How to Land a Literary Agent

 

Lesson Info

Develop a Strategic Pitch Plan

Okay so, essential step number two is you wanna develop a strategic plan. So I just said you gotta think strategically. Well what does that mean? So I wanna walk you through how, exactly that's going to work. So the first thing is, part of those downloads in the class is an agent research grid. This is a document you can download and copy, and make your own. It's the layout that I use with my clients to get them to start thinking about, okay which agents represent the kind of book that I'm writing? Which people should I pitch to? I said at the start pitching is not throwing darts at a board. You gotta be super strategic about this. So start with this grid, with this layout. And you'll see that it is broken into three tiers. So oftentimes when you start searching for agents you tend to fall in love with people. It's king of just the way it works. And I encourage that. Because you're looking for, the book business is very strange. It's unlike anything else. Because it really is based on ...

love. Like we love the books that we read, right. We love them. We feel like we love the writers for what they have brought to us. And publishers and agents are looking for that love too. I would say that the vast majority of letters that I see from agents use the word love. Either I loved this, or I wanted to love this, or I almost loved this, or I loved this until this point, or I just didn't love this. It's kind of uncanny. They're looking for love. Which is a little bit antithetical to what I said before, that they're looking for a commercially viable thing. They're looking for both. So they want that commercially viable product, but they also wanna love it because they're book people. And we love our books. So it's kind of a weird crossroad of love and business. And so I put the tiers on here because you're gonna fall in love with some agents when you start doing your research. And put them in the top tier. That's awesome, that's what we're looking for. But that being said, there are hundreds and hundreds of amazing agents. And there are many opportunities to connect with someone who can be great for your career. So I usually recommend that people on this pitch list go out with at least 30 on the list. With my private clients I usually don't let them start complaining about the pitch process until they've pitched 50 agents. That's what I mean by it takes time, and effort, and energy. You wanna know from the start that you've got 30 to 50 agents who are a good fit for you, who you could go out to. And the other thing that this does, it makes you less frantic about that one agent. That one agent is not gonna make or break your career. And when I'm at writing conferences this is a thing that I find the most painful is the writers will have a face to face, one on one with an agent. Which is a thing you can do at a lot of writing conferences. And they think it's like their one shot, their one chance, and like, oh, I gotta get this, and I gotta be perfect, and I only have a minute or whatever it is, and they're so, and it's like, maybe that agent is right for you, and maybe not. Maybe it's gonna happen today, maybe not. But to let go a little of that franticness around you know, there's a one person. It's just, it's not true. There's a lot of people that could be really great for your career. And I've worked with a lot of writers who, it often happens that they fall in love with one agent above all others. And they're like, this is the one. And then they get that offer from the one, but they get five or six other offers. And they don't always go with the one that they thought was the one. 'Cause once they're talking one on one with these people and having conversations, and hearing what the agents bring to the table. They're like, oh, I thought I loved that person, but I really think this person gets me and what I'm trying to do. So try to go with that 30 at the minimum. So how do you fill in this grid? Like what do you even do? So these are the key ways that I recommend you filling in the grid. So start by asking friends and family. So that would be you know, your cousin has an agent, or your next door neighbor's husband has an agent. Or whatever that connection might be. I would caution against taking those kinds of connections too, putting too much stock in them. 'Cause oftentimes, like why would it be that your next door neighbor's husband's agent happens to be a great fit for you. I really want you to do the research to make sure that the people are right for you. I've seen a lot of damage happen when people kind of sign up for that easy, low hanging fruit of an agent, who's just not right for them. They haven't done their research. They haven't really figured it out. And it doesn't always turn out well. I like to say that you don't just want an agent. It's kinda like you don't just want a date to the prom. Like just having a date to the prom, to go to the prom usually turns out pretty awful. You want somebody that wants to be there with you. And that metaphor really applies here. So you can start with friends and family, put 'em on your list. Definitely start there. But then, I would move to books that you love. So the agent for Black Beauty, which we talked about with Abby doesn't apply, because that book is, I don't know how old. But some of the other ones she mentioned do. The adult book that is similar in theme to hers, she could find that agent for that book. The other books that her ideal reader listed, that's a great place to start looking for an agent. And what you do is you flip to the back of the book to the acknowledgements. Every writer acknowledges their agent. And even if they don't call them, like thanks to my agent so and so, you can kind of figure out who it is. Because it's usually the person that they say, they were the first who believed in this book. They took a chance on me. They had faith in me from the start. You can kinda figure it out, and you can start Googling around and get that agent on your list. Now that still doesn't mean that that agent is right for you. But you can put them on the list as a start. The third way is databases. And my next slide I'm gonna go through some of the databases. There's some great ways to research agents online now. And conferences and contests. Contests have gotten really huge lately. A lot of the Twitter contests, some agents now only take submissions through the contests. So depending on your genre you're gonna really wanna pay attention to those contests. They're kinda crazy. But they work sometimes. So you wanna think about those. And conferences as I mentioned before, great way to meet agents. If you're going to a conference and a agent is gonna be there. They're there because they want writers. They're looking for writers. If they don't want writers, they're not gonna be there. So you can know for sure that they're interested, they're open, they're looking. And if you have on the grid a bunch of agents who you really like, and you see that they're appearing at a specific conference, you wanna try to go to that conference. 'Cause meeting someone face to face, and doing your pitch face to face is huge. And oftentimes agents will give the invitation for you to submit to them with a special email, or a special subject line. You get a little toe in the door if you've met them face to face. It's definitely worth it. I've had a lot of clients have a lot of success that way. But again, they're being very strategic about which conference. I mean like it's cool to go to a conference in Maui because who doesn't wanna go to Maui. But if that conference is mystery writers, and you're writing, you know, middle grade literary fantasy, it's like why, that's not gonna work. So you wanna be strategic about the conferences that you go to. So the places that I recommend researching this list are some of the great databases, Query Tracker and Agent Query are fantastic. You can go on there. You can put your genre, you can put keywords. You can search on everything under the sun. Topic and you'll get a list of agents who pop up, and information about who they represent, what they represent, what they're looking for, it's all in there. And you just wanna spend time digging into these sites and putting in all kinds of different keywords. And just poking around and getting a lay of the land. Manuscript Wishlist is an amazing, amazing website that has bubbled up in the past few years, where it's exactly what it sounds like. It's where agents go in and say what they are wishing for. And they're so specific, it's so much fun to read, 'cause it'll say things like, do not send me any picture books with Spanish characters and alphabet. But send me, you know, I would love to see a retelling of you know, the Sword and the Stone. They're so specific. And it's just really fun. You can get a really good sense of who they are, and what they're about on Manuscript Wishlist. And sometimes Manuscript Wishlist has contests on there as well so you wanna definitely follow that and get involved in that. Publisher's Marketplace is the big, industry, it's where people announce book deals. Publisher's Marketplace, Publisher's Weekly when they announce book deals, you can get a sense of who is representing what. I put on here Google, Google, Google. When I prepare a pitch list for people, when they hire me to do that. The bulk of my time is spent Googling. Looking up articles, looking up interviews, looking up where they appear, looking up what they say. There's so much information about almost every agent out there. Even if an agent is brand new, agenting is an apprenticeship business. So people come into it, they usually are a reader at an agency first. So they're a first reader of the manuscripts for an agent first. And then they are promoted an assistant level, and they come up through the ranks. And they usually work under a more seasoned agent until that agent feels they're ready. And oftentimes that agent will leave the agency at that point and go to another agency, or out on their own, and start their own list. So it may be, you look at a new agent, and you think well they haven't done anything. They don't have any books. They don't, like I don't wanna go with them. But it can be a great opportunity. 'Cause they're hungry. And they're usually extremely well trained. Odds are really good that they're extremely well trained. So you wanna Google for sure, and do all these things to fill in your grid. I wanna take you through what this looks like. So I have up here the home page of a literary agency called Fuse Literary. An this is the agency of a friend of mine. She allowed me to show inside of her website. So I can show you guys how this works. Once you have your grid and your list of agents. You wanna go to each agency's site. And you want to look at, start by looking at the agents who work at that site. So you've got probably a name on your list. You're gonna go to the website of the agency where they work. You're gonna go to their team page and see the agents on the list. So here this agency has six agents. This is a mid size agency. Some agents have, they work for themselves. They're a boutique. They're just themselves. Others may have four, five, six agents. The big agencies have you know, 25 agents, and foreign rights, and TV rights, and sub rights, and there's just different kinds of agencies. But one of the things you wanna do is just get a feel for what is working for you. What do you like? What looks good? Do you want one of those big corporate agencies that got the TV you know, tie in. Or do you like a smaller, a boutique sort of feel. So Laurie McLean is the partner here at Fuse. She started it. She has been working in publishing for a long time at some big agencies. She went out on her own and started this agency. So what we're gonna do is drill down into what you can find when you go to that site. So you click on her picture, you go into her bio. And the things that are marked here are the key things you wanna look for. So you wanna see what they represent. What kinds of books they represent. In this case, Laurie says she specializes in adult genre fiction, which is romance, fantasy, science fiction, mystery, thrillers plus middle grade young adult. She doesn't not handle non fiction, commercial, literary, or women's fiction. Nor does she handle picture books, or graphic novels. Know this is really important. Because if you talk to any agent, they're gonna just roll their eyes at the number of writers who just blindly pitch stuff to them that they don't represent. It's just such a waste of everybody's time. And it's amazing how many people do it. So when you're thinking like an entrepreneur, thinking strategically, you're not gonna do that. And that alone is gonna make you stand out. The other thing you wanna look for is who the agent represents already. So in this case, we see that Laurie represents some New York Times, and USA Today bestselling YA authors, a bestselling romance author. She's got some steampunk and fantasy authors. So you start getting kind of a sense of what she likes, and what she's good at. Now there is conflicting wisdom on do you go to an agent who represents exactly what you do. Like why are they gonna wanna take on somebody who does something similar, or not. And that really depends on the agent. But I think it's definitely worth trying. So sometimes an agent will reject a manuscript. They'll say this is too much like you know, author X, especially if author X is a big bestselling author. Other times they're like, no this is my jam. I can totally sell this, bring it on. So it kinda can go either way. But you definitely wanna know who their big authors are, and what their big wins are, and what they represent. And then you want to look, this is really important. Are they open to submissions. So they usually always say, and you have to go in and do this level of detail, and put it on your grid. A lot of times agents will say, not open to submissions now, but come back in April. Or we only read submissions in October, or whatever their thing is. What Laurie is saying here is, she says, she only accepts referral, inquiries, and submissions requested at conferences, or online events like Pitmad. This is MSWL, is Manuscript Wishlist. So she is telling you that's the way to get to me. So if you wanna get to Laurie that's what you do. And you gotta pay attention to this. What's very frustrating about agents is they all have different requirements, different things they want. Sometimes they say send me five pages, send me 30 pages, send the whole manuscript, send nothing, attach it, put it in the email. Like there's so many nit picky little things which is what the grid is about. You wanna start getting that information and putting it on your grids, so you don't have to be going back and forth to the websites all the time, like wait, what did they want, how did it work. So the grid is consolidating all your information down. So what Abby did, I'm gonna go through very quickly, and I do not expect us to read all this, it's tiny print, and there's a lot of print. But Abby started filling in her grid and she started putting submission requirements, that's what I just talked about. So that she captures that. She puts the website. And the first thing that I saw when she showed me her first list is she had in two different cases, two agents at the same agency. So that's not good. Usually agents say only submit to one agent at our agency. And the reason for that is they often will share things with each other. They often will say, this isn't for me, by my colleague would love this. Or you know, I don't think I'm the best person but there's somebody I wanna share this with at my agency. Sometimes if they're on the fence about something they'll have their colleagues read it to see, what do you guys think about this. So they only pick one agent per agency at a time. So I asked Abby to move the agents, pick one and move the others down to a lower tier. So that's the first thing. And then I noticed that she had no comments about them. And that's no good. Because when you're going through and doing all this research, they're all gonna blur together. They're all gonna start to look the same. And you need to start, you know, getting a sense of what really they are. So she went in, and this is just one example of a comment that she made for one agent. An agent at Writer's House, which is one of those big agencies. So she kind of went on and on. (laughs) Which I love. She says, "I'm not sure why this impresses me, "or calls to me but it does." Down here she says, "I live in Patriots country, "which he would appreciate. "He's a Brown University grad, "so there's a local connection." And down here she says, "In my gut, "I just feel like, click. "These might be totally dumb reasons "to wanna give someone 15% of my earnings, "but I think it's important to actually like "the person you're working with." So I love this. Because this is just Abby reacting. It's just her going with her gut. And there's a huge part of this process that is not logical. It's kinda like, I've had so many writers say to me, well I kinda like their website. It's like great. Or she's pretty. It's like fine, whatever speaks to you is speaking to you, put that down. Here Abby made a comment that I also really love where she said, "This agent looks like my friend Jeffiner "which is probably a dumb reason to choose someone. "but I'm just writing it down to help me remember." That's awesome. So if you put that little nugget down on your grid, you're gonna start to really circle in what is going on. So that's how you research the agents. Put this grid together, start getting a sense of what you're gonna do. Now we gotta look at, alright, what do you send to them. Can we pause just for a second? (cross talk) You have a sip of water. Let's see if we have any questions in the studio. I'm gonna start with one from the online audience, and then grab a mic. So you talked about not submitting to different agents at the same agency at the same time. Can you be submitting to multiple agencies at the same time for the same book? Yes absolutely. So that's part of the pitch strategy that you wanna develop. And we're gonna talk about that in a little bit when we talk about the query letter. I usually recommend a batch method of pitching. By that I mean, take five or six at a time. The reason for this, is it's a mistake to blanket New York with 50 query letters at one time. Because what if you get back 50 rejection letters. That's brutal. And it's not smart. So what you wanna do is send out five. See what you get back. I've had so many situations where, the most dramatic of these is I had a client send out five to her top five agents on her list. She sent out five query letters. And she got back four requests for the manuscript which is phenomenal. They all got the manuscript. They all read it. And they all came back with the exact same problem that they saw in the manuscript. And it was a very complex novel with a very complex structure. And they said if you would redo this in a different way, or a slightly simplified way, we would really like to look at it. So she made the very difficult decision to revise that novel. She spent a year revising the novel on the basis of those five query letters. And went back to pitch again a year later, and actually got four offers. So you can use the information that you get when you're pitching. So I recommend going five at a time, five at a time. Maybe every two weeks sending out five more letters. And you're gonna be getting information back. If you start seeing the same thing over and over again. You wanna stop and evaluate that. That's part of the strategic pitching process. So you could absolutely send it out to multiple agencies at a time. And for the most part, you should. Going exclusively to one agent takes a long time. Because they can take three or four months to get back to you. And you'll be pitching til the end of time. So I like that batch method of pitching.

Your biggest, lifelong dream is to score a publishing deal for your book. But first you must clear what seems like your most challenging, daunting hurdle: convincing an agent to represent you.

Many writers believe that landing an agent is an impossible task. They think they have to know someone, learn some secret handshake or simply have an incredible burst of luck. But the truth is that there’s a strategic process to securing representation, one that can be learned and successfully implemented.

Jennie Nash, a book coach who has helped dozens of writers achieve their literary aspirations, will guide you through the agent query process—from getting over your initial fears and anxieties to mapping out the essential steps of how to pitch your work to writing a killer query letter.

In this class, you’ll learn how to:

  • Identify the agents who might be interested in your work and are most likely to offer you a deal.
  • Double-check the integrity of the agents on your list.
  • Rank your list so you can leverage the batch method of pitching.
  • Write a query letter that proves you’re a writer worth investing in.
  • Personalize your letter for the agents on your list.
  • Pitch at the right time in the development process.
  • Understand the marketplace and how your book fits into it.
  • Get smart about pitching through online contests and conferences.

 
 
 
 

Reviews

  • Awesome and fun class. Jennie condenses the most valuable information and presents it in a way any author can use. Great bonus materials. The query letter was striking and helpful. I wouldn't query without applying Jennie's tools and I'd sleep better knowing I'd used them.
  • Loved this class and loved being in the studio! Watching it again to get all the great details.
  • Jennie is a fabulous teacher. She is a treasure trove of insider info, and she generously shares her knowledge with writers and aspiring writers. She is a smart lady-- listen to her! She won't steer you wrong!