You’ve been trying to crack the code for getting a literary 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 a literary 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.)
…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.
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.
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 literary 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 literary 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
Literary 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
Now that you know how writers can impress agents, tell me: how can literary agents impress writers?
This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.