I wrote this blog post in 2009. Because so much of it remains true today, I thought I’d retread it with updates and take it out for another spin. After all, the quest to find an agent still goes on. So, let’s take a look at what makes an agent say yes.
I had begun the May, 2009 post this way: For those of you who despaired after reading the number of queries our office has received so far this year (almost 3,000 for those of you who missed our blog post yesterday), 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 to be our clients. What makes an agent say yes?
An Agent Says Yes When…
A writer shows a strong sense of what the market will respond to.
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.
The writer understand what makes him/her 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, why, you have a unique angle to write from.
One of the aspects of agenting that I love is that I only 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 antagonistic way to an agent, that person is not 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 pugnacious questions for every answer given a good candidate because that person will be exhausting to work with. I’m looking for writers I’m sympatico with. If we weren’t relating as agent and author, we’d be friends because we’re compatible.
The writer shows he/she is realistic about the active role an author must play in marketing and publicity.
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 publishers want authors who are heard and seen. The author needs to be prepared to make a big marketing “fuss” when her title releases; it’s now an inherent part of a writer’s life. I’m looking for clients who get that and already have applied themselves to build a mailing list, a plan for promoting their books, and a significant online presence.
The writer understands that an agent wants to say yes when faced with stellar writing.
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. Why, we’ll be sorely tempted to take on a client based solely on the writing. We need the other qualities to be true, but that doesn’t mean fabulous writing can’t win us over.
Which of these qualities is your strength? Your weakness? Which one frustrates you the most?
What makes an agent say yes? Click to tweet.
Five qualities every literary agent looks for in a client. Click to tweet.