t, so I felt I had to change something.

That’s when I saw a way to make the story more personal for agents. The second letter asked them if they were risk-takers. It asked them about the most dangerous thing they’d done in their lives. And it asked them why they did it and how it changed them.

In short…

It got them thinking about the one thing
we all think about more than anything else.

Ourselves.

I made my client’s book sound like it was about the agents reading the pitch. Instead of starting out by saying the book was about a, b, and c themes or plot… or x, y, and z characters… I essentially made the agent the protagonist.

Pretty cool, right?

I can say that now,
only because it worked. 😉

Oh, in case you’re wondering, I never used the third query letter opening listed above. That was another option I came up with but I believed the second version was going to be better… so that’s what we went with.

* * *

Conclusion

.

Don’t get discouraged if you strike out during your first swing at bat when pitching your book. There’s more than one way get into your house if you get locked out, and there’s more than one way to get the attention of top literary agents.

Pick it, bump it, drill it.

If you haven’t
already done so…

Click here now to discover how to have me review your pitch materials (query, synopsis, sample pages, etc.), give you suggestions to improve them, and answer all your questions during an Introductory Coaching Call.

When it comes to query letters, even I don’t always get it right the first time. So don’t feel bad if you’ve been struggling to get the attention of agents. Perhaps together, we can make it happen. I can’t promise you I’ll get you an agent in time for the holidays. But I might. And you’ll never know if you don’t sign up!

Remember…

Getting published isn’t luck,
it’s a decision.

All my best,

–  Mark

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Mark Malatesta answers questions about literary agent biographies

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