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If there’s one thing that bothers me it’s when you see a very talented writer ruin their chances of ever getting an agent. And it’s not because they’re not talented enough, or not nice enough or hard-working enough. It’s often because on some level, they’re self-sabotaging their own success.

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I ghostwrite query letters for clients and I recently had an Asian-based client who did exactly that. He had a wonderful storyline and I encouraged him, before we sent the query letter out, to get his manuscript as ready as possible.  If that meant having it professionally edited, so be it. I even had the name of editors who formerly worked at major publishing houses who could do so for him here:

His response? He wanted to leave the manuscript as he put it, “raw so that literary agents can see my full-potential.”  Um, no.

No matter how much I gently encouraged him that maybe that wasn’t the best route, he didn’t want to listen. I told him that you only have one shot at these agents and you want to make a good first impression, yet he insisted he was right.

Here I am, dealing with literally hundreds of literary agencies a year. They tell me exactly what they’re looking for, why they accept and reject clients and yet he insisted that he must know better.

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It’s just sad to me. His manuscript had tremendous potential but it needed more than a Band-aid, it needed double-bypass surgery.

My point is, when you’re talking to people who do this for a living, who engage with other publishing professionals day in and day out, listen to them.  They know what they’re talking about. Do that, and you’ll be one step closer to landing an agent.


If you would like to see an example of query letters that worked, visit:

Jeff Rivera

Image by adrian.coto via Flickr

Guest post by Jeff Rivera, who is the founder of He and his works have been featured or mentioned in Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat, Mediabistro, Los Angeles Times, New York Observer, NPR and many other media outlets.

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