book promotion, Literary Agents, publishing

The Heart of the Matter.


A piece on Scribophile asks an important question:


Yesterday, I went to my first ever writer’s conference. It gave me my first exposure to meeting an agent face-to-face in a “speed date” of 10 minutes. I delivered my pitch. She cut me down to a stump with one question:

“Okay, so I get that you have _____, and you have _____, but, like, what’s your one thing that’s going to make me want to read this book?”

I stared at her stupefied for a moment. I wasn’t able to give the agent an answer that made her go, “Oh, wow. Yes! Please send me that book. I have to find out about that.”

She asked a simple, direct question that cut to the quick: this is a woman with not enough time for anyone, and yet she’s contemplating — maybe — adding a person to her client list, if she thinks the burden is worth it. She already puts in intensive hours working for her existing clients and poring over hundreds of other submissions. What makes me the needle in the haystack? Why am I so goddamn special?


This is the question I have for the hoards of books touted on Facebook. There are a thousand paranormal romances out there. There are a thousand of everything. And I already have stacks – hell, mountains – of books waiting to be read. Why should I devote my time to yours?

The answer, as far as my own thing is concerned, would be: for super-imaginative fun delivered with merry wise-ass style.

Were I to encapsulate the many joys of the renowned series of naval adventures by Patrick O’Brian (that currently enthrall me), I would say, A beguiling interplay of complex characterization, adventure with a touch of mystery, and a mind-blowing knowledge of the sea. I am mesmerized!

What about you? What would be your Heart-of-the-Matter response?



10 thoughts on “The Heart of the Matter.

  1. GD Deckard says:

    WoW Mimi 🙂 That is the essential question, ain’t it?

    I plan to say, “The book will sell.”
    Because? Why, because it’s funny, the character are engaging and the social commentary is provocative.
    Now that I’ve answered the agent’s question, excuse me. I have to go write that kind of book.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. mimispeike says:

    I think it comes down to your passion for your book. Don’t give plot points. Sell the sizzle, not the steak. Get readers to investigate a give-away, a teaser, a first chapter. At that point it has to sell itself.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. atthysgage says:

    This is why I gave up on trying to find a literary agent. I really don’t believe I’ll ever write a book that will make anyone say, wow, this is going to sell a lot of copies. I wish I could. Even then, I’d probably have a very hard time coming up with a decent log line.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. mimispeike says:

    GD, I like your answer: because it’s funny, the characters are engaging and the social commentary is provocative. That’s about the spirit of what I would say. That I sure hope would get me some attention. But Alex is also right: Unanswerable!

    This is one of those nigh impossible questions. I’m kind of sorry I put it up. I was casting about for something quick, just to get something in the queue. I’m having trouble working up the energy for a substantial piece. I guess we all are.

    Atthys, I’m not thinking of how to seduce an agent. I’m thinking, how do I seduce readers? My answer would be the same. Show, not plot points, show personality. Convey the flavor of the piece. That’s my untested, possibly worthless advice.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Perry Palin says:

    Like Atthys, I am not looking for a literary agent, and don’t suppose I ever will.

    If I ran into an agent at a theatre production or on a trout stream, I would say, “This book speaks to the American experience. None of the characters are perfect; they struggle with power, respect, money, and romance, and readers will adopt those characters they want to prevail.”

    Liked by 1 person

  6. mimispeike says:

    “This book speaks to the American experience. None of the characters are perfect; they struggle with power, respect, money, and romance, and readers will adopt those characters they want to prevail.”

    Perry, this is exactly the sort of thing that would attract my interest.

    I read the promos on Facebook for laughs. That’s the only reason I read them.

    I had an idea to gang together all the tired touts into one cover-all-bases tout, and write a piece on that. That would be fun.

    I’ll start collecting material for it today. Generic lines with spaces for insertions: names, attributes, challenges, etc. pulled from from a list of possibilities.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Mimi,

    So many thoughts on this question. I love Perry’s response about the work being the UN-perfect American novel and what GD said about it being funny and engaging. I am probably going to steal both of these answers and combine them together. We all hope to have the perfect scripted answer when presented with the impossible question.

    Maybe the agent in question is a wonderful person, who is full of love and cheer and encouragement and sugar and spice. In that case, I am wrong for what I am about to say.

    I wish I were a prefect person because I am far from perfect and I absolutely hate dealing with belittling bullies. This agent’s attitude is everything that I abhor in the publishing world. To me, the question what makes your work special is really what makes you worthy enough to give me 15% of every penny that you make for the rest of your life.”

    I don’t care that a agent has a mail box full of words. I don’t care that they have to read thousands of submissions and I don’t care that they live in the world’s most expensive cities. They chose this life. I bet they don’t feel bad for the garbage man either because they think that the garbage man loves to smell rotting food.

    If/when I get asked that question. I will say something like there is nothing that will make you read my work because I am not offering it to you. You are not worthy of my words. What I really wanted to ask you is who is the agent that you absolutely hate because that is who I am going to offer my words too. When they are living the big life off my hard work and magical creativity, deep down in your heart you will know that it could have been you.

    I have lived a life of uber blessings, so many blessings that I have no more professional needs. I have a wonderful wife, great kids and I chose to live a life of peace, love and happiness. No one knows the future but I think of my words as my children. I would not trade their future for my gain and I would much rather never sale a book standing on my own than sale a million books bowing at the alter of the high priests who live a life of owning my words and stealing my money.

    Thank you for giving me a opportunity to think about this before it happens.Now that I have a canned answer, I will never get the chance to say it.Oh well.



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