Monday, August 17, 2009

Thoughts on obtaining an agent

After following the advice and directions of many authors and want to be authors I have gained a lot of insights, with some of it excellent and some of it bad. However, I thought it would make a good blog to highlight a few of the good points I have picked up along the way.

I have learned that agents do want books to sell and do want new authors. This is how they make their money. Most agents do their best to put forth their best foot around writers. They know they are talked about as the gatekeepers, etc. They are looking for writers that stand out from the crowd. They are looking for something unique and writing about something they have an interest in. And, I have learned that in many respects they are people just like anyone else. Sometimes they get tired of talking about only writing and would love to talk about other interest they have. This is especially true when you catch them away from their office or convention floor, like in the bar.

Many agents are bombarded with queries and proposals. I think many times it is not near as many as they would love for you to think. Remember, they have a reputation they have to promote as well. They want others, especially editors to think they are in full demand and receiving all of the top proposals in the market. The one reason they will not accept many of the clients that contact them is because they feel they have to submit work that will not be good for their own reputation.

I remember one conference where a panel of agents looked a query letters. The first item they really wanted to know is if the author had published before. Next question, how did they do? Third question, if not published, are they famous? What are they looking for? They are looking for the ability to sell books strictly on their name.

If a writer is none of the above, the agent then looks for something different to set them apart from the crowd. It could be a fantastic writing skill, superior knowledge of a certain field, a unique voice, or something that clicks with that agent. If that does not happen, the query letter is dead.

So, what is a writer to do? Number one is to get known; to make a name for yourself. The route to doing this is varied and the more creative the author is the better. And we are not talking about slightly known, but highly known. For an example, if you want to become famous for your blogging you will not need a few hundred or a few thousands going to your blog a day but 5,000 to over 10,000 per day. We are talking about national exposure and not local. Yes, a lot of work without a platform to stand on. For some this is possible and for most it is almost impossible. I did say almost.

While you are building your name, it is also important to demonstrate you can write well. Learning to write is a never ending exercise. The author has to know the market and what is selling. You have to think of the market as your competition. You can not be as good as the bestselling authors, you have to be better. Why? Remember they are well known; you are not. You have to make your work stand out. How can you be unique and different if you do not know what is out there?

Your last shot is getting to an agent that has a unique interest; one that likes a certain style or type of book. This is a niche agent. Another trick I have learned is to start a query off locked on that special interest. Agents receive a lot of mail sent to them very formally and I hate to say it very dull. It has to be refreshing to receive a letter acknowledging they are a real person with wants and desires like everyone else. They also have egos and love to hear how they made a great sale they worked hard on. They like to know people read their articles they spend so much time on. They want to know that you spent the time to know them.

I think past that the agent wants to answer two main questions. Why is this the easiest book to sell now and why is this author the best to work with now. When it all comes down to it, the agent only has so much time and has to work what he or she thinks will make the most money for the time spent.

I think what I have been getting around to is a simple point. To obtain an agent you have to think like an agent and ask yourself what you would be looking for if you were in their place.

Johnny Ray


Margaret Elmendorf said...

Well don't know if I can get 5000 to 10,000 to look at my blog. So will be a while before I look for an agent but this sure was interesting information. Never entered my head to even think about that.

Tricia said...

I think you are correct.

Dian Reid said...

Thanks for the thoughts on getting an agent; very insightful. What are your thoughts on not getting an agent, and self publishing?

Desurgical said...

i also agree with you...!!!

Annabel Candy said...

The figures you give for attracting interest from an agent are huge. It would be quite a feat to pull that off. I just hope that agents like to see budding authors have a website, an awareness of Internet marketing and the ability and energy to promote ourselves.

Thanks for writing this and keep up the good work!

Louis Dizon said...

"Make a name for yourself"
I totally agree on this.

Mr. l said...

Hi, I have visited the blog and you enjoy them. Success for you. One world, one dream: peace.

Thomas Wigington said...

John Updike may be the only exception to the need for a literary agent. As I understand it, he did not have one and, what is more, he never took an advance against royalties. His extraordinary writing ability got him through. For the rest of us, we should do as you say; continue working on our writing. said...

Hi, thanks for visiting my site. If I may say something concerning Dian Reid's question regarding self publishing... that is a very tough way to go. I have done it, wrote and published a western novel, paid a hell of a lot of money, but sadly, it is very difficult to properly market your book, and still more money. in the end you spend a lot of money, and the return is very low. If one can find an agent, great, but in our country no company will touch a western with a ten foot pole, and established authors will not help new writers. So, I sit with a published western novel, brilliantly printed, looking lovely, going no where at all.
I am open to any kind of suggestions, but it is a tough world out there to publish a book.
If you want, look at and tell me what you think. I am all ears. I have a second western 3/4 finished, but it is pointless writing if you sit with a book that cannot be published.
Thanks for your invite, not yet quite sure how blogcatalog works exactly, but will figure it out, still new at it.

Freddie Sirmans said...

Great blog, very interesting.

Mga Kwentong ma Alamat said...

Nice blog!

plainolebob said...

hell i didn't even know people did this till some one told me about a month ago, but jeez, i find out you guys are pros and all, man 3weeks now and almost 80 followers don't know if this a good start. but do know people are laffin and commentin