Backdoor to Literary Representation
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?
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.
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