By Jennifer S. Wilkov, show host, “Your Book Is Your Hook!”
As authors and writers, we’re always learning about resources and industry tools that we can use to improve our book project performance and the enjoyment of our writing and marketing experiences. Today let’s talk about why literary agents are so picky and what you need to know to be ready to work with them.
Literary agents are a wonderful breed. Smart, funny and very much fans of good books and great writing. Whether their focus is on fiction, young adult, health, relationships, romance, children’s or another genre, they are truly dedicated to the proliferation of the publishing of good books.
Oftentimes, authors are confused by agents. They may meet them at an industry conference, pitch their book idea and then be told to follow up with their materials – only to then be rejected and told that the person cannot represent their book.
Some authors take it personally and stop submitting their work. Others continue on and submit to other agents.
Here’s what you don’t know about agents and some myth-busting about this rare breed:
- Not every agent is good for your book. Every agent doesn’t necessarily work with your genre. Some are willing to look at multiple types of books and others specialize. Some agents work in an agency where if it is not their particular genre of choice, they can share it with another agent in the agency. Others work on their own in their own offices and have a preferred genre that they enjoy working with. Some only want books that can be made into films. Others want only cookbooks or health books or really outrageous science fiction or fantasy. Understand that agents come in all shapes, sizes, flavors and genres. Find out what they want to represent so you can determine which ones are right for your book.
- Agents don’t like writing rejection letters. Just like you don’t like getting them, agents don’t like writing them. In fact, if they spent all their time writing each author a fulfilling rejection letter and explaining in detail why their book was rejected and what they could do to improve it, they would probably be out of business because they’d spend all their time writing these instead of representing the authors they have chosen to work with. Many agents now defer to saying that if you haven’t heard from them within a certain period of time, they are not interested. Others will write you a rejection letter – and some are easier to swallow than others.
- They need to earn a living too. Just like the author who wants to get an advance, an agent must be selective about who they want to represent. Their choices are based on books they feel confident that they can properly represent and ultimately get published. This IS how they get paid – when the book is published. Their investment of time, energy and effort in an author’s project is immense. They too need to have an income that they can count on. Like you, their income is based on the choices they make. They even have strict industry guidelines that they have to follow in order to make a living being an agent for you.
- They’re not going to do it for you. So come prepared. Agents do not have time to make your proposal better, improve your marketing and promotional plan (or dream one up) or to tweak your manuscript. They can give you input and direction; however, you as the author must do the work upfront. The best time and approach to agents is when you have everything completed, polished and ready to go. Then be prepared to be coachable. Don’t take anything the agent says personally. They are merely preparing the work you’ve written to be even more attractive to a publisher. Be ready to work with the agent to make the appropriate adjustments so they can move the project forward more quickly. This is easier for an agent to work with – and a much faster route to getting you published.
- It’s not about you. It’s about them. Agents select projects they like, enjoy reading and feel will sell well. They know the publishers and have developed their relationships with them so they can ultimately guide your project into the right hands and publishing house. This is one of the biggest reasons to work with an agent.
- Although an agent is your advocate, be your own advocate first. Too often I see authors take an agent’s word as gospel. Their project sits for too long and they can’t understand why it’s not getting shared with publishers and moving forward on its publishing path. As an author, ask questions. Understand what’s happening in your agent’s office and with his or her time. Inquire about how much attention your book is really being given and what you can do to improve its chances and the agent’s interest in moving it forward.
If you are dissatisfied, then consider moving on to another agent. Be sure to read and understand any representation contract you sign so you know what you have legally agreed to when you signed on the dotted line to have an agent represent you. Before moving on, be certain that you have cooperated and completed the tasks that the agent has asked of you. Move on for the right reasons. It happens. Do it responsibly.
An agent is only as good as the author. When the author is willing to work with the agent, take direction and be coachable, then the agent has a greater chance at crafting the final package to take to the publishers that they feel will work best for the author.
An author and an agent are a team. Be a major league player and work in the spirit of collaboration. This ultimately will speed up your journey to getting published and make for a long-lasting, profitable relationship with your agent.
And that is the way everyone wins.