13 Ways to Convince a Literary Agent to Represent You

Meet a literary agent
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You’ve been trying to crack the code for getting an agent’s attention, whether in a query or a face-to-face meeting, right? You’ve been searching high and low for the secret to making an agent sit up and say “Wow!”

Well, since I’m in a good mood, I’m going to risk ostracism from my colleagues by breaking the Agent Code of Secrecy. Here you go: 13 surefire ways to impress an agent.

1. Make sure your idea feels fresh

Everybody knows there are very few completely new ideas.  That’s okay — you just have to present your idea from a new angle, with a different spin than what’s already out there, and with a fabulous writing style that’s uniquely YOU.

Even if your topic is one for which there are already numerous books, make sure it doesn’t feel derivative. Whatever makes your book unique, highlight that in your query, pitch and proposal.

2. Follow submission guidelines

This is SO obvious, but you’d be amazed how many people never read them. Virtually all agents have submission guidelines on their websites, letting you know what genres they rep and what kind of materials they want you to send.

3. Know your audience

Who are you writing for? Your pitch should demonstrate that you’re aware of what your audience looks for. If you’re writing non-fiction, you clearly address the “felt need” of your intended reader. If you’re writing fiction, be aware of other books your audience may be reading, and know where your book fits in with them. (Click to tweet this idea.)

4. Have some social media presence…

…and include concrete stats where appropriate. This means number of followers on major social sites and information about blog traffic and comments. If you’re a novelist, it’s not necessary to have big numbers, but it’s still important to show you’re comfortable interacting online — you’ll need this skill when your book comes out. However, if you’re a non-fiction author, you may want to wait to query until you…

5. Have an impressive platform

You might have a strong online presence through blogging, YouTube, Facebook and other social media. Or you may have a real-world platform in which you speak in front of audiences or write for major national publications. Maybe you have a database of 10,000 email addresses you’ve personally collected through networking, or perhaps you’re a credentialed or award-winning expert in your topic.

Whatever it is, as a non-fiction author, you have the best chance of success when you’ve already built an audience of potential buyers for your book.

6. Include links to videos where the agent can see you speaking

Speaking of YouTube, it’s always nice to have some presence there, particularly for you non-fiction writers. Or you might have some videos in other places online. The point is, it’s to your advantage to show yourself speaking or interacting, since this will eventually be part of promoting your book.

7. Show some familiarity with today’s marketing requirements for authors

We’re past the days when you could say, “I’m willing to go on that 12-city book tour the publisher arranges.” It’s to your advantage if you can indicate that you’re prepared to dive in and personally promote your book via your networks and sphere of influence.

8. Show at least a cursory familiarity with the agent you’re pitching

This doesn’t mean you have to mention their dog or their latest Tweet about Nutella. (I hope I’m not the only agent who does that.) It means you should have some idea of what they represent, who their agency is, and whether they’re one of the many agents who blog. For extra credit…

9. Visit the agent’s blog

If you’ve commented more than once on an agent’s blog, chances are good they’ll recognize your name when you query or meet them at a conference. A little familiarity is a good thing. You’ll also have a better feel for who the agent is, and whether they might be a good fit for you.

10. Send chocolate early and often

10. Take the craft of writing seriously

An agent wants to see a well-crafted and edited manuscript. Keep in mind that you may not have a realistic view of your writing without getting feedback from someone else, hopefully someone intelligent, relatively objective, and able to tell you the truth.

11. Know your competition

Agents and publishers are very aware of the wide range of books out there, and they’re also extremely skilled at researching on Amazon. Don’t you dare say, “There are no other books like mine” and leave it at that. You need to be aware of books from the last five years that address the same topic or are similar in theme or subject matter, even if they don’t address your book’s specific niche.

With non-fiction books, these are “competitive” titles, whereas in fiction I prefer to think of them as “comparable” titles because they don’t directly compete — readers are more likely to buy both, not just one.

12. Present yourself professionally

We want you to have a personality — professional doesn’t mean boring. But be aware that we’re looking for authors who are serious about the publishing journey and who are ready to commit themselves to the months and years of hard work ahead.

13. Have a great book

Of course.

Now that you know how writers can impress agents, tell me: how can agents impress writers?

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Rachelle Gardner is a literary agent with Books and Such Literary Agency based in California. For a look at the authors and books she represents, the best place to go is her Pinterest pageRead full bio.

Rachelle Gardner | @RachelleGardner

Rachelle Gardner
Traveler and blogger Chris Guillebeau

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Comments

  1. Rachelle says:

    Hi Rachelle!

    It’s nice to meet another Rachelle. I’ve just published an illustrated children’s Kindle book. I’d love to make an interactive iPad version of it.

    Here’s a link to it:

    http://amzn.to/1dGXv9U

  2. I thought the first #10 was a good idea! #6 scares me cause I don’t look good on video – at least to myself. But no harm in giving it a try.

  3. I posted a couple of book reviews and a slideshow of my books on Youtube some time ago, and now I’m determined to get back to doing more of that. Great post. Thanks!

    • Marilyn Dennis says:

      I’m taking your advice on responding to an agent’s blog. I thought it was informative and I’d love to start a blog of my own but don’t know how to go about it.

  4. Sandra K-Horn says:

    You sure you want to take Chocolate number 10 off? Agents have to have energy too.

  5. Thanks for good, concrete tips. This helps more than you know.

  6. Oh, my, Rachelle. Does this mean that if I don’t like Nutella, I can’t submit to you? Just kidding. Thanks for the list. It’s a keeper.

  7. Solid suggestions which I always try to follow (except the YouTube thing…seriously?! *sigh* another social media to conquer), but alas, no takers – yet.

    As for ways agents can impress writers? PLEASE respond to queries (especially if you ask for pages), even if it’s a form rejection. The no-response-means-no trend is frustrating and (IMHO) disrespectful of our efforts. We’re all busy, but a polite response is only professional.

    Thanks, Rachelle!

    • As another writer, I agree! Just a form rejection is fine, if you are passing.

      As a side note – any communication tends to impress me. If you have an auto-“I Got It” response set up because I put the word Query in the subject line, points for you!

      One time I’d messed up on the subject line and resent with an apology for cluttering, and the agent took the time to shoot me a quick. “No worries. It’s in the right folder and I’ll look at it when I can.” Now, that was impressive to me, and I’ll give her more time before I nudge.

      Another tactic that impresses me is when agents post on their blog/website/social media where in the queries they are. Some post a date, for example, and anything sent before that date is due for a nudge because the agent has already cleaned out their inbox up to that date.

      One agent closed for queries so that he could catch up on them. I’m impressed with that because it tells me this agent respects all writers and knows his limits on time.

      I’m looking for the right agent, just as you are looking for the right client. If you are willing to communicate with me before you accept – even if it’s just your computer sending the “be patient” email – then I’m more likely to put you higher on my “let’s work together” list.

  8. Marilyn Luce Robertson says:

    In honor of #9…
    Hello, Rachelle. My name is Marilyn, and I’m pleased to meet you 🙂

  9. How would an agent react if you came to them with a contract in hand and needed representation?

  10. I guess chocolate melts too easily, Sandra. 😉 Have to keep in mind an agent must be polished at all times, and chocolatey fingers don’t fit the image. (That is saved for private. 😉 )

    Great list Rachelle, and most of them are really just common sense, aren’t they?
    Though I hadn’t considered the link to video thing… that’s a new thought. I can see how it would be a scary one for a lot of folks, too!

    Thanks for always having interesting posts.
    Elizabeth

  11. Thanks Rachelle! Wonderful post for aspiring authors such as myself! To answer your question, “how can agents impress writers?” – take the time to care for us as a person with a passion, rather than just another number. I know this may be easier said than done, given how many proposals/manuscripts you guys get, but if at all possible, communicate with us! Oh, and sending chocolate as a rejection gesture, or “congrats on our contract” maneuver is always appreciated as well. 😉

    • Deborah says:

      Nice idea Carissa, but don’t hold your breath. Rachel’s comments on her own blog (a must read) how she gets hundreds of inquires a week, making such nice responses oftentimes impossible. I gather most agents are in the same boat if they’re any good. A form-letter is nice to end the waiting, I agree. Welcome to a writer’s life. 🙂

  12. GREAT information, not just for new/aspiring authors … but also for writers thinking of making a change. NOT THAT I AM. 🙂 The publishing world is changing so quickly that I think it’s good to read this sort of fresh perspective every now and then. Nice!

  13. Thanks for the tips. So timely with writers conferences increasing in the coming months. Sharing this post with my writers group!

    As for how agents can impress writers – keep lines of communication open and flowing. Silence leads to assumptions and we all know what happens when people assume!

  14. Hi Rachelle,

    I’m a blogger working on a travel-based memoir about a gift that was given to me before I left to travel the world. The short version: It was a gift of money, given to me by a very special person in my life with instructions to give the money away around the world in any way that felt good and right (http://www.so-many-places.com/2012/05/the-gift-that-changes-everything/). The book is the story of how I’ve given the money away.

    Anyway! That said, I have two questions. I only have a draft of the first half of the book but would love to pitch to agents. I’ve heard that memoir is a gray area: sometimes you should pitch your idea and sometimes you only pitch once your book is finished. What are your thoughts? Pitch now or wait until the book is finished to pitch?

    Second of all, what do you consider an impressive platform? I have a popular blog but by no means have 10,000 people on my mailing list.

    (Oh, and what kind of chocolate do you like 😉 Kidding. Sort of.)

    Thanks for your thoughts and time.

    Kim

    • Julie Weathers says:

      Kim,

      It’s really poor form to pitch an agent on a media site unless they are sponsoring a pitch contest or something like that. That being said, good luck with your work though I would wait until it was finished, edited, re-edited, revised and polished to pitch.

      • Julie, I wasn’t pitching her. But what hurt can it do to put my idea in front of someone who can bring it to life? I thought that this website was a forum to ask open and honest questions to people in the publishing industry?

        Anyway, it’s really disheartening how secretive and elitist this industry can be- and now I need to know the special knock in order to leave a comment on a blog?

        • Julie Weathers says:

          It sounds like you have a fascinating story, and I wish you well with it. It very much did come across as a pitch to me, but maybe that’s personal perception. Regardless, it’s your work and career.

          There is no secret knock to posting a comment here. I was simply passing along some advice.

          I would suggest if you want to get it in front of her to go to her site, read her submission guidelines and submit.

          This is the most open and enlightened the industry has ever been. With very little effort any writer can find out up to the minute information on thousands of agents and agencies. They can find out exactly what the agent wants and how they want it presented. Query, query plus pages, query, pages and synopsis; whatever the agent wants is spelled out plainly and they even sometimes post a special, “I’m especially looking for this right now.”

          There is nothing elitist and secretive about the process. It’s a simple take the time to look up the agents who rep what you write and follow some very plain and easy to follow instructions.

          Even when you follow all the instructions to a tee, you may still be rejected for any number of reasons. Sometimes the agents will tell you what they thought was lacking for them. I’ve noticed fewer of them do this these days partially because their taking out time to explain why gets responded to with angry rants.

          Rejection is part of the journey, dejection is a choice.

  15. It never occurred to me that an agent might want to see a fiction author speaking, or that they would check you out to that degree before offering representation. What a great and useful tip. Thanks, as always, for your candor!

    By the way, I love the clean, uncluttered look of this site so much, I might have to spend the afternoon redoing my blog!

  16. Great list, Rachelle. I appreciate that you’ve split out the differences for non-fiction vs fiction. As I’m currently in the research process to figure out where to send my agent queries, I love your question about how agents can impress writers.

    Please be Findable: Some agents are on agency listings or in databases, but have little to no online presence themselves. It makes it hard to gauge how well we would work together from a blurb and an unused Twitter handle. If I can’t find enough information about the person, I move on.

    Please note possible flexibility: As a cross-genre writer, I get frustrated that very few agents represent all of the things I’m working on. It helps when I can discover that if I get my foot in the door with one genre, they might be willing to stretch a little to represent me with another genre that’s not on their list. (I know that without an agent to start, this might be thinking too far ahead, but it is supposed to be an ongoing working relationship. I’ve found 2 agents that would represent all of my current projects. TWO.)

    Please respect our time: I’ve spent years writing as a second job to make it to the point of sending queries. Many of us have. Please send rejections (no response at all is so frustrating) so we can keep moving forward.

    • I agree with “Please be findable.” I know there are tons of agents out there. There are many agents who are awesome, but we don’t find some of them because there isn’t a true online presence. Maybe it’s because I’m in my 20’s and I’ve almost always had the internet. I suppose you can say I expect people to have a greater online presence than some do. It’s almost to a point where if I can’t google you, then I assume you aren’t legitimate. We expect all the businesses–even little home-owned ones–to have a website. Maybe it’s too much, but it’s true–especially for us younger people.

  17. Wouldn’t it be great if you could hire an agent to prepare your submission for other agents. I fear I have lost the drive when it comes to chasing agents. Not that I wouldn’t want one but just can’t be bothered trying to find one anymore. But if there was someone out there who could fill the role of writing the submission and the synopsis etc I would pay. In the meantime I shall continue on with self-publishing and see where it takes me. But thank you for the advice Rachelle. I will pass on the info.

    • Sounds like a business idea to me…but isn’t it already being done? Dunno. Kinda makes you think, if you’re going to all that work – and it is – just to get an agent, why not go ahead and self-publish?

    • Julie Weathers says:

      There are all kinds of businesses that will write your query, synopsis etc and even query for you. These canned queries are not well received. You’re the only one who truly knows your book. There are lots of workshops and sites that help with queries. Query Shark is a great place to learn how to query.

  18. Joanne Wiklund says:

    Rachelle: An agent needs, I think, to be real and to be approachable. Giving us an opportunity to have real communication with you and ask you questions and get answers is so satisfying.

    As for real, The Velveteen Rabbit became real only when his hair was all rubbed off and he had fulfilled his purpose. May we all be real every day we can! j.

  19. I have a question about Tip #7.What do you recommend as a marketing strategy for a non-fiction book on analyzing poetry?

    Obviously, book-signings at college, university and local libraries is a given, especially since this type of book is written for students of literature. However, what else could I do to market this type of book?

  20. Great tips, Rachelle, thanks 🙂

    As for how agents can impress writers…

    1. Have very clear and specific query guidelines, eg: do you want sample pages pasted into an email or attached? Also, please list genres and what you are open to representing in an easy to see point-form checklist, rather than just in a paragraph of written text, as when a writer is researching agents it gets very time consuming and if you can see at a glance whether an agent represents what you write instead of having to wade through paragraphs of text, it’s so much easier!
    2. Set up an auto-response email (like a vacation reply). It is so easy to do but not everyone does this. It reassures writers that their query has been received, and also saves agents the hassle of having to respond to writers who ask if their query has been received. Not knowing whether your query has made it through makes authors worry! There have been times I’ve sent things and on checking in later on have found they weren’t received in the first place, so an auto-response gives everyone peace of mind.
    3. Have an approximate time frame that an author can expect to hear back, instead of just ‘we will respond if interested’.
    4. As well as the agents usual submission guidelines, do the occasional ‘wish list’ blog post with more specific things you’d like to see, and things you’d like to see less of. Then writers can better match their work to a particular agent.

    Hmm, maybe I should write my own blog post with all these things! 😉

  21. Julie Weathers says:

    First:

    Thank you for doing this. I think people need a good, solid, plain spoken list of what to do. If you haven’t met Rachelle, she is one of the most gracious agents around as well as being top of the line. It would do well, to pay attention.

    Second:

    Hi Rachelle!

    “It’s nice to meet another Rachelle. I’ve just published an illustrated children’s Kindle book. I’d love to make an interactive iPad version of it.

    Here’s a link to it:

    http://amzn.to/1dGXv9U

    One of the first rules of interacting with agents. Never pitch your work in a social media unless they specifically ask you to, ie they are holding a pitch contest.

    That made me cringe and I’m not an agent.

    Third: What agents can do to impress: Answer queries even if it’s a form letter.

  22. Julie Weathers says:

    AK Anderson says:

    In a previous life when I was querying, I had a suspense and a children’s book. Finding an agent to rep both was nigh impossible so I queried them separately and got different agents for each one. I loved the rapport I had with both, but the children’s agent was a true doll.

    • That’s probably the way I’m going to have to go, based on the likelihood of one of the two agents I found actually picking me up (I am not a gambler, I’d prefer better odds).

      Thanks for the reply! I really appreciate knowing that there are others out there like me 🙂

      • Julie Weathers says:

        This really is the most remarkable time on earth to be a writer. We have so much information at our fingertips. There are so many opportunities for us. I wish you great success with your career. You just have to keep trying. Persistence will serve you better than talent. Without it no one will ever see your talent.

    • Deborah says:

      Who was your children’s agent? And do you know any artists? thx!
      mailto:deborah.dinzes@comcast.net

  23. I think the advice to know something about publishing and the writing world is so essential. I harp on that to the writers in my group and always provide that kind of information at my conference. I find so many isolated writers that have absolutely no idea what the biz is all about or what they are in for, not only for impressing a writing professional, but for their own career mapping. DARK Chocolate…nuff said.

  24. Great list! And a good reminder even for those of us who’ve been published for over a decade to consider when looking for a new agent.

  25. Great words of wisdom. I am always looking for helpful tips, and these fit the bill. I’ll hold on to them. Thanks!

  26. Rachelle, thank you for another really helpful post. And thank you for the graciousness of your question.

    As a writer without an agent, what impresses me (and you are a great model of this) is kindness and approachability. Clarity about what you want to see, both in genre and submission guidelines is part of this. More important is keeping a tone of gentleness and positive interest in writers and their writing. Some agents, whether in blog posts or agency websites, make it sound discouraging to even try.

    I didn’t query more than a small handful of agents before I had a contract on my first book without one. I would have been more impressed if they had responded to me. One had apparently handed off my query to another agent in the same firm, so I got a rejection from someone I’d never queried. A kind and generous editor at a major publishing house, to whom a friend introduced me, tried to smooth the way for me with two or three others, but even with his help I could not get replies.

    Thanks for what you do!

    Gary

  27. Great advice, Rachelle. I recently met an agent at a local event, and when I said my name, it was clear he recognized it. He paused, tilted his head, and finally said, “I’ve seen your name on my blog.” Not that that’ll necessarily result in a contract, but I can vouch for #9 in that it made me stand out. (And it wasn’t hard–I read your blog and his because they’re chock full of information.) But of course the most important thing is #13–have a great book.

  28. Christine Dorman says:

    Rachelle,

    Thank you for this clear, specific and informative list.

    In regards to #6, would vlogging be an acceptable alternative to YouTube?

    How can agents impress writers? I think the answer to that question can be found at the Books and Such blog (as well as your individual blog). Not only are the agents approachable, they are generous in giving a Master’s degree level education in The Business of Writing to anyone who chooses to follow the blog. If a writer studies the agency website, she will find evidence that the agent’s know their stuff and are passionate about books, writing, writers and are serious about their roles as agents. The thing that especially impresses me is how they take the time to respond personally much of the time to the commenters. And they temper honest, realistic answers with compassion and encouragement. Because of my genre, there is only one agent at Books and Such whom I could query when my novel is ready to be shopped, but I read all of the agents’ blogs because they offer such incredible information and insights. (For example, Rachel Kent’s blog today. It is on how writers can keep themselves and their families safe in this world where identify theft and stalking are realities.) Conversing and connecting with the agents who I know are not going to represent me (because they don’t rep my genre) has been a privilege and a blessing. I am continually enriched by the experience. And just think–they take the time to talk with me about writing even though they know I’m not a potential client. That more than impresses me.

    In addition to visiting the Books and Such blogs regularly, I also follow a number of agents on Twitter (mostly those who DO represent my genre and who are “on my list”). I do enjoy reading about Nutella (and chocolate) and a young daughter’s fascination with the new puppy as well as tweets about the writing business. The tweets about Nutella tell me that the agent is a real person who is comfortable being a real person. Obviously, the agent needs to be aware of what NOT to say online, but I think it’s good for agents to let writers know that an agent is a human being as well as a writing professional.

    Blessings on this new venture, Rachelle, of posting here as well as on your blog and on the agency blog. I don’t know how you can manage all of that as well as everything else you have to do, but I know your level-headed enough to figure out a schedule that will work for you. Thank you for sharing your knowledge, wisdom and experience.

  29. K.L.Parry says:

    Hey there, Rachelle. Most of your suggestions seem “common sense”. Does a Cooking Demonstration video make for adequate YouTube presence? My sister and I made a few of those. Lol! But seriously, as a fiction writer what should I be placing on the net. An interview, a reading – can you be more specific?

    • Deborah says:

      I think a cooking demonstration sounds interesting! (A lot more so than an interview or a reading — unless you happen to be Brian Jacques and can recite your books with Shakespearean theatrics. 🙂

      Seeing you do something your interested in and interact, and have a life outside writing (!) sounds great.

  30. Rachelle,
    I agree wholeheartedly with the comments above that advise agents to follow these common courtesies:
    1. Notify authors that you have received their material.
    2. Send an eventual reply, even if it is a form rejection (ie. material does not match my genres, not accepting new authors at this time but try again in 6 months, not interested in representing series, writing needs work then resubmit, shorten submission and resubmit, look at submission requirements and resubmit, etc.)
    3. As a side note, with the popularity of series in the fiction genre, add to your submission information how authors can query regarding a series rather than a stand alone book.
    As you know, authors spend years working on their projects, investing time and money in their craft via workshops, conferences, etc. Then they spend hours/days drafting a submission to ask you to please take their material and make money off of it yourself too. With the face of publishing changing radically as social media becomes a primary (if not THE primary) method of promoting books, traditional houses now require their authors to do much of the work in the area of generating sales. With POD producing books that are literally identical in quality to traditional type set, and with competition driving prices down in that option, more and more authors will realize they do not need to wait years to find a traditional house and/or agent to get their work into print and into the hands of readers via social media promos. Just as authors must adjust to the changing landscape of publishing and the demands of the social media bandwagon, investing huge amounts of time and effort to promote their traditionally published or POD self published books, so agents must flex to recognize their new and ever shifting roles in a rapidly evolving marketplace. It would speak reams of respect to authors if you acknowledged their submissions and took a few moments to check a box on a form rejection letter such as those suggested above. When you say that no response within three months equals rejection, you send the message that your time and position is much more valuable than authors (without whom you would not even have a job).
    As time goes on, agents will need to actively pursue authors more and more, rather than vice versa, and you will need to sell yourself to them. Hopefully you will receive the courtesy of acknowledgement of your queries from those authors, and they will communicate value to you the way you can communicate value to them now at this pivotal time in the evolution of the publishing realm.

    • Julie Weathers says:

      Some agents will respond with a note as to what was off, but many don’t anymore due to the vast number of authors who then respond with, “What do you mean the pacing and dialogue were slow and stilted? Me grandmother who was an English teacher for 60 years loved it! What do you know, you stupid hag! Where’d you get your degree from, a box of Cracker Jacks? I hope you burn in….” Or the endless “follow up” emails to ask if the agent is sure she didn’t mistake your submission with another or can you revise and resend. You can have a revision to them tomorrow.

      I’m amazed at how many agents do actually give a personal response.

      “As time goes on, agents will need to actively pursue authors more and more, rather than vice versa, and you will need to sell yourself to them.”

      I’m sorry, I laughed.

      • No worries, Julie. Your comment brought to mind the old adage ~ He who laughs last laugh best. 😉

      • Samantha says:

        We already see agents seeking writers. If you are an established writer/agent, you will be sought by new (non-established) agents/writers. But, while a writer can have more than one agent, an agent almost certainly will represent more than one writer. Thus, as long as agents are needed, the balance of power will lean that way. There may indeed come a time when an agent is unnecessary to publish your book. But we all know the adage about a Doctor who treats himself, or a lawyer who represents herself in court. How would you monetize your work?

        • Samantha says:

          I am sorry. That last line should have been a separate bullet. The prior statement would be about objectivity.

  31. Excellent list. Having at least a cursory knowledge of agent you are querying is only smart. Not knowing the agent you are signing on with is like having an arranged marriage. Who knows what you’re signing on for?

  32. Rachelle,

    This is a great list.

    I’m a bit baffled how #2 (submission guidelines) gets overlooked; those guidelines help me feel less nervous. In my eyes, those guidelines help me narrow down my contact list, especially if they are specific in genre and theme- the more specific the better. I hate to feel like I’m wasting others’ time.

    As Syliva said (waaaay up top), definitely a keeper list; it shall forever hold a place in my notebook of wisdom aka, stuff I’d forget that I really need to remember.

  33. Donna K. Rice says:

    Thanks Rachelle! I’m gearing up for ACFW and this list was timely and helpful. It added a couple of things to my To Do List. Back to work… 🙂

  34. Cindy Patterson says:

    I love your blog and always look forward to reading your helpful advice!! Thank you so much for taking the time to share with us:)

  35. Thank you for the great advice, Rachelle! I always welcome constructive tips!

  36. Awesome tips, Rachelle!

  37. Great tips Rachelle,
    I think that what we would like in a literary agent is simple….someone who is honest, but kind. Encouraging, but real. Helpful, but to the point. I must say, this has been the most difficult thing I have ever done!

  38. Thanks for another great post, Rachelle! I appreciate you taking the time to inspire and help writers!

  39. Thank you so much for addressing my topic. I do read your blogs, and I do take the craft quite seriously. However, the task of landing an agent is daunting. Your list gives us dreamers hope.

  40. #5 makes me want to quit writing, especially because it comes so far ahead of #10. I teach at a writing conference, and stupidly I teach writing rather than platform building. What a waste of time.

  41. Rachelle I love the new writing-gig.
    A little less sniping by pseudo-experts would be nice.

    Kim, your actions, your story and project sound awesome. You were and are very brave. It’s a winner, go for it, good luck.

  42. I respect that this is an honest representation of what you feel impresses an agent, but I must say find some of it off-putting. Point #5 is a great example. If I already had an impressive platform of people to sell my book to, why would I need an agent?

    To a lesser extent, some of these other points strike me the same way: like you’re saying that the perfect way to impress an an agent is by demonstrating that you don’t actually need an agent. Yes, some writers excel at selling their own work through public speaking, social media, and so forth. And I understand those writers would stand out from the rest of the class as “A students.” But to a large extent, isn’t that sort of thing exactly what the agent is for — to help the writer sell his book because his own salesmanship skills alone aren’t up to the task?

    To that end, I would say that the way an agent can impress a writer is to convey a sense that he’ll provide meaningful services and assistance to the writer. No one would want an agent that’s going to just do nothing, sit back, and take a percentage.

  43. A wealth of useful info in this insightful post. Thanks for sharing it. Like your wit and sense of humor exhibited with your initial thoughts on No.10

  44. Not sure if I completely agree with the one about leaving comments on the agent’s blog, especially if they have a large amount of commentators. Obviously, I’m not against leaving comments, but I doubt they would remember your name unless you are constantly posting on their site.

  45. I’d like to add another thing. Even if you don’t like a particular genre, don’t make fun of it. I know most agents are very professional, but some aren’t.

    One of the agents I was following on twitter posted a few months back a rather snide comment about the genre I write, which–being the overly sensitive person I am–I mistook as being directly aimed towards me. I mean, I know it’s not true; that agent has no clue who I am and I’m certain had no mal-intent. And I know her twitter bio said that her tweets are her own and don’t represent her agency. But when a few more agents I was also following “favorited” her comment, I started to feel really small. I would have preferred to see a small blurb on their websites saying they didn’t want that genre than to learn of it from a not-so-nice tweet.

  46. Jasmine Littlejohn says:

    I’ve been wanting to get involved with YouTube, I just have absolutely no idea where to start. I have spent some time trying to find comparable books for the story I’m writing (trying to write).

    From and agent – even if they end up not representing me – I would want them to present themselves as a person who is professional and helpful. I am young, but I really take writing seriously and I get scared no one else will take me seriously. That sounds way more cliched in writing. Anyway, if an agent doesn’t want to or can’t represent me I would love to see one refer me to someone who might help me. I haven’t done much research yet, but I’m not sure how many people would want to attempt to publish an incredibly dark romance-free modern fantasy murder thing. I wouldn’t pitch it like that of course. I think I’m rambling.

    These tips are quite helpful. My only curb is the vagueness of number one. I don’t know what makes my book unique becasue I haven’t looked to see what else is out there on a similar topic. I know what makes my characters unique. So I’m not too far behind. It would also be helpful to get some tips on how to build a platform. It’s not typically something a person can just sort of do.

    Great post. I’ll stop talking (writing) now.

  47. Hi Rachelle,

    Great post! This comes at a great time as I’m about to pitch to an agent and would’ve left out important points about myself. Thanks for that.

    The biggest thing for me is to make the services you provide as a literary agent clear. Not all agents have the necessary contacts or experience in say foreign or film rights. It would be good to know that ahead of time so no ones time is wasted.

    Knowing if an agent is interested in building careers and not just selling books is another important one for me.

  48. I came across an advertisement for this site while on Facebook and thought, “Hmm I haven’t spent much time recently trying to do anything with those 383 pages I wrote last year. What is this about?” I feel like I’ve all but given up on trying to find an agent for my first novel. I was so proud of myself for completing it over a year ago, but after spending so much time writing agents just to receive rejections or no response (and it may have been even worse after two agents asked to see the whole manuscript and then decided against it), I started to seriously assume my book must just be crap and maybe I’m a crap writer. (But I’ve seen some of the work that DOES get published, and I am fairly confident there is a strong market for crap writers and their corresponding crap readers. Just saying.)

    I do realize that people are dealing with this every day and even some phenomenal books (that I can’t even pretend to compare my work to) were at first rejected many times. But after reading this post, which I am sure is truly great advice, I don’t understand what the point of working so hard to find an agent even is. If you have to first build your own giant network and create a worldwide presence to even get an agent to NOTICE you, then why are you bothering? If you have that kind of network, and will have to do your own self promotion anyway, why can’t you sell yourself? Isn’t the reason for a traditional publishing house to GAIN that kind of network? I guess this was just even more discouraging. How would you have followers when you aren’t published? “Hi, I’m Ashley and I think I’m a decent writer. Follow me because one day I may have something available for you to read.” “Hello, here I am speaking at a conference of… my own living room because I don’t have anything published and therefore do not have anyone to read to.” It’s sort of like when you get out of college and no one will hire you because you don’t have experience and you cannot get experience because no one will hire you.

    OK, depressing rant over. I’m gonna go eat some chocolate now.

    Does playing the piano mediocrely and singing along mediocrely count as a YouTube presence? I get a few views here and there….

    http://www.youtube.com/my_videos?o=U

    • Ashley, in answer to your question “How would you have followers when you aren’t published?”, have you investigated the thousands of blogs, websites, FB pages, Twitter feeds etc. etc. currently in use by unpublished authors? I started blogging a year ago, am not yet published and have a decent following.

      It’s important to start building an audience before you’re published, otherwise your newly-published work runs the risk of languishing on the shelves while you go about publicising it. Building an audience from scratch takes time and the unfortunate truth these days is that a publisher will expect you to do much of that work (if not all) yourself. The way to gain followers pre-publishing is to offer insights into your writing journey, challenges, successes. You’d be surprised how much camaraderie and empathy is out there.

      It is, of course, more difficult to build a following of pure readers (although writers are readers too…) but as a writer you’ll already have content you can use to entice readers to your platform. Give them snippets of your writing, before-and-after edits, short new pieces not connected to your main work…

      Hope that’s of some help.

      • Michelle Joseph says:

        Thank you, Jon that actually answered my question as well. I have much material to build a blog and a website about my book, but I was not sure if I should begin building a media platform without a book in hand. This is very informative.

  49. Lots of good tips in this post and inspiration. I definitely need to come back and re-read it.

    Thanks Rachelle!

  50. These are great points — some are obvious and I hope most of us writers out here would know them already, but the new world of social media is untested ground for me. I’ve only recently set up a twitter account — I would never have thought to comment on an agent’s page until I read your blog. I’ve been following agents to see what they are commenting on, following others who are publishing books that I read or are in the same genre I am writing. As a writer looking for helpful insight from the agent’s side of the book, I find your blogs particularly helpful and am always glad to see your name pop up in my email box. Thanks, Rachelle, for taking the time to reach out to us.

  51. Excellent tips! Thank you!
    (And I promise not to tell the other agents you broke the code…)

  52. Michelle Joseph says:

    Great post, love # 13, but I have a question about # 4. How do how do you have media presence with no book. I can understand having a blog, a You Tube presence, and a website, but how do you convince people about a book they can’t buy? From what I gather it could be 6 months to 2 years before you have a book in hand.

  53. Really helpful list and I loved the comment about persistence being more important than talent. I once thought that actually writing something novel-length that told an interesting story in a competent way was going to be the challenge – having just completed my first draft, I felt pleased with myself for a whole thirty seconds before realising the error of my ways!

  54. Thank you so much for sharing these recommendations. I will follow them to the “T” when it is my turn to look for an agent. So very helpful.

  55. How can agents impress writers? Great question, agent Rachelle.

    Pick a blog post, any blog post (of mine, of course). Show me the money. In other words, sell it for me. Then, promote the crap out of it and me and pique the world’s interest in my brand of life humor and inspirational writing, thus growing my following before you even sign me on as a client.

    If an agent shows me that he/she is capable of selling just one of my random blog posts and that he/she believes in me enough to promote me without yet taking a cut, I would consider that proof positive that they could be a benefit to my career and that I should strongly consider allowing them to represent me. If they can detect success in me as a writer just based on my blog posts, they will have confidence that my future books will be stellar best-sellers.

    Then, we’ll be ready to rock.

    • Here’s my disclaimer: I really don’t want to cause an issue or anything like that, but here’s my take on this:

      The idea of having an agent sell something for free is like asking me to spend hours upon hours to write a quality book, then ask me to give it to everyone. It’s that friend of mine who said, “When you publish your novel, I’ll read it…if you give me a copy.” The biggest difference here is that I have a day job, so if I gave my book away I’d still pay the mortgage. If the agent gives away her services for free, how’s she going to feed her kids? Agenting is her day job.

      And let’s face it–writers don’t get paid much and agents get paid even less. Let’s just say the writer manages to publish 4 books a year (wow), and that each of those books makes $10,000. The agent pulls in 15% of that, so the agent really only makes $6000, and then the agent pays about 20% in taxes, so that’s only $4800, or 4 months of mortgage payments: on 4 books! So that’s saying for each book an agent sells, she can keep her house for another month.

      I mean, my numbers are probably wrong, but you get the point. Agents have to live too. If we don’t want to give up our hard-worked books for free (and many of us can because we have day jobs), why should an agent give up her hard-worked sell for free? She’s not going to buy a mansion in California with what she makes from selling our books because most of us aren’t going to be better than bestsellers. Shouldn’t she get paid for the work she does?

      • LOL, I’m sorry. I forgot to introduce myself as a humor writer! That response was a bit tongue in cheek. I never would expect that out of an agent. The question was, “How can agents impress writers?” I answered honestly. That kind of above and beyond would surely impress me!

        I am reading a lot of Jack Canfield right now. He says many wonderful things, but one of them is that you can dream a big dream just as easily as you can dream a little dream. Rachelle’s question allowed me to dream big and I thought, “Okay, what would my dream agent do to truly impress me?”

        Sorry if you were offended. That was not my intent.

        May I note that some people, however, DO go above and beyond just because they are darn good people and they have the big picture in mind, not short-term temporary gains. I understand that we all have to make a living, but when I used to do freelance graphics, I would tell new clients that if they wanted to give me a try and they didn’t care for my work on the first job, they didn’t have to pay me. I felt that was a way I could impress upon my clients that good work deserves good pay, but if they aren’t satisfied, I am not going to waste their money.

        Steven Covey would call that a win-win. I nearly always got paid full price :0)

  56. Um…if you don’t want that chocolate, maybe you could send it my way. And where does one learn the secret handshake?
    Ha! just kidding. Thanks for the great article. All really great advice, (except for the video thing geesh, could I get a stand in?)

  57. I wonder if more people would buy books if they came with a piece of chocolate… Thanks for the helpful hints on writing a query. I’ve read so many of your posts that it feels like we have been talking for the last couple of hours. Blessings.

  58. Teri McDevitt Orlando says:

    Wow! I know by the comments that some may find fault in your list, but I used #9 right out the gate and marked off an agent from visiting his/her blog! I knew my book had some controversial subjects and threw the “F” bomb around, so I knew by reading a few of her blogs, that it probably wouldn’t work out.

    BTW, I’m reinstating the crossed out #10 and putting it as #14. MORE CHOCOLATE!! LOL

    Thank you for taking the time to help out us “newbies.” It is clear you love your work and are willing to be a mentor and role model to others.

    I’m starting a list of role models. You will be #1.

    Ciao!!

  59. Kiercy Collins says:

    Really love the tips but I am sixteen and want to get my book published should I be concerned that an agent may not take me seriously because of my age?

  60. Excellent post, I think all the numbers are very important, and you can’t miss any. I think an agent can impress me on the solidity of her background, but even more if they reply even when the result is negative, as this can make you improve as a writer. Once you’d searched for your correct niche, made your homework by creating audience, social media and self webpage it is time for agents to impress us. Thank you Rachelle for your guidance in this posts, I’ll be really aware of them when in search of the accurate agent. 😉

  61. becky bartholomew says:

    What does the publisher do? I mean, if the author does the conception, writing, marketing, networking, platform creation, speaking, tweeting, blogging, fan mail answering, and coming up with the next book, why would s/he give a publisher 90% of the book price???

    • Great question, Becky — it’s one that has inspired many authors to experiment with self-publishing.

      To each their own — some authors love the freedom of self-publishing, while others enjoy the benefits of traditional publishing, and still more use a hybrid model. Chuck Wendig, over at Terribleminds, has some great posts on the pros and cons of the different publishing options (though some of the language is colorful).

      Heather
      TWL Assistant Editor

  62. Such a great blog ….i visisted too many websites n blog …but not satisfied … but when i see your blog … i relalize that your contain is informative

  63. I wrote an small, VERY obscure book in 1990 that never made it into the public domain but somehow that did not stop the History Channel, Discovery Channel, The Learning Channel, various documentaries, television shows, a certain mathematical physicist and a certain particle physicist from taking my theories and running with them

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