find a literary agent


Most larger book publishers insist that you submit your book through a literary agent, although many smaller publishers do not. Agents are gatekeepers: They choose to represent only those books they feel have a decent chance of getting a book deal and an advance. When an in-house acquisitions editor receives a pitch from a literary agent well known to that editor, it’s as if the bouncer at a club just let you through the red velvet ropes. That’s because many agents have personal relationships with the editors in your genre who want to hear about the projects she is selling. If they don’t have relationships with the editors, but have a solid track record of selling books that have done well in the marketplace, an editor will want to get to know that agent and find out what projects she is pitching. Agents and editors cultivate relationships with each other when they realize they share similar tastes. Specializing in certain genres of books is efficient for everyone, so when it comes to finding an agent, you want one who has experience working with books like yours.

Where do you find literary agents that might be right for your book project? You can meet them at writers’ conferences (and learn a lot about book publishing and writing at the same time). You can research agents online or in books such as The Literary Marketplace (a huge tome available in most public libraries and updated annually), Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, or The Writer’s Market. However, my favorite two places to find the names of potential literary agents are www.publishersmarketplace.com and the acknowledgements section of books similar to the one you’re writing. (If you can’t think of any books similar to yours, check out my article on the comparative books list.) Publishers Marketplace will allow you to search a multitude of recent book deals (as well as other publishing information) for the low cost of $20 a month (and you can cancel your subscription at any time). You can research agents and editors in your genre, find out which agents and editors connected on specific books, and even, sometimes, figure out approximately how much of an advance the author received. Then too, the acknowledgements section of books will often list the names of literary agents because happy authors often like to publicly thank their agents. Don’t forget you can also search acknowledgments pages on Amazon.com and through Google Books. Type into the search bar “acknowledgements,” “thanks” and “thank you,” or even “agent” to find the names you’re seeking.

And how do you know a particular agent is right for you?

Tip 1: Look at the agent’s listAsk to see a list of books she’s sold to publishers if that list isn’t available on her website. An in-house editor is no more impressed by an unsolicited submission from a self-appointed literary agent she doesn’t know and who hasn’t sold strong book projects than she is by an unsolicited submission from an author she doesn’t know and who hasn’t sold any books.

Tip 2: Listen to your gut. You have to feel confident that the agent understands your book and books similar to it. If she doesn’t, how will she sell it? If her editorial suggestions on your manuscript or book proposal don’t sit right with you, you don’t have to take them. You can try to find another agent. That said, don’t let your ego get in the way! Agents use book proposals as selling tools, and they keep up on what acquisitions editors are looking for, so don’t be too quick to dismiss an agent’s advice.  A successful agent’s opinions about your book are shaped by her experiences, and if she’s sold books like yours to publishers, her professional advice may turn out to be absolutely invaluable.

You have to feel comfortable with the agent’s style of working with clients. You’re not looking for a friend who will reassure you that you’re a terrific writer; you’re looking for a busy, successful professional who will naturally limit her socializing with clients so that she can do what she was hired to do—sell!

Tip 3: Query more than one agent. It is acceptable to pitch to more than one agent at once. Why shouldn’t you give yourself some options? Send your book proposal to the first agent who responds to your query letter. If another agent responds, send the proposal to her, too, and let her know that another agent is interested and has requested the proposal. Yes, if you write a terrific query letter, you are likely to get more than one “nibble” from an agent! It’s a very common scenario.

Then too, if you’d like to ask me to help you strategize about what agents to approach and how long to wait for replies, you can always feel free to hire me as a book publishing consultant. Learn more on my services page.

Not sure you’re ready to send your book proposal to an agent? Have you begun the writing and conceptualizing of your book, and started to talk about it and write about it in person or online? You might be ready for a vision plan call with me to strategize your book writing and publishing plan. Check out the description and contact me through the contact form on my website (and yes, the details on that form help me to help you).

Want to know more about the books I’ve worked on? See my testimonials on my website.

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Developmental editor, ghostwriter, and book publishing consultant Nancy Peske at work!

Developmental editor, ghostwriter, and book publishing consultant Nancy Peske at work!

 The dog days of August can be the most frustrating for a writer because it’s next to impossible to get the attention of an agent or, if a proposal is on submission, an editor. Rather than drive yourself crazy waiting for a response to your e-mail or snail mail, here’s what to keep yourself from feeling frustrated:

1.   Consciously choose to be patient and not to nudge. If you push an agent or editor for a response, you predispose that person to look for reasons to reject it. Agents and editors hate feeling pressured, and it’s always easier to say no than it is to say yes. Don’t prejudice them against your project. Focus instead on getting someone else’s interest and making your book an even hotter property. Light a fire under the pokey agent by sending it to other agents, or have your agent submit it to other editors. That way, you may be able to send them the message, “I have interest from someone else so please let me know whether you are interested as well.” That is much more likely to get them excited than the message a nudge note really sends: “Can you please get back to me? I’m feeling sad and anxious because no one has expressed interest in my project yet”!

 

2.   Build your platform. You could twiddle your thumbs, agonize, vent to your fellow writers, your partner, and your pet, or call a psychic to get her take on your proposal’s prospects, but here are some more practical ways to spend your time right now. All will improve your chances of getting an agent and book deal:

 

–Offer to be a guest blogger on a popular blog.

–Write more blog pieces. Tease them on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

–Write a free “service” article (how to do such-and-such, 7 tips for such-and-such) and submit it to a free articles Web site.

–Comment on major blogs and include your URL.

–Do some Tweets or Facebook posts. Drive people to your Web site and make sure your site encourages them to give you their e-mail address so you can someday send them notice of your book’s publication.

–Get bookings on radio shows (traditional or online shows are always looking for guests). Doing live radio is an art so you might as well start practicing it now. Again, drive people to your site and/or Facebook page or Twitter account.

–Set up some speaking engagements.

–Make some informational videos and post them online and on your website.  Tweet about them and feature them on your Facebook page, and announce them on LinkedIn.

–Learn more about other forms of social media that are becoming more popular and start thinking about whether you might benefit from investing time in using them.

–Do a social media campaign to boost your number of followers.

Remember, if you get a publicity break, or suddenly have a big uptick in followers, you can send a nice note to the agent or editor saying, “I just thought I’d let you know that I’ll be on MSNBC tomorrow/have a blog piece on Psychology Today this week/got 2000 new Twitter followers/stripped for Playboy magazine to build my “healthy body” brand.” Think of all the many ways you can draw attention to your brand at this critical point. (I’m not kidding about the centerfold: When I was an in-house editor, one of my authors, who wrote guides to improving intimacy, appeared in a major men’s magazine half-clothed, the month of our annual sales conference. That certainly woke up the sales force! My authors with similar books in the pipeline were intrigued by this bold move, but decided on other means for self-promotion!)
Envision the sale. Imagine that you have gotten the call from the agent or editor saying, “This is the greatest thing EVER!” Visualize every moment of that call…yourself on a major national television show talking about it as the host stares at you, enraptured…your book’s title on the top of the New York Times bestseller list…you speaking to an audience of aspiring authors, telling your story about how you, too, thought at one point that there was no hope but then the call came and now look at you. Don’t feel embarrassed by this exercise. Many successful authors have envisioned their success and infused their fantasy with the emotions so that it felt real, only to have that success play out in reality.

Last night’s American Idol was a wonderful example of what happens when an aspiring artist looking to achieve success takes the risk of saying “no” to the so-called experts and trusting in his inner vision.  Both Casey Adams and James Durbin rejected the well-meaning, “play it safe” advice of musical consultant Will I. Am and music producer Jimmy Iovine and performed songs they felt were right for them regardless of how big of a risk they were taking in the competition. The results? Check out the reactions of the audience and the judges (click on their names above to reach their April 13, 2011 performances of Nature Boy and Heavy Metal respectively).

As a writer, you have to accept that staying true to your vision may mean saying no to a potential book publishing deal. It may mean that a literary agent will drop you from her roster.

Let me tell you just one more encouraging story. On request from an in-house editor who knew our work, my coauthor and I wrote a proposal for a book called Mood Movies, which was a guide to something called “cinema therapy.” The editor loved it but later informed us that his in-house colleagues discovered that “cinematherapy” is a genuine form of therapy so therefore, in their opinion, they couldn’t possibly publish a humorous book about cinematherapy by two women who were not clinical psychologists. Our literary agent at the time felt the proposal was unsalable too, although he did say that as a favor to us, he’d send it to a few houses just in case he was wrong. We stuck with our proposal, found a new agent, found an in-house editor whose book publishing house loved it, and the rest is history. Cinematherapy has sold over 340,000 copies in all editions through out the world and we sold TV rights to Women’s Entertainment (formerly Romance Classics) which turned it into a prime time television show.

We could have been wrong. It’s possible that no agent would have agreed to represent the book project. And it’s possible that no publishing house would have bought it—in fact, we were turned down by every house but one. My coauthor and I could have avoided the terrific term “cinema therapy” (or “cinematherapy”), which we’d mistakenly believed was something we coined, in order to avoid confusion with actual cinematherapy—but we didn’t. We stuck with our vision, to great success. And wouldn’t you know that actual therapists ended up using and recommending our book to their patients?

So if you have a strong vision and your gut instincts tell you to stick with it despite the very well-meaning advice or feedback from professionals who supposedly know better than you do—go with your gut.

Cinematherapy, movie therapy for women: a vision turned into a successful book series and television show

I had just read and responded to an interesting blog piece on rejection letters when I received an email from an agent I know telling me that she’d just received a response to her gentle rejection letter to someone I’d given her name to. Apparently, this writer was under the impression that she was owed some constructive criticism–free advice, that is–by an agent who was not going to take on her project.

Now, I’ve often given writers free advice about where to take the project next–I don’t work with young adult or children’s books, for instance, so if someone contacts me about a project in that genre I will suggest where they might submit the book, or if they contact me about a sci fi novel I may, if I’m not too busy, note where they should begin their search for a sci fi agent. However, like most industry professionals, I do not believe it is an agent’s or in-house editor’s job to give constructive criticism unless they have strong interest in a project and are turning it down with great reluctance. In fact, if a writer receives a reject that gives a specific reason, such as, “I’m not big on novels featuring cats as protagonists,” I would suggest that writer make a mental note and move on. If she gets a cluster of responses that are similar, then she can start thinking about the possibility of rewriting her book proposal to address the criticism.

 

It simply makes no sense to give someone subjective advice when you have no intention of representing the book or offering a publishing contract. And it makes no sense to demand free constructive criticism from busy professionals. In fact, I would call that rude.

People often ask me how to find a literary agent. Because literary agents work entirely on spec (meaning they don’t earn a dime until they sell your book AND the check has cleared their bank account), they’re not always easy to procure. This is my basic advice:

1. Check the Literary Market Place (LMP), latest edition (it comes out annually) in your library and submit a query letter to agents that are listed as representing your genre. The top tier agents are listed in LMP so this is a great place to start.

2. Check, too, The Writer’s Market and Jeff Herman’s Guide to Literary Agents, the latest editions. The second- and third-tier agents are listed here as well as some first-tier agents. Do not bother sending your query to anyone who does not list your genre as one of the genres they represent.

3. Check the acknowledgments pages of books that are similar to yours for the names of agents (whom the authors often thank) and even editors (it helps to have an editors’ list for when you do submit–keep track of which editors bought which books that are like yours). You can do this by looking at the physical book or through Amazon.com’s Search Inside This Book or Google Books (search for Thanks or Thank you or Acknowledgements or agent).

4. Go to Publishersmarketplace.com and subscribe to Publishers Lunch for one month for $20. Research agents, and editors, and deals made, in your genre like crazy all month long.

5. Read Publisher’s Weekly, the publishing industry’s trade magazine which is now online. Check outany  round up articles on particular genres. Notice who is quoted. The editor or agent quoted may specify what types of books they are currently looking for.

When you approach an agent–or if you’re daring and decide to approach an editor sans agent–mention WHY you chose to submit your query to them.. Including statements such as  “I know you represented Marianne Williamson on The Gift of Change” and “Like that book, mine is a poignant coming-of-age tale featuring a woman of mixed ethnic heritage/an erotic science fiction novel/a self-help book based on sound psychological principles and the latest neuroscience” will go a LONG way toward piquing a potential agent’s (or editor’s) interest if he (or she) has already shown an interest in that type of book.