Good Question!

A blog reader wrote, “I saw your post about the worth of a literary agent. And, I agree. However, I can’t get an agent to even accept a sample of my novel. No one will give me a chance, so I am stuck. I know I need an agent to move forward yet I can’t get one! Any advice?”

After overcoming the shock that someone actually read my blog, I decided I would do a post responding to this excellent question.

If you’re having trouble landing an agent, here are a few things you might consider….

1. Is my writing strong enough? If you’re as impatient as I am, you want to get this publication ball rolling! But patience pays off. Make sure that your work is as strong as possible before you ask a professional to represent you. How do you make your work stronger? I’d suggest joining a critique group or signing up for a writing class (in person or online). And when people are kind enough to give you honest feedback, listen to them! I almost never agree to read anyone else’s WIP…first and foremost because I just don’t have the time. And second because I find that most people don’t want honest criticism. Most just want to be told how talented they are. I actually had an aspiring writer I’d never met hang up on me as I was going over his manuscript with him over the phone. He was a friend of a friend and I’d read his book as a favor to said mutual friend. What a waste of everyone’s time. If someone reads your book, listen with an open mind to what he/she has to say.

2. Is my work marketable? If no agent is interested in your book, it doesn’t necessarily mean your writing stinks. Agents have to be able to sell books to publishers, and some concepts are just difficult to market. If a publisher doesn’t know how to market a book, they won’t buy it. Agents have a good idea which publishers want which kinds of books, and if they think they can’t find a home for your project, they probably won’t take you on. Example: I have a manuscript that never sold because it was Christian in theme but had some edgy plot elements. What a nightmare for marketing. Secular publishers don’t want Christian themes and Christian publishers were afraid the plot points might offend their audience. So guess what? That book never saw the light of day and probably never will. Gotta move on to the next one!

3. How’s my pitch letter? If you don’t write a killer pitch letter, you likely won’t land an agent. For excellent pointers on how to write a query letter, I always refer people to Nathan Bransford’s blog. Actually, pretty much anything you want to know about writing and publishing is covered somewhere in Nathan’s archives. And he’s a hoot to read, so you can’t go wrong checking him out.

4. Do you have an elevator pitch? This is what my screenwriter friend calls the one-liner for his scripts. Stuff like, “This script is JAWS meets DOWNTON ABBEY!” (Wow, I totally want to see that!) If you can compare your book to other successful books, be sure to do that in your query letter.

5. Am I pitching the right agents? Agents get a lot of pitches that are a waste of everyone’s time. There’s no point in pitching a sci-fi thriller to a cookbook agent. So do your homework. Check out the acknowledgments pages of books that are similar to yours. Chances are, the author thanked his/her agent. When you pitch him/her, be sure to mention how your book is like one he/she represented. The agent will be impressed that you did your research and will probably take your pitch letter more seriously.

Hope this helps! Good luck and thanks again for reading!

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