Finding an Agent

Q: William Nona writes: "So, like, really, how do I find an agent?" A: This question has vexed aspiring authors for decades, and continues to pose a mystery to most. I have friends who are literary agents, and they are just as perplexed as to why people approach them in the manner they do and expect to receive representation. In the interest of making life easier for you and the agents, let's cover 9 fundamentals that you must do to have any hope of success.

Here are 9 keys to make yourself and your book irresistible to literary agents:

1) Author Platform--this is a make or break point for non-fiction writers, but can be significant to fiction writers as well. Everyone in publishing has figured out by now that the #1 predictor of book sales is the size and strength of the author's platform.

That means you have some or all of the following: (you don't have to have them all, but the more of these you have, the easier it will be.)

  • A large list of opted in subscribers who have given you their contact info.
  • Large numbers of followers in social media (like over 100,000 "likes" and "views" and around 30,000 unique visitors to your blog each month.)
  • Guest blogging spots on high profile websites (such as hit daytime talk shows' sites, Huffington Post, etc)
  • Strong relationships with affiliate partners with even larger lists than yours
  • Regular and widespread media coverage in which you are quoted or featured
  • Speaking bookings for groups that came to hear you
  • A solid, growing client base of raving fans who already are purchasing products from you
  • A previous book you wrote that has sold well.

2) A salable concept--If you have a book concept that agents can sell, they will get a lot more excited about it and you. A salable concept has three main traits:

  • Authentic to you and what you want to say
  • Relevant to your target audience
  • Unique and fills a need/want in the marketplace

3) Show them you can write--believe it or not, quality of writing still matters. Agents and publishers got into the business at least in part because they appreciate a good read more than most. Especially for those writing novels and memoir, the quality of the storytelling can overcome at least some of the shortcomings you may have in author platform. Still, anyone who wants an agent is best served submitting a well-written work, even those with mega-platforms.

4) Look with persistence: some of the most successful authors of all time had trouble finding representation for their work. This is the main difference between the ones that make it and the ones who don't. The ones who don't stop. If you want an agent, you must commit to having one. Commitment looks like the remaining 5 points...

5 ) Have your work professionally critiqued and edited before you contact any agent at all. You can improve the work and avoid burning a bridge because you sent something that appeared unprofessional.

6) Find out how agents like to be pitched. Get a book, get a coach, but don't make it up or reinvent the wheel here. Certain things work, and most everything else doesn't.

7) Query and pitch: find agents you think are a match for your work, send queries, and/or go to writers conferences and pitch them in person.

8) Listen to the feedback:  if you're fortunate enough to receive feedback or suggestions from agents as you query, pay attention. Don't just dismiss it. Take an honest look at their comments and what you sent and look for opportunities to improve.

9) Be polite and gracious: publishing is a small, small, tight-knit world. Be courteous to everyone. Say thank you. Never bad mouth an agent, a publisher, or another author's book. You never know who's listening.