Authors: How to Land an Agent
By Scott Lorenz of Westwind Communications
For many authors, landing an agent is the most sought-after goal. Why? It’s been long considered the fastest and most profitable path to publishing success. If that is your goal, then you’ll want to check out these tips, techniques, and resources to help you land the quality literary agent you are seeking.
Where to begin?
Get up to speed with the latest information with books and resources on the topic. According to Jeff Herman, book agent and author of Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents, authors should assess potential agents on the following points before sealing a deal:
- The list of books the agent has sold to publishers, including the publishers’ and authors’ names
- The agent’s reputation online
- Why s/he likes your book and how s/he plans to market your book, with reference to a timeline and how much you’ll potentially earn
Note that real agents do not:
- Charge upfront fees
- Offer to edit for a fee
- Sell adjunct services to their clients
- Submit books to vanity or non-advance paying publishers
The critical step in the process is to research agents before you submit to them. Avoid agents who charge fees other than the standard 15 percent commission they receive on everything you get paid (your advance and royalties).
Narrow Your Search
Publishers Marketplace is one of the best places to research literary agents. Buy a subscription for $25 and access a wealth of information about publishing. With hundreds of agents hosting web pages, Publishers Marketplace is arguably the largest and most comprehensive repository to find info on top literary agencies. In fact, Publishers Marketplace claims to have “more e-mail and other contact information on more agents than any other source, updated daily.”
Member authors can create their own Publishers Marketplace webpage and indicate they are seeking an agent, which advertises you to agent and publishers.
An added bonus to PublishersMarketplace.com is the deals database, which includes the actual dollar figure of the advances paid to authors for many books. The daily updates provide essential information and searches reveal editors’ buying patterns and more. The site also hosts a contact database that tracks editors on the move. Find out more here.
Other resources to consider include:
Social media is also a powerful tool to locate agents. Search social media for associations of agents — there are plenty. Michael Larsen, literary agent, suggests authors check out the Association of Authors’ Representatives (AAR) as an outlet for finding quality agents. According to Larsen, “The 450 agents in AAR are the best source of experienced, reputable agents. Members are required to follow the AAR’s code of ethics.”
Another resource for finding agents is simply the acknowledgements section in books, similar to what you envision your own book to be. Read the acknowledgements and collect the names of those agents mentioned and contact them directly.
Don’t be shy — Have a presence
Share your personal brand with the world, both online and in person. It’s wise to create professional social media accounts, an online work portfolio or blog. According to Michael Larsen, “Let agents find you- be visible online and off, get published and give talks, publicize your work and yourself. When you’re visible enough, agents will find you.” This strategy worked for Andy Weir, author of The Martian. After selling 35,000 ebooks for $.99 and topping Amazon’s Sci-Fi Bestseller List, an agent contacted Weir and he was soon represented by Random House for a book deal. On top of that, FOX contacted him for the film rights of his novel. The rest is history.
A popular networking strategy is to attend writers’ conferences. Particularly for first-time authors, there’s no better way to get to an agent than at a conference. Agents typically won’t sign authors on the spot, but accept their advice and remember that networking is pivotal to a successful career. According to Chip MacGregor, literary agent and author of Ask the Agent, “I love writers’ conferences. Don’t go thinking you’re going to land an agent; just plan to meet people and learn a lot.” Where are the best conferences? Here’s a list I’ve compiled of upcoming writer’s conferences.
Make It Perfect. Practice Proper Etiquette.
“Nothing detracts from good writing like bad editing,” says Debra Englander an experienced non-fiction editor and writer. “Submit your best work. Have it copy edited and proofread by a professional. Don’t ruin a potential relationship with an agent because of mistakes.” Englander served as editorial director at John Wiley Publishing for nearly 17 years and was on the receiving end of thousands of pitches from agents and authors. She currently works with authors on creating winning book proposals and editing manuscripts.
Also, research an agent before you submit to them and check the agent’s guidelines before packaging and submitting your work. Before you commit to an agent, settle any unfinished business with others still considering your work. Just make it clear that you have an offer that requires an immediate decision.
If you think you’re ready to be placed with an agent, consider the direction your writing career is headed. According to Chuck Sambuchino, author of the Guide to Literary Agents, “Most agents say they’re looking to represent careers, not books.”
Bottom Line: Agents can land you the deal you could never obtain yourself. But the pursuit of an agent can take months and years. If you still want an agent then study up and do it now!
SCOTT LORENZ is a book publicist and President of Westwind Communications Book Marketing, a public relations and marketing firm that has a special knack for working with authors to help them get all the publicity they deserve and more. Lorenz works with bestselling authors and self-published authors promoting all types of books, whether it’s their first book or their 15th book. He’s handled publicity for books by CEOs, CIA Officers, Navy SEALS, Homemakers, Fitness Gurus, Doctors, Lawyers and Adventurers. His clients have been featured by Good Morning America, FOX & Friends, CNN, ABC News, New York Times, Nightline, TIME, PBS, LA Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Woman’s World, and Howard Stern, to name a few.