13 Ways to Impress an Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Blogger: Rachelle Gardner

You’ve been trying to crack the code for getting an agent’s attention, whether in a query or a face-to-face meeting. 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 break the Agent Code of Secrecy by revealing 13 surefire ways to impress an agent. Here you go!

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.

Wow2. 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.

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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45 Comments

  • How can an agent impress me (other than taking me on as a client)?

    Have a social media presence. I have found a SMP to be very useful as I stalk, er, research agents. They don’t have to do everything, and they don’t have to post every day, but an occasional something is good. It gives me a clue into their personalities, their modus operandi, and, rather importantly, what they may be looking for.

    Pretty much every agent out there has the “shiny brochure” web site, but other than the bare bone basics, they don’t always reflect the current status quo.

    I’m in the query phase. My top ten agents made it to the top of my list because of what I read on their social media.

    #10queriesin10minutes, #askagent and other useful tags are a goldmine of info.

    I’m a better querier (and a better writer) because of what agents have shared on their blogs, etc.

  • Asking me how an agent might impress me is like asking the flea what he finds most compelling about the elephant…

    But if you really want to know –

    * Be consistent in your values. Don’t claim to specialize in Christian fiction and put “50 Shades of Grey” on your posted ‘must-read’ list. Read outside the broad “Christian” genre, sure, but, as Norma Vincent Peale put it, don’t look so broad-minded that your brains fall out.

    * Treat queries and other communications with writers as private; don’t quote them in blogs, please, especially as bad examples (yes, I’ve seen it done, though not on B&S, and yes, I recognized the query, for it was mine…and no, I won’t ID the agency).

    But I’m unagented, so those thoughts have to be taken with a grain – or sack – of salt.

    For what it’s worth, I suspect that a lot of writers felt the way I did, that after a lot of querying, any agent would be okay.

    But from what I have read it seems not to be the case, and maybe it’s analogous to university teaching. A lot of PhDs go through tons of interviews and get to the point where they’ll take a job at any school that will have them.

    They don’t realize that there are schools to avoid at all costs, because working there will kill one’s love for the job, and stunt or wreck one’s career.

    And I’m guessing there are agents like that. Is that true?

  • Great post, Rachelle, and I love reading your humor. :)

    Agents can impress writers with sincerity and warmth during interactions, even if they know the writer isn’t quite ready for representation.

    Like Heidi said above, sharing on their blogs about what they are looking for and other helpful publishing information is always helpful.

    Personally, I always appreciate when I (and others) comment on an agent blog and the agent takes the time to comment back. Granted, I know agents are BUSY and can’t always take that time to interact. But when they do, it impresses me. You all here at Books and Such are great at doing this.

  • JJ Landis says:

    How can an agent impress me? Haha! By noticing me and seeing that I have potential even though the rest of the world hasn’t figured that out yet. (insert defeated sigh here)

    Seriously though – I appreciate an appealing and updated website with functioning links.

    I also have noticed some agents seem approachable and human while others are a bit too glossy for my taste. Human is a good thing!

    Thanks for this post, JJ

  • An agent can best impress me with the sincere message that the newest and rawest client will receive the same care and consideration as one whose books routinely top the best-selling lists.

    To be gracious to the striving is the glory of kings (and queens).

  • One thing that impresses me with agents, or even authors, is when they use their social media platform for more than self-promotion. As someone who has been self-employed I know the importance of promoting your blog, business or book, but too much can become a nuisance.
    Thank you for such wonderful tips. I know I will be referring back to this list in the near future.

  • Here are a few things that impress me …

    -an agent who comments back. Though it can’t always be done, like Jeanne said, it shows that they are as interested in our works/efforts as we are in theirs.

    -an agent who admits their faults, their needs … being real.

    -no question is a bad question.

    -writers treated respectfully, at all stages in the learning/working process. Seeing someone treated as ridiculous if they made a “mistake” hurts. We have all been at that ridiculous stage … I tend to linger longer than most. :)

    -an agent who follows me back on Twitter. And I realize agents can’t follow everyone back. :)

    What really impressed me on B&S blog this year? Wendy’s competition on best worst line. That was a blast … we could all laugh at/with each other. Great memory! :)

  • Ellen says:

    Impressive: Agents who maintain their own online presence!

    This blog is stellar.

    So maybe I’ve missed the ball completely, but I can count the # of CBA agent blogs on one hand. Without the ability to travel to conferences or personal connections, it seems nigh impossible to see what agents are “really” in the market for. Sure, you’ll read the lists of generic categories like “non-fiction” but they all say the same thing. When it comes to specifics… Who knows? What is their perspective? How do writers determine if they’d be the best fit when information is so sparse?

    I think all agents should at the very least have websites. They certainly don’t all need to blog. But more online communication would be awesome.

  • Agents impress me when their websites include clear, precise, and up-to-date descriptions of what they’re looking for in markets and genres. I have wasted conference appointments because agents’ websites say “I sell to the A.B.A.,” and I schedule the appointment and pitch an A.B.A. book only to be told, “Oh, well, I really only sell to the Christian market.” I feel like saying, “Then why did you lie on your website?”, but don’t want to burn bridges.

    I suggest agents update or re-confirm markets/genres quarterly, and give the date on the website.

  • Thanks for this list! I’m not at the point where I’ve been actively searching out agents, but I do have to say that because of this blog, I’m impressed with Books & Such as a whole. Not only is the blog incredibly informative, it’s helped me feel more comfortable with the submission process — it’s eased some of the fear of the “unknown” about publishing and MS submission. I’m sure it’s done the same for other writers.

  • Elissa says:

    I’m impressed with most of the things others have mentioned:

    Agents who respect writers, including novices who aren’t yet ready for publication. By that I mean, no public shaming or snarky comments about people being clueless.

    Media presence that recognizes not everyone uses Twitter and/or Facebook, and that provide value to the reader.

    Accurate, up-to-date website with clear submissions guidelines. Advice on how to query and/or query examples are a bonus. Listing and links to client books a priority.

    Last, always responding to every query, even if it’s just an automatic form rejection. “No reply means No” is the most insulting phrase in publishing, in my opinion.

  • Keep a professional profile and bearing in public, but do so with an enormous heart.
    Don’t accept less than a writer’s BEST. Ever.
    Be an industry leader by whom all others set their marks.
    Strive to help and encourage writers.
    Treat everyone like family.
    Have fun contests.
    Put up with slightly unbalanced, red-headed writers from Canada.

  • Allison Duke says:

    As usual, these are great comments! As someone who plans to begin the process of finding an agent soon, I would like to see an informative website with information on submission guidelines and what agents are looking to represent. And we all know agents are busy and get tons of requests but a response, even if it’s a simple, “Thanks, but no thanks,” would earn a spot in my heart. I have lots of writer friends, and I’d be willing to recommend an agent who rejected me if it was done kindly and politely.

  • Thank you so much for this. This blog and the books and such agents really prepare those seeking. I’m very thankful for that as a writer to that is continually learning! and chocolate… that is always so very good.

  • Wanda Rosseland says:

    Thanks so much, Rachelle. It’s a great list.
    There aren’t many things I want from an agent, two actually.
    Love my writing.
    How can an agent be enthusiastic about my work if she doesn’t love the writing itself? I’m not asking her to fawn over it, or gush to everyone she sees, I don’t even care if she never says a word about it, to me or anyone else. But by thinking it’s wonderful, and Must be published, she will work like a dog to see that it gets into print and can be held in our hands one day, in a beautiful book.
    The other one might be a little easier.
    Sell it to the best publisher–for the book.
    That may not be to the highest bidder (if one could be so fortunate as to have more than one bidding on it), or perhaps the most famous publisher in the country, but it would be the one who would also love it and have a clear picture of how they want to present it, in the best light, for the reader. They would be behind the book all the way, and it would show.
    Hmmmm. Maybe there are three..
    Be friends.
    This does not mean to expect long phone calls every other day, or letters by the week. Or sympathy when I feel like I need it. No, just to be friends, and not a boss working with an employee who you never see or speak to out of the office, who is much superior in all ways, and expects you to know it.
    Thank God none of you girls are that way! (Yes, I can tell, lol.)

  • Jim Lupis says:

    Rachelle, your road map on how to impress an agent says it all. And all the comments cover just about everything. So what am I looking for…

    An agent with a great blog that responds to comments. It is one thing to have knowledge, but having understanding is priceless. With all sincerity, The B&S Blog gives both.

    Honesty with grace. The truth always will always make me a better writer. Grace heals the process.

    Communication. A dialogue that develops between writer and agent that brings clarity and vision to the final manuscript.

    Love of God. I visited a website last week that gave me the creeps. I can’t express enough how refreshing and encouraging the B&S blog is for your obvious love of God.

    Thank you!

  • Loved your first number 10. You can never go wrong with chocolate. Seriously though, I hadn’t thought of a couple of the things on your list. Great advice.

  • Penelope A Childers says:

    Honesty and the willingness to tell the truth impresses me. Someone who has excellent people skills and is easy to relate to is a must. If I feel comfortable, I’m impressed. And if I’m comfortable enough to post on your blog, I’m impressed.

    Books & Such? Yes!-impresses me.

  • Thank you for this awesome post! I’ve just started my search for an agent and love your tips. But if chocolate will help….. :)

  • This is a great post on how to build a platform!

  • Thank you, Rachelle, for showing us how to impress an agent. All of you at Books & Such L. M. are generous with your helpful posts on this blog. I will keep praying that God opens and closes the doors according to His will during my upcoming query journey. But I do know that I’m drawn to agents who respect a biblical world view and have a good sense of humor (and won’t judge me for my chocolate habit).

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  • Ekta Garg says:

    Thanks for all the great advice, Rachelle. Definitely points to take to heart. And I imagine that once a writer establishes a good rapport with an agent, the chocolate can’t hurt. :>

  • Great points, especially about the chocolate! Agents can impress writers by having great blogs, replying to professional social media posts where they are tagged, and by giving prompt and thoughtful feedback on submissions.

  • I’ve always wondered about No. 10a.

    Is it best to send Dark Chocolate or the regular Milk Chocolate?

    Would I get extra points if I send both and let the agent choose?

    Is sending a Whitman’s Sampler, now considered Old School?

    My Aunt Jenny makes delicious fudge. Do I get extra points if the chocolate is home made from an old family recipe?
    What if it’s not an old family recipe and something I got from Martha Stewart?

    I like divinity but it has at least a thousand calories per half/ounce in it. Do most agents watch their caloric intake or do they share the excessive calories with the other agents in their agency?
    Or do they freeze it and nibble on it all year?

    Do you think it’s too presumptuous signing an agent up for the: Gourmet Chocolate of the Month Club? I can get a real good discount from my Uncle Harry.

    Can I make a good impression with a fine tasting chocolate sauce? I’m not talking about the Magic Shell stuff.

    What about sending a frozen double chocolate cheese cake packed in dry ice? Do you think the dry ice is a little over the top?

    How about sculpting one of a one-of-a-kind solid chocolate statues in the shape of the agents dog or cat.
    Are we now crossing the line between professional and personal? Just so you know: I’m not talking about those deplorable hollow shell rabbits.

    What if it’s one of those huge megalithic agencies with offices in every city of the world, (except Modesto) do you think it’s appropriate to drop ship maybe, a 200 pound block of Ghirardelli Premium Chocolate to the Corporate Headquarters?

    Let’s just say your an unpublished writer with a part time job at the 99cent store, (which fits my situation perfectly) and all I can afford is a generic brand of box-mixed chocolate brownies with some chopped nuts thrown in for fun. Should I wrap them in aluminum foil or saran wrap?
    Do I risk putting in the chopped nuts in case they have an allergic retain to nuts?

    What if the agent is a (heaven forbid) a chocoholic. Should I also send along the 12 step manual for dealing with this embarrassing addiction?
    Or should I just suggest a good therapist in their area?
    What if I paid for their first 3 sessions”

    If I was to send the wrong size tee-shirt that says: I Love Chocolate: to an agent on my top ten list:

    Would they: 1. Just send it back.
    2. Send it back for the right size.
    3.Send it back and ask for the cash instead.
    4. Rip it up and stain it badly before sending it back.
    5. Give it to an agent that it fits. Would that agent then be kinda’ obligated to read my MS?
    6.Maybe ask for a dozen more but they don’t offer to pay for the shipping.
    7. Ask for a dozen more but offer to split the shipping. (I just have no idea how cheap most agents are)
    8. Send a Thank You for the Tee-Shirt using a Hallmark card that costs $12.95 and plays a song or would they go to the Dollar tree and buy the Four Pack of cards for a dollar. (I guess the big question is: Would a literary agent stoop as low as to be seen walking into the Dollar Tree store, even if they had no intentions of buying anything.

    Sorry for taking up all your time. From now on, you can just refer to me as: That Good Ole’ Sweet Tooth Guy With The Dog From California.

  • BillScott says:

    Okay, I know every agent is different, but I thought they hated links? You know, they. I’ve read a few shorts on an NPR show. I just post them on my blog where they rock back and forth like a monkey deprived of maternal love.

  • BL Whitney says:

    I swear I’m not sucking up, but I’ve been so appreciative of this blog on B&S. I have gotten to see the agents as warm and kind people – not what I was expecting of agents in general. I’m just beginning the query process, so I don’t really know what to expect. Hoping to find someone who believes in my vision, but as others have said, part of me will feel lucky to find any representation, considering how difficult everyone says the odds are.

    I’m not writing the Christian genre, and was so disappointed that B&S doesn’t represent other types of spiritual/inspirational novels, but I do appreciate the company of like minds and supportive followers I’ve found here.

    (If you happen to know agents who might be a good fit for my work, I would love any leads!)

    Blessings to everyone on the journey!

  • Great post today. Perfect timing as we prepare for conference.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Katie Peterson says:

    What impresses me is someone who is real and adores a wonderful story. Response time is most important to me, and yes I even respect agents who say no (especially within a reasonable time frame), so you’re not left hanging. I love agents who have creative and really authentic websites, because it shows me they will more than likely have a respect for my own personal creativity. I love someone who has incredible business acumen, is passionate about the work, thinks outside the box of what might be considered traditional, and is down to earth. A polished creative professional, who is genuinely in it for the right reasons is a rare find. I came across one agent in particular who is not interested in a formal query but rather a simple synopsis and attachment of the story. This tells me he is all about the story and can live outside the ‘rules’ of an industry while still being respectable.

  • Jamie Zakian says:

    There is really only one thing an agent needs to do to impress a writer. Provide some sort of feedback on rejects, even if it’s painfully truthful. As a person with absolutely no literary-competent acquaints(thanks again television) I truly have no idea if I need to reevaluate my writing style or if my story is lacking. And I think a lot of people may feel the same, especially after receiving numerous form rejections that almost copycat each other.

  • As an author seeking representation, I appreciate this list.

    I think an agent can impress a reader by maintaining a professional, yet personable online image.

  • Shara Nelson says:

    I think this blogpost is the epitome of how to impress a writer. Your extremely graceful and personable online presence is great! I have started searching for agents and must say that I am truly drawn to you! It is obvious you take your work seriously – but not so seriously that you can’t extend a hand!

    As far as the suggestions in this post, I like how you address in #1 that pitching a fresh idea is less about coming up with a truly and completely NEW idea and more about a fresh SPIN on said idea. Would love to read a post from you that would give pointers on #4 and #5!

  • Laura says:

    I’m sure an agent wouldn’t do this (I hope!) but I’ve received several “personalized” e-mails asking me to promote a product on my blog… and my name is wrong! I could (maybe) understand if they put “Laurie” instead of Laura, or another name that is spelled close to mine, but they used a name that is neither spelled nor sounds like my name. I delete those e-mails quickly, because if you haven’t bothered to read my blog, why should I freely promote a product?

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