How to Woo An Agent

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Finding an agent is not a linear process. Many writers spend months querying in vain, feeling like little-to-no advancement is happening. As a result, some decide to self-publish. Others stash away the manuscript(s) toiled over for years—convinced they’re just not destined to see their work in print. But rarely is all ever lost. There are steps one can take to attract more notice when trying to secure an agent.

“I always tell authors to do their research,” says Dani Segelbaum, literary agent with Carol Mann Literary Agency. “Include comp titles that align with the agent's preferred genres and try to make the query letter as specific to the agent as possible. Show that you are familiar with the agent's list and you did your homework.”

Once you have done the groundwork Segelbaum suggests, commit to following through on one (or more) of these strategic tips from University of Minnesota publishing professor and associate literary agent at The Jennifer De Chiara Literary Agency, Savannah Brooks.


How can writers increase their visibility to get on potential agents’ radars?

Definitely participate in Twitter contests. They can be a downer for sure—the odds aren't exactly in your favor of getting seen, since so many more writers participate than agents and editors—but they're worthwhile. I've signed a handful of clients from them (as opposed to only two from conferences). Plus, for one of my clients, her eventual editor also liked her tweet, which made that whole process pretty seamless. I also always recommend finding a good writing group. This will both be invaluable for the quality of your writing as well as expose you to the publishing process vicariously. When my current clients or writer friends refer someone to me, I take it really seriously, because I know someone I trust has vetted their work. 

Finally, do some research on query letters. The most important job of a query letter is to explain what happens in the book, but a lot of writers overthink this. I get queries that explain why the book was written or why it's important or the process of writing it. But after I'm through reading, I have no clue what actually happens. The why and how are important, but not at this initial stage.


What is one major misconception you think a lot of writers have about querying?

I think a lot of writers confuse the process taking a while with agents not caring about their work. It's unfortunate for querying writers, but the reality is that agents need to prioritize their current clients. For me, the general hierarchy of work starts with working on deal memos and contracts then moves to managing submissions to editors, reading and prepping current client manuscript, and answering miscellaneous emails, all before reading requested manuscripts plus (new) queries. 

What this very well could mean is that an agent is holding on to a manuscript for a while because they're excited and want to be sure they have the bandwidth to give it the attention it deserves. I've seen a lot of Twitter chatter recently about how agents are disrespecting writers by not responding quickly. That’s a poisonous mindset to get stuck in. The entire traditional publishing process is glacial—it doesn't mean none of us care. That's just the nature of the beast.


Is genre "hopping" as faux pas as so many say it is?

This is subjective, but I don't think so. As a debut writer, you may need to explore various genres and age groups to see where your writing really shines. And for an agent, that gives us variety when we're trying to make your first sale. Once you get picked up by an editor, you'll want to have stories that align with your first one. For example, you don't want to leave your readership hanging by writing a middle grade fantasy then jumping to strictly picture books. But there's nothing that says you can't write and sell in multiple genres. This is especially helpful if you write both children's and adult works. You can simultaneously build two sides of your career since they're totally separate halves of the publishing industry.


Any networking advice for writers who don't currently know any agents or feel pretty clueless about how to connect with them?

Starting with a compilation website like Manuscript Wishlist or QueryTracker is the most efficient way to start. Jump in by genre and finesse your list from there. Be sure to always double check info against agency websites because it's up to agents to keep those compilation sites up to date. Although, admittedly, we're not always great at that. An agency website or an agent's personal website is going to have the most up to date information about if they're still in the industry, the agency she/he/they are at, as well as what they're currently accepting. A lot of agents also offer consultations—another great resource if you can work it out financially.

Final takeaway: One additional piece of advice that Segelbaum shared that Savannah and I would both affirm is “joining a conference (online or in-person) is a great way to get your face and book in front of agents.” Thanks to the steady return of in-person events like Wordsmith, the opportunity to pitch and/or get pro feedback on your work is definitely worth prioritizing if you plan on attending. Avoid dismissing your writing talents as an emotional reaction to it taking a bit longer than originally anticipated to sign with an agent. The writing life can certainly be a mental roller coaster. Remind yourself to still enjoy the ride.

If you'd like to meet with either Dani Segelbaum or Savannah Brooks for a one-on-one meeting, please visit the Loft's consultation page.