Five Sure-Fire Ways to Get an Agent’s Attention

Five Sure-Fire Ways to Get an Agent’s Attention

Blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

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You wanted my attention?

“You have my attention.”

What author wouldn’t want to hear that response? In the sea of queries, submissions, proposals, conversations, how can your submission stand out?

How can your work get noticed? For the right, sure-fire reasons?


“What? Wait a minute. This proposal is exactly what I asked this author to send to me. Formatted according to the guidelines. With all the elements suggested.

“Author, you have my attention.”


It’s an attention-getter to have a new author with a great, professional-looking headshot. Like my client Angelia White.

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Angelia White got my attention

The professionalism agents look for translates into other arenas as well.

Social media: Is an author coarse, rude, harsh, or unkind on social media? That’s the wrong kind of attention.

(Angelia–all Books & Such clients–are known for their public professionalism. It’s a calling card of Books & Such agents, too.)

Conferences: If a prospective client pouts over a critique, spreads rumors, or otherwise acts unprofessionally in public, a sparkling proposal loses its shine.

Correspondence: Impatience shows up in emails and messages. Keep calm. Draw an agent’s attention.


An attention-getting author stays alert to recent releases in his or her genre of preference.

He or she knows the kinds of titles that fit that genre.

Attention-getting authors understand what readers expect. It shows in their submission’s sample chapters. It shows in the query or proposal.

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Cat barks

Bark up the right tree. (See what I did with the photo? I got your attention with a unique plot twist. The infamous cat-bark.)

Agents take notice when an author knows how to tailor the project to the unique strengths/interests of target publishers.


Immature authors need not apply.

Authors who can successfully defend their premise, title, or storytelling method without growing defensive grab agents’ attention.


An agent perks up when an easy-edit proposal crosses her desk.

If the writer shows careful attention to detail in self-editing, an agent sinks into the joy of reading.

A “clean” manuscript gets an agent’s attention.  five-sure-fire-ways-get-agents-attention, agent's attention, book proposals, writers, authors, success, representation, editing, guidelines, professionalism

We listed five sure-fire ways to get and hold an agent’s attention. Put yourself in an agent’s fur. Or shoes.

What would make you sit up and take notice?



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37 Responses

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  1. “Defend without defensiveness.” Can I have that bronzed? I’d like to hang it on my office wall. Next to the sign reading “Every Problem Is a Communication Problem.”

  2. Mark Bergin says:

    How does a fiction writer integrate a headshot into a query? I would love to get my thus-far unsuccessful queries more attention but the common email submission format doesn’t seem to allow this.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Mark, sometimes when authors meet agents at a conference, they’ll include a one-sheet with a short description of the book, their bio, and a headshot. You’re correct that those images don’t translate well via email, unless as an attachment, in which case, it would have to be a fairly small file.

  3. Probably a great story that makes you forget to edit it in your head.

  4. I’d love a genuine heart. When my daughter comes home sharing something … if she’s being dramatic and her story is ridiculous, I slump down in the chair and want to stuff cotton into my ears. But if her heart is genuine–you can just tell–and her story is interesting, I sit up and listen. And maybe I do something about it, guide her, help her, laugh, or cry.

  5. Hmmm. Professionalism. Does that completely rule out my I-came-here-just-after-pulling-an-all-nighter-after-a-Jimmy-Buffet-concert vibe?
    * This is a really good list, Cynthia. The one thing that puzzles me a little bit is that when I was actively trying to find an agent a few years ago, headshots were NOT to be included. Has this changed, or are you referring to their place on a writer’s website, FB page, or Twitter account?

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Andrew, a prospective agent might look for a headshot on your website or Facebook page after receiving an intriguing query or proposal. I should have specified that it doesn’t necessarily have to be included. Other agents may feel differently.

  6. Greetyings Cynthia, and welcome to Books & Such. I’m thrilled for you!
    It is a subtle difference, but I think of this in terms of Five Sure-Fire Ways to Not Lose an Agent’s Attention. It is terribly difficult to get an agent’s attention, because there is a choir of voices clamoring for that attention. Having worked so hard to get that attention, once I have it, I can lose it in a heartbeat if I present a poor headshot photo, if I am rude on social media, if I seem clueless about the world of publishing, or perhaps a horrifyingly poor writer.
    That said, you’re correct that there are things one must do to stand out in the crowd, particularly when the crowd is offering up a platter of excellent materials.

  7. Is there any way we can convince the world to drop the term ‘headshot’ for a photo? To me it’s something else entirely.

  8. CJ Myerly says:

    This post is so helpful. As a writer, I’m constantly learning so when I read, I find myself critiquing–paying attention to what I liked, what I didn’t like, and what threw me. The best books–the ones that stay with me–draw me in until I forget that I’m a writer, but I feel like I’m the character.

    I think those are the manuscripts that would catch my notice.

  9. Carol Ashby says:

    I think a headshot should also make the author look like someone you’d love to chat with over a cup of coffee or tea. (Angelia’s does). You might want to have a talk with your Andean client. That llama looks a bit stand-offish to me.

  10. Cynthia, thank you for sharing this thorough and thought-provoking list. The only thing I can think of to add is that I would read some of what the writer shares on social media to see if the author’s personality and worldview are in a realm I can relate to. Wise, respectful, and compassionate personalities blended with a good sense of humor draw my attention. I have chosen my favorite agents to follow (and one day query again) by reading what they write and share online. I want a strong, steady, and safe coach in my corner because I know the publishing journey can be brutal before and after books reach the public.
    Blessings ~ Wendy Mac

  11. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Note to self ~ get that professional photo done. (Angelia has a lovely smile.)

    Thanks, Cynthia. You present a great reminder to pay attention even to the basics. Proofread, because every typo caught makes the job of the agent/editor easier.

    Like C J, I tend to notice craft elements when I read. If a story draws me in and I forget to make note of such things ~ I am hooked. Hard to imagine, though, an agent or editor forgetting to notice craft issues when reading a proposal.

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Story reigns over punctuation, but knowing an author already did invested sweat equity to get it in the best shape possible is a good sign.

  12. Be yourself.
    Don’t “upgrade to posh” because you feel like that might help.
    For me? I’d see how the person handled terrible phone or Skype connections, or if I was meeting him/her in person, I’d watch how he/she spoke to flustered waiters or counter staff. If I can’t trust a person to be calm and flexible under normal life circumstances, how can I trust them to handle the serious pressure of a publication career, especially in an era of instant social media connections?

  13. Peggy Booher says:

    After reading your post, I thought how most of your ideas simply meant, be polite, be humble but show self-control, and taking the time to make things as easy for the reader (in this case, an agent) as possible. In other words, it goes back to the rules for courtesy and treating people as I’d want to be treated. The “old-fashioned” rules aren’t old-fashioned at all!
    *I like the “Cat Barks!” That got my attention, for sure! 🙂