Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant
For those of you who have tried to gain an agent’s attention but not succeeded, this blog’s for you.
Our agency receives thousands of queries every year, which means we have to say no to thousands of perfectly good writers as well as a fair portion of manuscripts that are, to be blunt, dreadful.
But let’s talk about the other side of the coin. Not the number of people we have to choose not to represent but those we select as our clients. What makes us say yes and hum a few bars of “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No”?
A strong sense of what makes a book idea compelling.
Ever sit next to someone at church who is tone deaf but utterly enthusiastic about belting out the hymn or chorus? Writers can be tone deaf as well. By that I mean some writers have no sense of what readers will buy. So they come up with idea after idea that just isn’t the right tune sung in the right way. As an agent, I’m looking for writers who can sing on key time after time. They have the ability to write about a topic in such a way that a reader wants to rush out to buy the book.
An understanding of what makes you unique in the marketplace.
If you’re writing romantic suspense, you are so not alone in that venture. What makes your work stand out from all the rest? As I read queries, I’m looking for what makes sense for this writer to be producing. If you have access to an investigator who specializes in gambling fraud, and you place your story at a casino run by an Indian tribe, you have a unique angle to write from.
One of the aspects of agenting that I love is that I get to work with the people I want to work with. How cool is that? So when I consider representing someone, I want to not only be enthusiastic about the writing but also about the person. When I talk about a project to an editor, I don’t discuss just the project; I sell the writer more than the project. So remember that if you present yourself in an overbearing way to an agent, that agent isn’t going to fall to her knees and beg you to be her client. Nor is an agent likely to find a writer who asks fifty questions for every answer given a good candidate to represent. We’ve learned that such individuals will take up 80 percent of our time but not make 80 percent of our income–it just never turns out that way. Not that you shouldn’t ask questions of a potential agent, but the person who worries an issue to death at the outset of the relationship generally is showing a lack of trust in the agent. And the author-agent relationship only works if you trust each other. I’m looking for writers I’m sympatico with.
Realistic about the major role marketing and publicity play in an author’s life.
I remember reading a quote from an editor in the 1950s that an author should be heard and not seen. In other words, you should “hear” the author through his writing, with the author as a sort of Wizard of Oz, working the great mechanism of his manuscript but never visible. Today, as you so well know, publishers want authors who are heard and seen. The author needs to be prepared to make a big marketing “fuss” when her title is released. I’m looking for clients who have applied themselves to building an e-mail list, a plan for promoting their books, and a significant online presence.
Remember the Pillsbury slogan, “Nothing says lovin’ like somethin’ from the oven”? Well, “Nothing says represent me like irresistible writing.” Most agents are suckers for good writing. Sometimes I’ll take on a person based on the writing–and the proviso that he or she will spend as long as necessary building that required platform before I pitch any projects to an editor. But let the knowledge of our love of strong writing encourage you–beyond words.
What part of this winning equation drives you crazy? What part do you relish?
What makes a lit. agent say yes to a writer? Click to tweet.
5 qualities every lit. agent looks for in a writer. Click to tweet.
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