I travel a bit for work, and one part of the process that always causes me a bit of anxiety is getting into my hotel room. The process is rarely without incident.
Often I feel like a complete doofus as I swipe my key card a dozen times waiting for the green light to flash at me. Sometimes, even when I see the green light, I have to fight with the door knob, which I do frantically before the green light goes out!
Occasionally the key doesn’t work at all, forcing me to do my own version of “the walk of shame” back to the reception desk. I know, I know, first-world problems, but there you are. Sigh.
Sometimes publishing can feel like trying to get on the other side of a very stubborn door. One of the most difficult doors to open, I think, is that of securing representation from a literary agent. Agents play such a crucial role in the traditional publishing process, yet trying to secure literary representation leads many would-be published authors to throw up their hands exasperated and defeated.
Who better to help with this publishing conundrum than literary agents themselves? Below is the advice of five of the best literary agents working today.
The Research Method
Angela Scheff, who at one point acquired for Zondervan and now works with the Christopher Ferebee Agency, encourages writers to do their homework. She writes:
I would do a TON of research. I’d find all the books that would be my competition and I’d take a look at the copyright and acknowledgments pages and see which agent is representing these authors and find the ones who are mentioned the most. Then I’d find out which books are selling the best and see if there’s a common publishing house that is best serving this genre. I’d cross reference to see if it matches with one of the agents I’ve identified.
Then I’d research that particular agent or two and find out what their submission guidelines are or see if they represent someone I already know (assuming I’m active in my field). If they attend conferences, I’d make sure I attend one and try to get a 5-minute meeting.
When I have my chance to get in front of them, ideally I would have their client pass along my proposal or submit my proposal based on their guidelines. I’d begin by stating why I thought that particular agent would be a good fit. Then I’d make sure I could clearly articulate my book idea in a sentence or two and then submit the best proposal possible.
I know that sounds stalker-ish, but I’d prefer to call it being prepared. Why put in the effort of querying a hundred agents who could care less about the topic I’m writing on? I would want to make the few queries I make count.
The Authority Method
Rachelle Gardner, who works with Books & Such Literary, urges writers to build credibility.
Get out there and establish yourself as an authority on your topic. Become a “go-to” person on the subject. Have a blog, a Facebook page, and other social media sites that suit your topic (such as Pinterest). You might write articles or guest posts, or speak to groups. This is how you build a platform around your area of interest; then you can create a book for the audience you’ve already gathered.
The Network Method
Esther Fedorkevich, who founded The Fedd Agency, writes:
If you are a first-time author who has no contacts in publishing, the best advice I can give you is to network, even (and especially) if it’s outside of your comfort zone. Meet people, talk to others, share your story, go to conferences, and connect with others that are trying to do the same thing you are doing. Networking is invaluable in the publishing industry; I can’t stress that enough.
Beyond that, there are always ways to get in front of an agent. You just need to make sure you’re prepared and that you really believe you have something unique. I once had an author be so intentional that she went out of her way to make contact with one of the pastors I represent in her city. She convinced the pastor to read her book and then asked him to introduce her to me. I thought that was really a smart way to go about it. That pastor called me and said, “Esther, I read this proposal and met with this new author and I really feel like it’s something you should look at.” I take those kinds of referrals seriously, because it’s all about relationships. It turns out the pastor was right. I ended up signing that author, who is now working on her third book. Pretty cool, eh?
The Referral Method
Chris, who founded the Christopher Ferebee Agency, also focuses on the value of referrals from people he knows and trusts. He writes,
Most agents receive hundreds and hundreds of unsolicited calls, proposals and submissions; the “slush” pile. Some agents religiously review these, but most do not because there just isn’t time. But I cannot tell you how seriously I take the recommendations of my friends, clients and colleagues in the industry. As you do the work of building a platform, connecting with others, developing your craft, you’ll start to meet people further down the path that will be willing to make introductions to their agent, editor, etc. This will get you in the door far faster than a hundred cold calls.
The Numbers Method
Maria, who has a background in editorial with some major New York houses and now serves as an agent for Stonesong, and I met recently. I asked her this question: What would you say to a writer who asks, “How do I secure a literary agent?” Maria said that while she can help writers refine their concepts and their writing, while she can help them craft their book proposals, the one thing she can’t do is help writers build a platform. She can’t increase a writer’s social media or email subscriber numbers. So she encourages authors to invest their time and energy into boosting their numbers.
Question: Which of the above methods are you planning to use as you pursue an agent? You can leave a comment by clicking here.