Am I Ready to Approach an Agent?

blogger: Cynthia Ruchti

Approaching an agent with a project in hopes of having your work represented is sometimes a complicated process. As mentioned in a blog post earlier this month, agents wear many hats. One of them is Talent Scout. Even an agent with a full list of clients and multiple projects in the works is always open to consider a great book, well-written, from an author who knows both the craft of writing and the publishing industry.

ready for an agent

The percentage of those who think they’re ready to send a query to an agent is high.

And some authors are ready but hesitant to do so, which is another form of heartbreak for author and agent.

How do we know? When is the time right?

Am I Ready to Approach an Agent with My Proposal?

Agents want to meet with you. It’s why we attend conferences. But we also want the meeting to be as productive as possible. If you’re considering approaching an agent, trying to set up an appointment at a conference, or wondering if you dare hit “send” on your query email, consider how many points from this checklist describe you.

  • I have a novel that is complete or nearing completion…or…I have a proposal and sample chapters ready for my nonfiction.
  • I understand what makes my book fit its category, but also what makes it a fresh approach.
  • I’ve done a title and topic search on amazon.com for books already on the market on a similar topic.
  • I can describe my book in two or three sentences.
  • The book I’m proposing has not been published before, including independently.
  • I study the craft of writing.
  • I’ve received constructive criticism from writing mentors, writer friends, or a critique group about this project.
  • I have a website, an active social media presence, frequent speaking engagements, or other means of reaching readers (especially important for nonfiction projects).

But Can’t an Agent Help Me with These Things?

Yeeesss. But a typical agent–misnomer, since we’re all atypical–wades through more “not ready yet” queries and proposals than a typical writer–misnomer, since we writers are all atypical–would imagine. Agents deal with, and often have to pass on:

  • Concepts that have been overdone
  • Concepts that are underdone (not yet fully formed in the mind of the writer)
  • Verbiage that reveals the author is unfamiliar with what’s already on bookstore shelves
  • Self-aggrandizement that hints that the prospective client is not in a place of humility necessary to learn and grow…or take rejection as part of the process
  • Great writing that won’t have an opportunity to be considered by a publishing house because the writer is set against joining the digital age
  • A good story that doesn’t move the agent, so how can it move an editor, the publishing board, and readers?
  • An intriguing book with no real takeaway
  • An author who is convinced he or she is the ONE exception to industry standards, publisher guidelines, protocol, or reader expectations.

Agents Want to Say Yes, But Often Have to Say No

writers agentsWhy? For the reasons listed above. Because their client list is full and their current clients deserve the bulk of their attention. Because the checklist above is missing too many factors to make representing the work successful for either author or agent.

If I’m Not Yet Ready for an Agent, What Do I Do? Give Up on Having an Agent?

Get ready. Study. Investigate. Work hard to move your social media/built-in audience reach numbers (but more importantly, connections) higher. Make sure chapters four through twenty-four are as strong as the first three chapters on which you’ve focused your efforts. Keep reading informative blogs like the Books & Such blog. Listen to podcasts about the industry. Study the “personalities” of various publishing houses. Get a good grip on the category into which your work best fits.

Don’t let “I guess I’m not ready” derail you from your writing goals. Use the guidelines above as goals rather than stop signs.

37 Responses

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  1. God’s my agent. I trust Him to place my words where they count. I’m out of time, out of strength, and out of luck, but never out of faith, hope, and love.

  2. “Not in a place of humility necessary to learn and grow.” Oh Cynthia! That attitude blocks progress in more than writing. It may be the enemy’s biggest weapon in the war against ministry.
    * Dear God, give me a teachable spirit!”

  3. Great article and very timely, Cynthia. I am finishing my final rounds of edits and beginning the proposal creation phase. All your points will be good to check against soon. God bless you and Books and Such for all you do.

  4. Jessie Bush says:

    What a great post! Straightforward and exactly what I needed to read today.

  5. I love your checklist, Cynthia! I wish I had seen this a couple of books ago. 😉 Your suggestions are spot on. And searching on Amazon for the topic . . . I’ve never thought of that. Yep, I still have stuff to learn!
    *Thanks for stating that agents want to say yes . . . I think writers become discouraged and sometimes forget that agents are looking for good work and writers, just as writers are looking for good agents.

  6. I love this simple post because it sums up so many important factors. I had yet to find one article summed up to easily refer back to. Thank you!

  7. Kelly says:

    Such a great post! Thank you. I’ll keep developing the concepts in my project.

  8. And on this lovely, unexpected morning, I stand on shaking legs and with ragged breath, because my Almighty Agent called me in for a meeting, and left me here upon the far side of Death’s valley. The very air is precious, but some morphine would sure be nice, as it was all pretty darn painful, this sliding to the edge and crawling back. I got pains in places where I didn’t know I had places.
    * Oh, and His message? Whatever skill I have in writing was not given to me; it’s a tool loaned to shape a lens through which others can more clearly see His Love and Grace. It’s a complicated tool, and its mastery necessarily involves marketing and platform and study and practice…and the time needed to understand this will be exactly the time needed to ready me to look for an earthly agent.

  9. Katie Powner says:

    I’m so thankful for your words, Cynthia – I want to make sure I’m as ready as possible before approaching an agent. I want to make sure I’ve done everything I can do. I’ll be bookmarking this post for sure.

  10. I’ll add something else. Enter contests to get feedback and if you are part of a professional writer’s organization, they will eventually start asking you to help judge the preliminary round of their contests. When they ask, do so! Yes, is is scary. But not only can you help out other writers, you will learn so much as you think of others writing critically. And this will also give you a better idea of what books are coming out in various categories that interest you as you are part of contests year after year.

  11. Thank you, Cynthia. I love your encouragement to keep going. The way can get so difficult and discouraging. Keep going.

  12. Mary Kay Moody says:

    Thanks, Cynthia. Love the admonition to use the guidelines as goals, not stop signs. I appreciate your encouragement.

  13. Joyce says:

    Thanks, Cynthia. I’m still praying, writing, and studying the art.

  14. Clear and clean, your words speak well.
    I completed and sent my first proposal on April 4. I worked hard on it but still there were gaps, and your list reveals a couple more errors I’m afraid I made. I’ve heard back, and it wasn’t accepted.
    I can learn from this… and I will learn. I’m committed to learning. Sometimes it feels like I’m like the little engine that could, “I think I can, I think I can . . .”
    Thanks for the checklists. They help.

  15. Cynthia, I can’t say enough about the importance of constructive criticism. As Kristen said in an earlier comment, contests are also a good way to get feedback. Although I have a critique partner, an editor, and several friends who read portions of my WIP, I find that I learn something from each one and from each judge in the contests I enter. Just when I think I’ve made my novel as good as it can be, I find new ways to improve it. I just don’t want to be caught in the “I guess I’m not ready” endless cycle!
    Thanks so much for your excellent guidelines for knowing when to approach an agent.

  16. Tisha Martin says:

    Excellent post, Cynthia. Thank you for sharing. Not bucking at all, but just wondering if speaking engagements are a recent requirement (last 5–10 years) for writers of fiction and nonfiction? Why?

    • Cynthia Ruchti says:

      Speaking engagements are not a REQUIREMENT. Especially not so for novelists. But those who frequently speak do have a leg up with publishers because of their audience connections. Great question.

  17. I tried to comment but was told the answer was spam, so I’m not going to write all that again.