Time to Snag an Agent

Mar 03, 2021

It's really exciting to have polished up a manuscript and to be ready to take that big next step: finding an agent who will pitch your work to publishers and help develop your career.

Agents are eager for good work they can sell (after all, that's how they make their living). But why, then, are they so incredibly hard to reach? Why do they rarely ask to see your actual manuscript? Why do most of them not even bother responding to queries?

Because so many new writers approach agents before the work--the whole package, really--is ready.

How's a new writer supposed to know when the project and the pitch are fully formed? In my last post, I wrote about a client who'd started approaching agents and was getting lackluster responses. Turns out her query wasn't the problem, as she'd thought, but that she hadn't figured out her genre. This meant that her query letter was off base, and she was sending it to agents who weren't a good fit for her work.

Beyond writing a great book and query letter, there's other work that needs to be done in order to attract an agent's attention. You need killer opening pages that fit your genre as well as the themes and structure of your book. You need a great one-liner, as well as a compelling paragraph and one-pager about your work. But do you know what your core themes really are — and are you presenting them in a way that makes them seem relevant to today's readers?

You need to take all that information and use it to put together a simple, accurate, and sizzling hot query that an agent can get excited about. Your goal is to get them to ask you for a partial or full manuscript.

But what good is any of that if you're pitching the wrong agents? How do you know what kind of agent is right for you and your personality? How do you know if they are right for your particular book or future books? You don't want just any old agent. Do they have a work style that fits your preferences and a track record that matches your career goals?

It can all be a bit overwhelming. I've had some noteworthy experiences of my own (embarrassing, straight-up weird, satisfying, frustrating). I've learned a lot after publishing five books and working with three agents for my own writing (not to mention the agents and editors I've worked with through my writing clients, book collaborations, and ghostwriting jobs).

For instance, I learned that even if an agent has a great sales record, if s/he is flakey in terms of communication, it's going to drive me crazy. It was only after that happened to me that I understood I needed to figure out my priorities and take into account feelings and preferences as well as business acumen. I now have an agent that I adore and a rock-solid strategy (including goal-finding exercises, tracking spreadsheets, one-liner prompts) that I can use again if I have to.

The pitching process doesn't have to be painful. You just have to think all the steps through carefully. And if you figure out how to use the process to your advantage, you'll vastly increase the chances of seeing your book on the shelves one day.