Backdoor to Literary Representation

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

So. . . you need a literary agent. You know you’ve got a knock-em-dead manuscript but now you have to find an agent willing to represent you. You’ve done everything right. You’ve gone to the agency website to see what they want and how they want it. You sent the query according to exact agency specifications. You wouldn’t even think of sending an attachment without an invitation. You wait and you wait and you wait.

So what’s the problem? Agents are inundated with good queries, proposals and manuscripts. In fact there’s a backlog of outstanding potential in each inbox. What’s a writer to do?

Shhhh. Come closer and I’ll let you in on a secret.

That’s the front door route to literary representation. But where there’s a fancy front door, there’s often a back door that we use informally. When I looked at my list of clients, I found six back door routes. It was eye-opening. Only 4% of my clients came to me cold, through a query. Most came through the backdoor. Let me talk about those ways.

42% of my clients met me at a writer’s conference. I may not have signed them the first time we met but as I got to know them, I knew I wanted to be on their team. A writers conference is my favorite way to meet new writers because I can observe them in a professional setting, see how they interact with people and talk at length with them. I’m just preparing to go to Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference. I’ve never yet failed to find a client I just couldn’t live without at Mount Hermon. In the fall I will be attending the ACFW conference, though I’m not listed on the faculty. This is another conference I can credit for connecting me with many of my clients.

20% of my clients came via a client referral. When one of my clients asks me to look at a writer’s work, that request takes precedence. My clients know me and they know good writing. This is a tricky one for writer hopefuls. You can’t just go up to an an author and ask if they’ll recommend you to their agent. Awkward! You have to just keep getting to know other writers and mention you are seeking representation. If they know you and know your work, they’ll offer if appropriate.

16% of my clients I met through writing groups, online writing forums or through our blog community. I’ve been in writing groups online for over fifteen years and met a lot of writers that way. I’ve also been in local writing groups. Aside from groups, some of those who comment regularly on our blog have begun to feel like friends. When we see a name we recognize, it goes to the top of the pile. It’s just natural.

8% of my clients were brought to me by editors. Yes, some writers may already be publishing through a traditional publisher but a good editor knows they need an agent to help them build a career for the long haul. We love it when a respected editor asks us if we’ll consider one of their authors. It’s a compliment.

8% of my client list came from me actively seeking them out. It’s true. We sometimes see an author we’re crazy about and if they are not yet represented, Katie-bar-the-door. Or sometimes we find a blogger whose work is the talk of the town and we seek them for a book. (Yes, we stalk authors.)

2% of my clients came from a contest win. When an editor or agent judges a writing contest, we are looking hard for that take-our-breath-away manuscript.

These stats are different for every agent, of course, even within our own agency. One of our agents actively mines the query file to find her golden projects. Another of our agents proactively seeks rising voices. But this gives you an inside look. There’s always the formal front entrance, but come around back and you may find a wider welcome mat.

Your turn: Which back door methods did I leave out? If you’re represented, how did you come to the notice of your agent? Tell us some of the odd representation stories you’ve heard.

 

TWEETABLES:

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135 Comments

  • Anne Love says:

    Nice summary of the stats–I love numbers–it puts a punch in your comments.
    It’s always fun to lurk and visit here. I always appreciate the responses and candor, and did a little happy dance when I saw B & S scheduled for ACFW. :)

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I believe four out of the five Books & Such agents will be attending ACFW. Some will go as faculty and others of us to meet and mingle. It’s a great conference.

      • Wendy, what a great blog. The ACFW conference sets up writers with agents. Since you’re not on their agent list, how can we determine if God desires that we’re a match made in heaven? Do I just seek you out, and ask for an appointment?

  • lisa says:

    This is very encouraging. I really love to hear stories from agents and authors how God brought them together into a partnership.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Lisa, you hit the heart of representation. Yes, it involves queries and conferences, contests and connections, but ultimately God is the matchmaker.

  • Wendy, I think you’ve about covered all the avenues, including one or two that surprised me. And, thank goodness, you didn’t mention sliding a manuscript under the stall door in the ladies’ room at a writer’s conference. I’m sure that story is apocryphal, but I still get a kick out of the visual it conjures up.
    Thanks so much for the post.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I must say I’ve heard the stall query story many times but I’ve always found writers to be professional and appropriate. It makes a great story though.

  • *Giggle* I have visions of you garbed in a trench coat, fedora, and dark glasses waiting for debut authors to give the secret knock on the Books & Such delivery entrance. :-) I’m still sorting through Mary’s terrific list of conferences – tough to find one in driving distance for us East Coast folk. Thanks for the suggestions, Wendy.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      And the secret handshake.

      As for a conference within driving distance, if the drive is long just think of what a great pre-conference road trip you’d have with a car full of writers. It would be at least as much fun as the conference in and of itself.

      I know writers who drive long distances to conferences, finding a bed along the route in a fellow writer’s home as they stop to pick up each new road tripper.

  • Jeanne T says:

    Wendy, it’s encouraging to know there’s a back door. And even more, to see the paths that lead to it being opened. :) I don’t know other ways to come to representation, but I always do a happy dance when I hear of a friend (in person or online) “meeting” his/her agent. I look forward to the day when I have a story to share in this aspect of my writing journey.

    PS–I liked that you shared the numbers too! :)

  • Thanks for the stats, Wendy. That is so helpful and really emphasizes the importance of getting out there and attending conferences. I know so many authors who met their agent that way.

    It’s great to know that today, agents are so much more accessible because of Twitter, Facebook, and blogs. I love that I not only can get to know an agent through these media and see if we’re a good fit, but that it gives me a “leg up” compared with just cold querying. Plus, I learn a lot from agent blogs and interactions.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      It’s true. There are so many ways of meeting editors, agents and other writers these days. And some of the online media gives writers an inside track because many of us use the same social media to connect with family, friends, church and professionally. I’m guessing this kind of interaction will eventually separate into niches but for now we all get to see a sometimes highly personal picture of professional colleagues.

  • Ya left out bribery!!

    I plan to show up at ACFW with cheesecake.
    I’m not kidding.
    I am going to use some of that precious, “my precious!” oh yeah, I went there, baggage limit to pack a frozen solid triple chocolate cheesecake. You see, if you freeze cheesecake, it thaws perfectly. The enjoyees cannot tell if it’s been frozen or not.

    So, I’ll schedule a few appointments and hear offers. But only until the cake is gone, then I actually have to kick it in gear.

    Actually, I’m bringing it anyway, this is a pre-arranged event. But heeeeeeeey, if an agent shows up to my door, I might share. Because I am THAT NICE.

    • Lori says:

      Besides the triple chocolate cheesecake, don’t forget to bring bars of Canadian chocolate with your business card on them so the agents, editors, and publishers will remember you.

    • Amanda Dykes says:

      **Triple** chocolate?! I think you speak the language of success!! :)

      • I actually did a blog post, complete with photos , of how to make a triple chocolate cheesecake. I fund my mission trips with cheesecake, cinnamon buns and something called ‘chocolate pate’. Pure bliss. Mmmmm.

        And umm, if certain agents like key lime, I’ll need to know in advance.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Yeah, bribery doesn’t so much work except for the quirky fun quotient. With many professionals, it makes them feel uncomfortable– as if they are put in an awkward position.

      It certainly can make you memorable, however. :-) And nice never hurts.

      But bribe us with a stunning manuscript any old day. It works every time.

      • You *do* know I wouldn’t actually stroll the halls of ACFW yelling “Cheeeeeeescake! Get your cheesecake!!”

        Right? Please say yes.

        When it comes down to it, the fun gets turfed and the professional kicks in. Which is fun it its own way, because some people don’t expect any cranial activity whatsoever.

      • Oh, shucks. I make a mean peanut butter fudge–to die for. I guess that’s out.

    • Larry says:

      “Ya left out bribery!!”

      Read that, and had to wait unti I stopped laughing so hard so I could read the rest of your post! :)

    • Ann Bracken says:

      I’m not an agent, but that’s almost enough incentive for me to go to the conference!

      Did you mention key lime? I like that even more than chocolate! (please forgive the blasphemy)

  • Lori says:

    I don’t necessary recommend what I am thinking of doing when I am ready to submit. Not everyone can afford it or would want to spend the money. One very reputable New York agency puts on regularly charity critique auctions. The agents are top notch. (in fact my dream non-Christian market literary agent was once one of the agents critiquing) I did the research and the money definitely goes to charity. If one doesn’t get an offer at least they get valuable feedback. You still have to meet the agents criteria when submitting. I’ve seen other reputable charity critque auctions but this one is done pretty regularly

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Interesting. I know I gave a critique/review for a cause once or twice but an auction where the price goes sky high might be uncomfortable for me. I’m afraid I might feel somehow obligated but it does an author no good to sign with an agent who is not crazy about his/her work.

      But it is one very interesting way of getting a foot in the door.

  • This is such a helpful list. I hadn’t thought of all of them, and the stats are very interesting. I would have thought your client referral percentage would be higher than meeting someone at a conference.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I think clients are very careful about recommending someone. It can be”costly” in terms of goodwill. If you recommend someone to your agent and that writing is not ready, the agent may wonder about your discernment or taste level. If the recommendation is for someone who is outstanding, the client (in all humanness) may wonder if the new writer will pull even more agent time away from him.

      It’s definitely a sticky wicket.

  • Laura Frantz says:

    Great post, Wendy. Am always learning here. I’m one of the 8% referred in by my editor:) And Janet was gracious enough to take me. But I must say I wish I had started the publishing process with an agent from the first. In hindsight it really does make a difference and gives an author that needed savvy or edge. But looking on the bright side ~ better late than never!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      And you know you have a good editor who cares about you first and foremost when they recommend you for representation. If we believed everything that is said out there about “money-grubbing traditional publishers” you’d think they’d be happy to keep you barefoot and unrepresented, right?

      • Laura Frantz says:

        So true! I have the most amazing editor in Andrea as she was really looking out for my long-term interests from the get go. I’m so thankful!

    • And now the stats have names! Thanks for sharing that, Laura. It’s always interesting to see how specific writers found their agent.

  • I love numbers when they are encouraging, Wendy. Thanks so much for this, and I look forward to seeing you at ACFW. So excited that it’s here in my city!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Wow! that makes it easy for you. It’s always a hard decision whether to commute into the conference or stay in the hotel, right? I have heard of local writers hosting house parties when it’s in their city. (Bring a sleeping bag and contact Meghan.) Just kidding. ;-)

      Let’s be sure to connect. We need to figure out the secret handshake for our blog community, right?

      • We totally should have a meet-up for all blog readers. ;)

        And Jennifer can bring cheesecake.

        I see no down side to this plan.

        Can’t wait to meet all of you at ACFW!

      • Jeanne T says:

        Oh, I like that idea, Wendy. It would be so fun to meet everyone in person. :)

      • Well, if Meghan’s house over flows, she can host a tea party in her back yeard, right? So far we’ve got 2 kinds of cheesecake, and peanut butter fudge.

      • Sorry I’m late responding. Trying to get my word count in for today while the Littles nap. Y’all are welcome, but you better bring enough cheesecake for my six children, too! :) I am really looking forward to meeting not just the agents but all the writers I see around on the blogs. Need to get that count-down calendar started….

      • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

        We’ll figure out how, logistically, to do a meet up.

  • Amanda Dykes says:

    I’m so grateful to be one of the 42%. A year later, I’m still pinching myself. ;)

    What I love about social media and blogs regarding agents, is that so many (like all of the Books & Such team) use it to share their wisdom– and the community here is amazing. So from a writer’s end, it’s not just about “courting” an agent– it’s about how valuable you each make the connections through the wisdom you offer and the people you are. Thank you!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      And I’m grateful, too. It’s always such a great experience for an agent to find someone whose work we love and, having met that person, knowing that we connect personally as well.

      That’s why I go to conferences.

  • Jenny Leo says:

    Another reason to keep attending writers conferences–as if I need one, lol! When I get that “always a bridesmaid, never a bride” feeling, it’s nice to remember that making even one new connection (maybe even a new writerly friend!) is reason enough to show up.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      And remember, Jenny, it usually takes multiple contacts, just as it would if you were making a new friend. If you went home from a conference and felt nothing had been accomplished my guess is that you couldn’t be more wrong.

      Writers don’t realize it but an agent is always paying attention. We watch and we notice. (Yes we are surveilling you.)

  • Sarah Thomas says:

    I just knew I’d meet my agent at a conference. And as it is with so many things I “know,” I was wrong. I had no idea I was really, truly connecting by being part of this blog community. But you mentioned that you recognized my name from my comments when my query came in. Which goes to show my plans aren’t necessarily His! And isn’t that wonderful. :)

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      And I still hope we’ll meet at a conference or someplace else soon. You are one of those that was hard to classify. I recognized your name from the blog so that’s where I put you in doing my stats, but had your query come in cold, I still think I would have ended up signing you.

      • rachel says:

        Sarah’s books sound AMAZING! I am no agent ( just a voracious reader of all things CBA who likes to hover around the comments section knowing full well that some of the names I see here I will one day see on my shelf ) but from what I read of her trilogy, as a reader?, whoa! I am VERY enticed :)

    • I still remember how your big ‘reveal’ had this blog community on the edge of their seats.

  • Only four percent through cold query. Wow. That’s the stat that surprised me the most.

    Have a wonderful time at Mt. Hermon, Wendy.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Don’t forget, Sally, that those are only my stats. Other agents might have those numbers totally reversed.

      You can tell from my stats that I put far more emphasis on the person and their potential long term career. That’s why I like to meet them in the flesh or have some personal connection first. Other agents are all about the book. They can tell from a query or proposal that they can sell that book and the writer can be a hermit– they don’t care. (And lest you think one is better than the other, can you imagine which one of us would have signed a Harper Lee?)

      So taking my stats and applying them to another agent would be worthless. (But wouldn’t we love to know other agents’ stats?)

      • I hadn’t thought of that, Wendy. Each agent’s stats would definitely tell us a lot about them. Thanks so much for sharing everything you did. It lets those of us who haven’t had a chance to meet you yet get to know you a bit better. :)

      • Love that your emphasis is on the person and their potential long term career. The fact that you’re in it for the long haul has to be a great encouragement to your clients.

      • Now you’ve got me curious. I want to hear everyone else’s stats. :)

      • Amanda Embry says:

        This is interesting – gives another reason to keep trying and submitting to other agents if a query is rejected.

  • Judy Gann says:

    Wendy, I think you left out the Maud email loop. :-)

    My back door was a bit different than most–or perhaps I came through three doors. I met Wendy on the Betsy-Tacy (books by Maud Hart Lovelace)email discussion loop, long before she was an agent. We connected because we shared not only a love of children’s literature, but were writers. A few years later we met in person at the Mount Hermon Conference.

    She because an agent about the same time my nonfiction book released. Then I had the tremendous honor of entering respresentation through the back door of the 8% my agent sought out.

    Amanda, I hate to tell you, but all these years later I’m still pinching myself. :-)

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      That’s true! You are in my stats for online groups. And didn’t we love that Maud Hart Lovelace listserv (MaudL)? The number of publishing professionals who were in that group was staggering, right? Many a New York editor.

      This illustrates an interesting point, Judy. There are all kinds of ways to meet other writers and publishing professionals who love books and those connections often lead to long term relationships.

  • I loved your sense of fun as well as the stats in this blog, Wendy. Thank you for making me laugh today.

    It’s encouraging that there is more than one way to connect with an agent. For me, I would prefer to be represented by an agent with whom I’ve made a person to person connection rather than someone who was just a name on a list, but as Sara said above, we don’t know what His plan is, so be open and being persistent are important as well.

    Blessings!

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I just returned from a great lunch meeting with one of my clients. It was a two-hour drive each way but nothing is as important as face-to-face connections whether with clients, editors or publishers. I’d have to say it is the heart of my practice.

  • Leia Brown says:

    Wendy, this was encouragement mixed with realism. Thank you for the numbers! I started following the Books & Such blog thinking I would never attend a writer’s conference, but you are starting to convince me:-)

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Leia, when you finally attend a conference you’ll see why it is so important. And because you are active within the online writing community you are going to already “know” so many people– it’s going to feel like a reunion.

  • Jan Thompson says:

    Thank you, Wendy, for your stats! I thought the 42% conference number was most interesting. I’m glad that as an agent, you put an emphasis on the persons behind the book covers. I think it speaks volumes about Books & Such.

    When I grow up, and I finish editing my MSS, it will be time for me to take a mini-vacation to a writer’s conference. I hope to meet agents, editors, yes, but also everyone who has commented on these blogs. I’ve had as much fun reading your comments as I have reading the agent blogs. Would be nice to meet you face to face!

    At this point in time, I view writer’s conference as icing on the writing cake. Meeting other writers, attending workshops, and listening to agents/editors all sound fun! I’m looking forward to learning more about the craft of writing, and the art of publishing.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      One of the best things about conferences is that you’ll find you are finally in a place with kindred spirits. It feels like home.

  • I love the idea of a backdoor. What a great way to put it. This is why I’ve made a commitment to attend at least two writers conferences every year–one local, one national. Hopefully, at one of these conferences, I’ll meet the agent God has for me. Thanks, Wendy.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      We’re aware that writers are watching us as well. You can discern a lot about potential agents from watching them at conferences, It’s definitely a two-way street.

  • Larry says:

    “Or sometimes we find a blogger whose work is the talk of the town and we seek them for a book.”

    Hmmm…..not sure if my blog would be the talk of the town for the right reasons! :)

    Realized that whenever I blog or do social media, I quickly get bored with it. The only way for me to do it usually involves me turning the blog / Twitter / whatever into a platform for me to have fun writing, and try different styles of writing. Usually esoteric stuff, mostly not even involving writing-related topics. Which while it can be fun to be snarky and to not force my writing into a particular style or topic, usually tends to be the complete opposite of platform-building, as folks who’d follow my social media stuff wouldn’t get a decent idea of what I actually write outside of that area.

    So I end up turning off the Twitter and the blog and whatnot, only to repeat until I once more find myself wondering why I’m writing social media stuff instead of writing what I’d much rather would prefer to be writing.

    *sigh*

    If anyone has a Twitter, though, and doesn’t mind the occassional surreal-sublime Tweet (or listening to me prattle about Krazy Kat (there’s a sale going on at Amazon!), I’d be interesting in what folks here Tweet about. (Have no idea what folks Tweet handles are, though).

    “16% of my clients I met through writing groups, online writing forums or through our blog community. ”

    Hmmmm….that’s another thing I occassionally wonder about. I try to give my honest appraisal of various issues of the industry and what it means to be a writer when those are blog topics, though I know there are writers who…I don’t want to say they are dishonest, but are less than forthcoming about how they really feel. I’ve noticed this at a few blogs which I used to frequent, which in part is why I no longer visit those blogs. Those places were mere bacchanals of banality!

    • Jan Thompson says:

      Larry says: “…what folks here Tweet about. (Have no idea what folks Tweet handles are, though).”

      For what it’s worth (probably less than a widow’s mite), here’s what I tweet about: the unpublished writing life, writing tips, and reading-related links. From time to time, I also tweet about the books I’ve read if I give them thumbs up.

      When my favorite authors have new books coming out, I retweet their announcements. I believe it’s important to support our fellow writers, especially those who are published, so they can keep writing great books that I love to read! It’s a win-win. And i can tweet my support in 140 words. That takes me seconds to do. I like Twitter because it doesn’t eat into my writing time.

      :-)

    • Larry, I prefer Twitter to other social media and I’ve met quite a number of writers that way. I tweet mostly about fantasy (I am writing a YA fantasy, but also I love just love fantasy), writing and other topics that come up in response to what other people tweet. I like to have conversations, so I tweet back to people. Also I retweet quotes, thoughts and other tweets that I just really like.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Larry, I was thinking primarily about nonfiction writers who “own” their topic. the first ones who come to mind when you think of a topic. For instance Pioneer Woman for cooking/ homemaking/ living richly; or Ann Voskamp for that deep artful spirituality; or my client, Kim van Brunt for honestly looking at the challenges of adoption. You can name others who are the go-to people for a certain topic.

    • Larry says:

      Interesting…..from what has been stated, it might be more helpful for me to use Twitter as an information resource, not so much as a “mini blog,” or something similar.

      Thanks for the responses!

      And that’s good to know, Wendy: though in regards to non-fiction, do those bloggers try to get established blogs to get a book-deal, or do they find a book-deal secondary to boost interest back into their blog?

      The business side of non-fiction would make for an interesting read, I’d wager!

  • Wow. This is one of the most enlightening things I’ve read this year. As I work to finalize my proposal right now, I just keep thinking, “But the chance of anyone actually seeing it is so small!” It seems so difficult to even get your proposal in front of someone in the first place…and this post really confirms the truth of that if you’re coming in “cold.” Seeing the relative frequency of relationships coming from the other avenues is extremely helpful. I LOVE that you gave numbers. Thank you so much for this post.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      If there’s one thing I’d love to get across to writers is that you can make it happen. You are not at the mercy of a glutted query system. There are any number of work-arounds.

  • Love this inside look, Wendy. For every represented author I know, there is a different story to tell about how they found their agent (or their agent found them)! I love hearing their stories (and the ones you’ve listed above), because it shows me there is no prescribed method for finding the right agent – it’s a matter of God’s perfect timing and plan. I’m not currently represented, but I’ve had two of my writer friends offer to recommend me to their agents, after reading one of my novels. It’s a wonderful compliment and honor, because, as you’ve stated, it’s a great way to get in through the back door.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      That’s a wonderful gift, Gabrielle, and speaks highly of your writing. Your friends wouldn’t offer if they didn’t believe in you.

  • Sarah Grimm says:

    Wendy,

    I just love your posts. :) This is is just what I needed to hear today. I’m going to a conference in April because two agents I really wanted to meet will be there. It’s not the same as stalking, right? LOL.

    Anyway, this really gave me a chance to get excited because I’ve been querying and while I’ve gotten some great rejections (like: this story doesn’t work for me right now, but if you write something else please think of me.), but they’re still rejections.

    I’m hoping for better success with this new opportunity, and this post made me braver which I desperately need right now. :)

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Take every opportunity offered to get your work in front of them.

      I’m always surprised at Mount Hermon that we don’t get more manuscripts. This conference offers attendees the opportunity to submit proposals and partial manuscripts to up to three editors or agents in advance. We come in early and pick up our stack of manuscripts and have time to really consider these and comment on them at leisure– surrounded by quiet and beauty. It is the most time I ever have to lavish on potential projects. (Maybe that’s why I sign so many clients at conferences.)

      And yet, I’m always surprised how few of those attending take advantage of this golden opportunity to have professionals read their manuscripts and give immediate feedback with the chance to sit down and discuss it during the conference. Especially since it is free– it’s part of the conference.

      Instead, we will get people who want to sit down with us cold and pitch their projects without us even having the opportunity to see the writing. That’s okay but when you had the opportunity for me to spend an hour or two on your book, you choose to do an off-the-cuff pitch? Without seeing the writing, I can only offer to look at a proposal that you will send. (And that will go into the pile back at the office.)

      I’m saying be brave and avail yourself of every opportunity.

  • nikolavukoja says:

    Great to know that nearly 1/2 your clients came from conferences — great if you happen to live in the USA — this just confirms my theory of how much harder it is to obtain an agent if you live in say Australia (or New Zealand) where there are less agents than publishers and virtually no conferences.

    Its interesting that before I even start I am reduced to only a 58% chance.

    • Jan Thompson says:

      But not everyone can afford a conference even if we live in the USA. I haven’t been to a single one, even though I’ve been writing on and off for 16 years. So if we calculate the probability based on conference alone, my chance of meeting an agent is ZERO, same as you.

      Note the other positive that might help you: “16% of my clients I met through writing groups, online writing forums or through our blog community.” Here you are — at 16% chance.

      It also varies from agent to agent :-)

      • Exactly right, Jan. I would love to go to a writer’s conference but I can’t afford it. Fortunately, getting an agent doesn’t require going to conference after conference. I would love to go, but at the moment, it’s all I can do to afford to live. (BTW I live in the East Coast of the U.S.)

      • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

        Exactly Jan. If conferences are not for you, choose a different workaround.

        I would encourage you to save for a conference however– it is a rich, life-changing experience. Many conferences offer partial scholarships. One of the writers from my writing group held bake sales and yard sales to get the money to attend a conference. Be creative. Perhaps your church would help sponsor you if you volunteered to write articles for the newsletter.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      But remember, that is only me, Nikola. Other agents have different stats. I’ve represented Canadian writers and another of my clients was in Sweden and recently moved to England.

      But you are right, it is harder to break into the US market when you live in a different country. But trust me on this– fabulous writing trumps all obstacles. And happily, the world-wide web has made this planet much more of a melting pot than ever before. Look how we connect just as if you are next door.

      • rachel says:

        the internet has done wonders for this type of thing. my agent is american and i am canadian. i definitely want to be published by an american house because it is a large industry in the States :-) so many things happen at the speed of email. it is easy to talk over edits and to send revisions. i think writing and queries are not country-anomalous. skype also helps :)

  • I am blessed to be one of the 42%/ matched with my agent at the Mt. Hermon Conference. I had been drawn to her for years, felt a kindred connection, and am grateful she saw something in me too.

    Thank you for sharing these insights, Wendy. When a fellow writer asks me how I got my agent, I tell them it’s a journey of praying without ceasing and hard work continually honing skills. Truly God is the matchmaker and last year He put joy in my heart that I seek to honor with sweet incense before the throne of grace and committed time learning how to improve my craft and media/marketing skills.:)

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      And one of the things that impressed me, Kathy is that I saw your work two years in a row. You went home and put everything you learned into practice. When I saw the reworked manuscript I could see the diligence and artfulness.

      It doesn’t always happen the first time you meet your agent, but we are watching. . .

  • I’m encouraged that attending Mount Hermon could be a ‘crack the back door open’ experience. So glad I get to see you there Wendy.

  • Ann Bracken says:

    I found my agent using a combination front/back door approach. I sent a cold query letter to an agent that included the information that I’d meet her at a conference she was attending in a month. She asked for my manuscript the next business day and read it before coming.

    As a volunteer at that same conference I was assigned the enviable task of picking the agents up at the airport (how great is 40 minutes of uninterrupted time alone with agents?). The one I cold queried before arriving actually took me to lunch on our way to the conference to discuss my book. One rewrite later she sent me a contract.

  • This shows the importance of attending conferences. When you make a personal connection with anyone and begin even a tentative relationship, it’s important.

    Someday. : )

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      But in the meantime you are connecting online and doing a great job of being part of this writing community. (I tell you, it pays off.)

  • Sarah Kovac says:

    So true! I landed my agent through a conference. It was great to meet face to face and know we “clicked.” All communication since then has been virtual, so it’s really helpful to have a voice and personality to assign to the words I’m reading.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      It really does help, doesn’t it? I know it sounds like we own stock in conferences (we don’t) but it’s just that we’ve seen how the investment pays rich dividends.

  • I suspected agents had a back door. Thanks for being so upfront about it.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I think we’re like anyone else. there are proscribed ways of approaching but if you “know someone,” it cuts through a lot of the steps.

      It’s much like job hunting. If you go to a place like monster.com and begin posting resumes, you are up against a mountain of competition but if you manage to bump into the HR person at the gym. . .

      • Peter DeHaan says:

        I’ve heard that only 2% of job seekers find a job by the traditional method of responding to a help wanted ad — and the other 98% used networking, refers, or fortuitous timing to land their job.

  • I was a combination of the 42% and the 20%. On my first trip to the Mount Hermon Conference, I submitted a manuscript to a published author for a critique. I didn’t think I was ready to start talking with agents or editors. After reading it, the author promptly handed it to the agent who was sitting next to her. I was floored when I received the note, “an agent wants to speak with you.” My manuscript wasn’t complete at the time, but she was very encouraging. We met again the next year and she offered representation about 18 months after our first meeting. And yes–I still pinch myself, too.

    • It’s so uplifting to see God’s fingerprints on your writing career.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      Good reminder, Karen. That has happened to me a number of times. I have some great scouts who do manuscript critiques at conferences and more than once they’ve made an introduction for me.

      Several of my friends or clients who do mentoring clinics have given me inside info on gorgeous manuscripts as well.

  • Wendy, thanks for the most informative post. I was able to go through the ‘back door’ recently and am waiting for a response. Thanks to your post I am feeling a bit more encouraged.

  • My favorite bible verse: I am a WRITER. Psalm 45:1

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I had to look that one up. “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer.”

      Love it.

      • Wow! You must have the same Bible that I do. Those are the exact same words in mine. Maybe we shop at the same Bible Book Store.

        Mine Bible cost $29.95 including a nice leather cove . . . how much did yours cost?

        Oh, mine has my initials on it, “YDD” if that makes a difference.
        YDD = Yankee Doodle Dandy

  • I needed to read this post. I’ve attended conferences for several years, but I’m so shy about follow ups with agents. I never want to bother them. I’ve wasted many opportunities. Maybe this will give me the kick to be braver.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      It’s never a bother, Theresa! We are too busy to request things we are not seriously interested in. If we ask to see something, we are honestly intrigued with your pitch. Or if we’ve already evaluated some of your writing, the interest is even deeper.

      But attending for several years is good. the more we come together, the more comfortable we feel with each other.

      And don’t let your shyness be a negative. Sometimes at a conference writers are so over-eager that when we come across a quieter writer, it is a breath of fresh air.

  • Penny Childers says:

    Thanks for taking the time to post these tips.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      My pleasure. We love the back and forth and, truth be told, we learn as much from our blog commenters as they learn from us.

  • Well, alrighty then. I look forward to meeting you in a couple of weeks!

  • Keli Gwyn says:

    What a great post, Wendy. It shows the value of establishing relationships.

    The backdoor approached worked for me. I received my offer of representation from Rachelle when she served as a final round judge in the Launching a Star contest sponsored by the Spacecoast Romance Writers chapter of Romance Writers of America®. Rachelle requested my full, offered me representation, guided me through a much-needed rewrite, and sold the story, which was released the past July.

  • There should be a Paul Simon song here somewhere. 50 Ways to find an agent. Yes, I know you didn’t say fifty ways but neither did the song. :-D

  • Oh, what a fascinating post–thanks, Wendy! And just as compelling are the comments. Each story is as unique as “how I met my spouse” stories, and just as fun. I love how God grins at our imaginations… and then surpasses them.

  • Nice to hear such positive things about writers’ conferences-good to know! Thanks for the useful tips!

  • Almost a 20%, but glad to be in the 42%

    In 2007 I met a writer (represented by Books & Such) at a men’s conference – and he spoke at our church the next day. We both presented workshops and at dinner when he asked me about my topic he jumped all over it – in a good way.

    The next day after church we talked non-stop on a 3+ hour drive, picking at weak spots, developing other ideas, and he sent one of his successful book proposals.

    He continued to push and encourage (not just affirm!) me, and in time recommended me to Janet. The feedback I got from the Books & Such team was very helpful.

    Fast forward to my first writers conference, met Janet, several editors, and at dinner on Saturday night, my agent (made official 9 months later in Indianapolis).

    Thankful to Janet for this “referral” because I asked her for a few people to “not miss” talking to while at the conference, and he was her first recommendation, and I was (almost) embarrassed how much our conversation of my ideas and platform dominated the dinner table.

    I did say almost. Writers conferences are exhausting, but there is nothing like being at any event around people passionate for the same things!

  • Thanks, Wendy, for posting this. Can’t believe I’ve been working this hard to actually be one of the 8%. Now I know where I need to concentrate my efforts, in the 42% category.

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      But remember, Mark, that’s just me. YMMV. :-)

      The thing I wanted to stress today was that there are many ways to accomplish our goals. If one door closes, try another.

  • Being at the “cold call” stage of my own publishing journey, this post was rather encouraging. Sarah Sundin has been kind enough to mention several of these methods to me as I have bothered her with requests for advice. I only wish I had a bit more of that all-elusive commodity we people call “money”…it might enable me to attend a writer’s conference sooner. :D All the same, this “back-door” post is wonderful, and I thank you, Wendy, for writing it. It’s so invigorating to realize there is more than the cold-call method to finding an agent.

    • Sarah Sundin says:

      “Bothered”???? Hardly :) I’m thrilled to pass on great advice to promising writers!

      And yes, I’m a “42 percenter.” Although in a roundabout manner. I’d gotten to know the Books & Such agents at Mount Hermon for several years running and had pegged this as my dream agency. So when I received a contract offer from Revell, I immediately (well, after half an hour of screeching and dancing) sent an email to Books & Such. I signed with Rachel Kent less than a week later.

      I guess I took a back door to the back door :)

      Conferences are worth saving up for. I know writers who squirrel away 2-3 dollars a day. In a year, you have enough for a major conference.

      • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

        If I gave up Starbucks I’d probably see enough for a conference each year. (Yep, I buy that many drinks– short skinny mocha– it’s delish.)

  • Amy Ford says:

    I’m a cold query girl represented by you guys and had another offer by another agency the old fashioned way – it still works :-D

    • Wendy Lawton Wendy Lawton says:

      I love that moniker, “a cold query girl.” (Sounds like a quirky book title.) You are right, it still does work.

      Some of the writers I claimed in my know-them-online group actually got the offer of representation from a traditional query through the system. We just recognized the name.

  • Sharyn Kopf says:

    Just about everything good that’s ever happened to me came through a back door. Any attempts to march my way through traditional doorways have been met with brick walls, barking dogs or an eye peering disapprovingly at me through a peephole.

    And back doors don’t even work in traditional ways for me. Most of the time, God has to push me through them. Otherwise, I’d just stand there and assume the door’s locked, so why bother? Wendy, some of your back doors might actually be too conventional, if my past history is any indication. I’ll probably meet my agent on an airplane or because my great-aunt Edna babysat her mother.

    I equate finding the right agent with finding the right guy – it will happen in God’s timing. I just need to be patient. But since I’m still single, that might not be the best analogy. . . .

  • There’s one path you didn’t mention: I met my publisher on Twitter. After chatting with them for a few months I sent them a link to my blog, where I’d posted a page from my novel. They responded by requesting a full. My third book is about to be published by them, and I’m writing #4. Everything is possible!

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