Getting an agent – Mortal Kombat style

Emlyn Chand

Do you like to play video games? Have you ever played Mortal Kombat, Street Fighter, Soul Calibur, or Super Smash Brothers?

If you’re a writer who has attempted to land a literary agent, then you have to some degree. Securing a literary agent is one part fight and one part game, and there are many rounds to this battle.

I’ve made it through the first match alive but slightly worse for the wear. Rather than explain my literary agent submission experience in lengthy, dramatic prose, I thought it would be more fun to turn it into a video game script.

Welcome to Book Basher Super Fiiiight Time—Hiyaah!

Deep in the snowy wasteland of the mid-January Midwest, our hero boldly prepares for battle. With nothing more than a six-time-revised manuscript and a dash of hope, she sets forth on her journey toward publication.

Meanwhile in the magical urban forest called
“New York,” an army of battle-weary agents also prepare for their day’s
journeys. They have emerged victorious many times before and think nothing of
today’s show-down.

Within the space of the cyber realm, at last
they shall meet.

Our hero goes forth, query in hand, with
minimal armor to protect her feelings. Although she has honed her skills for
more than one year, nothing could have prepared her for this first battle.

Emlyn vs. The Literary
Agents—Battle 1—Fiiiight!

OUR HERO: “I’m calling on my strength.” She
circles her arms and performs a sun salute.

AGENT #1:  “He, he. I will make you
cry!” She looks at our hero from over her shoulder, sticks out her tongue,
and winks.

OUR HERO inches forward, hesitantly, toward
her opponent

AGENT #1 performs a swift maneuver, pulling a
red rejection stamp out of her pocket and bringing it to rest on our hero’s manuscript—
KO—“You die too easily, hmmpf!”
Out in MAY!

Emlyn vs. The Literary
Agents—Battle 2—Fiiiight!

OUR HERO: “If I believe in myself, I shall
emerge victorious”

AGENT #2: “Don’t waste my time,” he growls
through his robotic sheath.

OUR HERO stands still staring at her massive
opponent. She can not forget the outcome of her previous match. She is
immobilized from this fear of failing again. She is almost too afraid to…

AGENT #2 sees his opponent’s hesitation. He
jumps high into the air and lands on our hero using a three-move combo—not for
us, misspell querier’s name, forget to mention ms title—BAAAAM!—KO—“Thank you
for giving me the opportunity to consider your work, weakling.” He laughs quite

Emlyn vs. The Literary
Agents—Battle 3—Fiiiight!

OUR HERO: “If I persevere, success will
surely be obtained.”

AGENT #3: “This is an automated reply—beep—if
you do not hear from us with 8 weeks’ time, then we have determined your work
is not a right fit for us—beep!”

OUR HERO: sighs, shrugs shoulders, and sits
to wait for her opponent’s arrival. Weeks pass by, months—no word from Agent
#3. Our hero stands up and jumps off the edge of the screen, effectively
eliminating herself from this battle—KO!

Emlyn vs. The Literary
Agents—Battle 4—Fiiiight!

OUR HERO has hurt herself in the fall. She
has spent weeks recuperating under the guidance of her writing sensei. Now, she
is finally ready to approach battle again. She has lost almost all of her
optimistic fervor. She now expects to lose but that doesn’t mean she won’t
continue to train hard and try her best in battles.
AGENT #4 emerges from the shadows and glares
at our hero hostilely. “Let’s make this quick.”

OUR HERO stares back. “I’m not afraid of
you,” she says. And she’s not. They can’t scare her anymore. She’s suffered
many defeats, what harm will one more do? Even with the slightest chance of
securing victory, it’s worth fighting, it’s worth suffering another humiliating
and painful defeat.

AGENT #4 removes a stack of papers from her
satchel and prepares to fling them at her opponent, Chinese star style.

OUR HERO sees the approaching onslaught and
jumps high into the air, landing at the agent’s back. She brings out her

AGENT #4 attempts to do a low-back kick but
misses our hero.

OUR HERO makes her attack. “I will not be
ignored. My name is Emlyn Chand and THE IRON PILLAR is an 85,000-word work of
multicultural women’s fiction…”

AGENT #4’s eyes glaze over. She has been
caught in our hero’s trap. Now she has no choice but to listen. She can attack
again once our hero’s attempts at securing victory have finished.

OUR HERO: “The most important of which is
love for oneself. Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to
hearing from you.” Having used the only move in her repertoire, our hero raises
her eyes above her query letter and waits.

AGENT #4 is still in a trance-like state. The
well-written query letter has calmed her. She puzzles over her thoughts for a
moment, and then—“Yes, I am interested. I would like to request a partial
OUR HERO jumps high into the air, doing an
elaborate spin kick. She cannot believe what just happened. She won, she won,
she won! No KO this time. She lands on feet as light as the air.

AGENT #4: “This, of course, is only the first
step. If I like your partial, I’ll request a full, if I like your full, I will
consider offering representation.” She snaps her fingers and vanishes back into
the tangle of the urban forest.

OUR HERO is left all alone in the cyber
realm. She hadn’t realized that she would have to face this same agent again.
The agent will be back, no doubt, stronger, more vicious. The only thing to do
now is to wait and prepare herself mentally for the next battle. Our hero sits
down cross-legged and begins to count the blades of grass that cushion her
bottom. It shouldn’t be too long now…

Update:  Emlyn actually did get a literary agent four
months after she wrote this post! He’s currently shipping around the
aforementioned manuscript. Meanwhile, Emlyn decided counting blades of grass
wasn’t a productive use of her time and chose to self-publish her second novel,
Farsighted, the first in a YA
paranormal series.


Alex Kosmitoras’s life has never been easy. The only other student who will talk to him is the school bully, his parents are dead-broke and insanely overprotective, and to complicate matters even more, he’s blind. Just when he thinks he’ll never have a shot at a normal life, a new girl from India moves into town. Simmi is smart, nice, and actually wants to be friends with Alex. Plus she smells like an Almond Joy bar. Yes, sophomore year might not be so bad after all.


Unfortunately, Alex is in store for another new arrival—an
unexpected and often embarrassing ability to “see” the future. Try as he may,
Alex is unable to ignore his visions, especially when they begin to suggest
that Simmi is in danger. With the help of the mysterious psychic next door and
new friends who come bearing gifts of their own, Alex must embark on a journey
to change his future.
 Book Teaser: Alex Kosmitoras may be blind, but he can still
“see” things others can’t. When his unwanted visions of the future
begin to suggest that the girl he likes could be in danger, he has no choice
but to take on destiny and demand it reconsider.

Buy from:  and

Emlyn Chand has always loved to hear and tell stories, having
emerged from the womb with a fountain pen grasped firmly in her left hand (true
 Farsighted is her
very first novel. When she’s not writing, she runs a large book club in Ann
Arbor and is the president of author PR firm, 
Novel Publicity. Emlyn loves to
connect with readers and is available throughout the social media interweb.
Visit for
more info. Don’t forget to say “hi” to her sun conure Ducky!

Stephanie Dray’s Song of the Nile – another book for your TBR list.

Way back in November 2010 Wise Words interviewed Stephanie Dray over her book Lily of the Nile. She is now BACK with the captivating sequel SONG OF THE NILE.

Song of the Nile

Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra’s daughter has become the
emperor’s most unlikely apprentice and the one woman who can destroy his

Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene
pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own
Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land.

Forced to marry a man of the emperor’s choosing, Selene will not allow her
new husband to rule in her name. She quickly establishes herself as a capable
leader in her own right and as a religious icon. Beginning the hard work of
building a new nation, she wins the love of her new subjects and makes herself
vital to Rome by bringing forth bountiful harvests.

But it’s the magic of Isis flowing through her veins that makes her
indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and
religious persecution, Cleopatra’s daughter beguiles her way to the very
precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price
of her mother’s throne be more than she’s willing to pay?


Stephanie graduated from Smith, a small women’s college in Massachusetts
where–to the consternation of her devoted professors–she was unable to master
Latin. However, her focus on Middle Eastern Studies gave her a deeper
understanding of the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in
terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the
worldwide decline of female-oriented religion.
Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a
teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate
the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She
remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation
of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

Read Stephanie’s 2010 interview on Wise Words HERE

Six reasons an agent/publisher will stop reading your submission.

1. Dull
openings –
 Novels that open with the weather or description don’t inspire
an imagination. Also, be aware that scene building can be equally dull. Build
your world in between action, and throughout your novel; you DON’T need to get it all in in the first chapter.

2. Trying to be
clever – 
Novels that use humungous words and long cryptic paragraphs makes the writer appear arrogant, and nobody likes arrogance.

3. Too
Much Info
  Trying to describe something as you see it is hard. Better to
describe a little, and let your readers’ imagination do the rest otherwise your
MS is going to be tossed to one side in favour of another because it’s OVER WRITTEN.

4. Clichés – “Her
hair was jet black.” “She looked as white as a ghost!” Yes, the meaning is there,
but it doesn’t stand out. Clichés dulls writing, so think of your own

5. POV – Whose
story is it? If point of view is all mixed up, it’s difficult to form a
connection with the main character.

6. Unlikely
narrative – 
Don’t make your characters talk the reader through something. If your character is injured he wouldn’t be
talking about the pain, but living it out in agony.

Andrew Lownie, Literary Agency: Fifteen Tips on Approaching an Agent

Andrew Lownie offers some advice on how best to present yourself to an agent.

Authors are often angry, frustrated or shocked by the responses or lack of responses from agents and it might be useful to give some background and advice which might help with pitching to agents.
Your book is special to you and may one day be to other people but at the moment it is just another submission. Authors need to remember that agents are inundated with submissions. Most have full lists already and need to concentrate on their existing clients. Of course we are looking for new talent but the chances of selling books from the slush pile are small.

Some agents claim they have never sold anything from the slush pile though I take it very seriously, and personally look at almost twenty thousand submissions each year . Given each submission may be over forty pages long, that is a lot of reading to fit around the reading of my existing clients’ work, such as the fifty delivered manuscripts each year, and the normal work of the agency…

Click here for more.


I have kindly been allowed to share a link to an interview with Andrew Lownie on Writers’ Clinic over on Anita Andrews’ writing blog. Here is an introduction:

With bestselling authors such as Cathy Glass, Laurence Gardener and David Craig, literary agent Andrew Lownie continues to prove he is a hot agent to have.
Authors seeking advice, tips and representation will devour Andrew Lownie’s website which allows you to tiptoe in the literary world. He represents largely non-fiction, although his list of fiction authors is impressive in itself.

Having worked in Foyle’s bookshop, Hodder & Stoughton and Curtis Brown, he set up his own agency twenty years ago. When he started though, he needed to supplement his income as an author and freelance journalist for The Times and The Spectator. He has lost none of his hard working ethos.

´I receive about 200 e mails a day, most of them with queries or forty page proposals attached, quite apart from fax, phone and post which have to be dealt with. Several articles on my website deal with a ‘typical’ day or week and give fuller information but I generally start at 7.45 am and work through to 6.30 and then again from 10.30 to midnight in the office from Monday to Friday but, as I work from home, I also spend several hours each weekend either in the office or reading manuscripts or delivered books. There are usually several meetings a day with authors, publishers or TV producers, a lunch and some sort of event in the evening.

´Much of my time is spent assessing new submissions, chasing publishers for advances or decisions, liaising with editors, TV producers or authors on queries which have arisen on placed projects. Twice a year thousands of royalty statements come in and have to be checked, copied and payments made if the books have earned their advances.´

Click here for the rest of the interview (you’ll need to scroll down a little bit) and find out things like what he thinks of rejection, or why he gives short shrift to writers’ block.

Writing a Query Letter

Here are a few simple factors when writing your query letter:
ALWAYS enclose an SAE – no buts, or whys, just enclose one big enough for your ms to be returned. And on sending make sure you put on the correct postage!
Try and find out the name of the agent you want to approach, but don’t rely on Writers’ and Artists’ Handbook and the like too much, because agents change jobs frequently. Use their full name “Annie Agentson”, rather than Mrs Agentson.

DON’T try and be clever and gimmicky in your approach, neither be hostile. If an agent likes the look of your book, they will be trying to detect whether they could work with you by your letter content.

AGENTS have seen it all before. Be slick. Be professional. A little humility and subtle touch of humour in a letter can’t hurt. Although, cheeky can pay off arrogance doesn’t bode well at all, so know the difference.

DON’T be pretentious or try too hard to be impressive. Agents don’t care if you won Twitter’s Shorty Award two years ago.
NOT every agent wants a long synopsis. Many prefer a ‘back of the book’ blurb – it could pay to find out.

DON’T be afraid to drop your book if it gets enough rejections and start again on another. There is a reason agents don’t want it, even if you can’t see it.

Read the company’s guidelines before sending them anything, and stick to it. I get irritated when people send me things without looking into what I do. I get emails daily from writers who request I agent them or worse publish them! I do neither of these, so imagine the amount of unrelated emails an agent will receive.

NEVER mention the amount of rejections you have had for your ms – makes you sound like a failure.

NEVER tell the agent this is your first book and you’re new to writing. If you’ve published before however, reveal all.

NEVER say you have been working on a book for five or more years. Agents want authors who can churn out a book every year.
Do add links to your website/blog if it’s writing related.
DON’T expect, just because you have an agent, you will automatically find a publisher. This can also take many

years and many more books.

Do keep your query letter brief, and straight to the point. Be professional, and don’t write it in the tone of your novel. Save that for the synopsis.

REMEMBER the rejection slips are kept in bulk, and slipped into the returns envelope without thinking of you. You are just a commodity and rejections aren’t personal.
Keep your query to one page, and don’t forget to add the date to the top.
Include all relevant material in the query, but don’t go and repeat it all in the synopsis, keep that for telling (not showing) the facts of the story.
Your query letter should be gently persuasive. Include other publications that have your similar theme, but make sure it’s not from the agency you are writing to (especially if they are a small company). If they already represent a thriller writer why would they want to risk their established author’s irk to take on yours? you have been lucky enough to find interest in your ms, send it promptly when asked. In your cover letter, remind them of their request. Here, you do not need to enclose an SAE.
But did you know literary agents often, to save on printing costs, reuse the manuscripts that have been submitted?
They simply recycle the pages, and print what they need on the other side. So do make sure it’s your name and not the title of your book at the top of the page.
And if you sent a SAE and it hasn’t been returned your ms could be laying around with doodles on the other side! Or being idly read by an office worker – or a top agent. 

Obviously there are loads of books on this subject, but there is no hidden formula really. It’s basically grabbing the interest of an agent with the right book at the right time.

Proposals by Email.

Dear Agent,
Please find attached my idea for a novel called: Twinned. It’s in PDF because I don’t want you to steal my idea!!! 😦
My mum says it’s brilliant! It is a thriller about a woman who falls for a man who has a twin who is a wanted man. To spice things up the woman also discovers she is a twin (separated at birth), and the sister traces her and falls in love with the criminal twin!!!!
Let me know what you think,
Regards, Sarah

Dear Agent,
Just to let you know I’ve thought of a sequel to Twinned. It’s about the twins marrying one another and going on a life of crime with their twin children. View the attached and let me know what you think ASAP.
Regards, Sarah

Dear Agent,
Forgot to add, the sequel is called Twinned Again.

Dear Agent,
I’m concerned you haven’t contacted me about my ideas for Twinned and Twinned Again that I emailed the other day. I’m sure you can’t be that busy that you can’t press the reply button!!!
Regards, Sarah

Dear Agent,
Why haven’t you replied? It’s very rude. Mum thinks it’s a conspiracy on new authorism or something. Is it?
Regards, Sarah

Dear Agey,
I am getting very worried now. Maybe you haven’t received my novel and it went into spam? I know this can happen because it happens a lot to me 😦 .  Please check your spam box. BTW I’ve changed the genre to romance.

Dear Age,
Just in case you have lost Twinned and Twinned Again here is another attachment 😀 !!!!
The opening is a little slow because I have to introduce two sets of twins and their twin off-spring (the criminal twin and his wife have triplets!!!!), but on page ten it’s really good!! Oh, I’ve made the characters older so the children have more to do in the story. Mum thinks it’ll defo be a bestseller now!!!
Best, Sarah

The genre is now an YA. Think I’ll focus on the kids of the story rather than the parents.

Just to let you know my friends on facebook said they will buy my book once you publish it. Can you tell me when that will be please?
S xx

Hi A,
I’ve wrote the second chapter now and have sent that as attached. It’s copywrited so don’t get any ideas!!!!! This chapter focuses on the triplets. They have taken on their dad’s life of crime, so this one is more thriller than romance. Not sure how it will pan out tbh. ;)Will you get back to me this week? I really, really REALLY need to know what you think before I continue further.

Have you replied? If you have I haven’t received it. Can you forward your reply again?

Disregard the previous email and chapter two. The triplets Jan, Fran and Ann are now boys called Jack, Zach and Mac!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Love Sar xx.


Dear Mr Agent,
I am thinking about reporting you. This wait (four days and five hours) is outrageous. May I remind you that if it wasn’t for writers like me you’d be out of a job!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Sarah Higgenbottom

You aren’t going to reply are you? 😦 😦
People are SO rude!!!!!!!!!!!! I am taking my novel ideas to another agency. This is YOUR loss.
Ms Higgenbottom