Monday, April 09, 2007

Is it any wonder that editors and agents, people who work so closely together, are all looking for the same thing when it comes to their authors? Yet, with all their similarities, there are a few things that set them apart. Compatibility, for example. Agents are very concerned with finding clients with whom they are compatible.

So what are agents looking for?

Just like an editor, agents want to see quality manuscripts with strong writing technique and unique voice. Kristen Nelson suggests if you are a struggling-to-publish writer, honing your voice should be your top priority. A difficult task, but one in which a critique group can prove invaluable.

They also want to have an in-depth marketing strategy to be able to show to publishers, and they want a highly marketable author with varied skills. Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency suggests writing a sharp, succinct cover letter attached to your very best material. That’s not all that much to ask, is it?

Agent Janet Kobobel Grant offers a whole list of things she looks for when deciding whether or not to take on a client (used with permission):

Here’s what I weigh when I make that decision, but I have to say the criteria will vary from agent to agent, but this will give you an idea of how to present yourself.

I ask:

  • Has the person published before? How many books? With which publishers? What were the sales figures?
  • Did the person come to me through a recommendation? Who made the recommendation?
  • What kind of publishing future might this person have? Is his or her writing strong? Does it stand out from the crowd? Are the ideas creative and marketable? Would the writing have broad appeal or would it have strong appeal to a select but significant audience?
  • Would a number of publishers be interested in the proposal I’m reading or just one publisher?
  • Is this someone I’d like to work with?
  • Do I feel excitement when I read this proposal? In publishing, you’ll find that editors, agents, and yes, even publishers listen to what their instincts tell them about a project. Those who have good instincts are described as having “The Golden Gut”—their “stomach” tells them this is something new, exciting, and very sales-worthy.

For me, I don’t have to answer thumbs up to all the above questions to decide to represent someone. Sometimes yes to just two of those questions can cause me to decide to represent someone. I listen to my intuition.

Your goal, as a writer, is to give an agent every reason to say yes to you and no reason to say no.

Most agents list their particular submission guidelines and what they are looking for on their website or blog. Be sure check them out before you submit. Above all, agents agree, maintain a high level of professionalism. Publishing is a business. Treat it as such.

Okay, so I know what they’re looking for. Now, if I could just get one to sign me.

Next week, I'll post an interview with Kelly Mortimer of the Mortimer Literary Agency. Kelly offers particular insight into the do's and don'ts of finding an agent, so be sure to stop by.


Ane Mulligan said...

Good post, Lisa. The agents is the first door we walk through, although you've done it backwards. LOL

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