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How to Land a Literary Agent

Lesson 2 of 6

Overview of the Publishing Landscape


How to Land a Literary Agent

Lesson 2 of 6

Overview of the Publishing Landscape


Lesson Info

Overview of the Publishing Landscape

I wanna start with an overview of the publishing landscape. And as I said before, the publishing landscape is super complex, it's changing all the time, what I tell you here today is probably not gonna be true this afternoon. But we're gonna do the best that we can to give you a sense of what this is all about. Now I know there's a ton of text on this slide, and you're not gonna, I don't expect you to read it all, but I wanted you to just see in general, is that there's two paths to publication. There's two main paths to publication. There's a traditional publishing path, and then there's the independent path, and each of those paths has a variety of ways into the process, which is what these bars on this graph all represent. So, you can see on the traditional publishing side, that there's the big five publishers. Hachette, Harper Collins, Macmillen, Penguin Random House, Simon and Schuster, those guys all own a gazillion imprints, and they control the vast number of publishing imprint...

s. There's other traditional publishers that are smaller and not part of those big conglomerates. That's like Chronicle, Scholastic, Workmen. And over here we have regional and small presses like Graywolf, University of Iowa Press, for example. So, those are the traditional publishing, the kinda landscape of it. And down here we have the independent universe, and there's so many different ways to get into this that we're not gonna talk about today. Because you don't need an agent for those. The only part that you need an agent is this black box that I've boxed off there. All this other stuff you can forget about if you are not wanting what's in the black box, you don't need an agent for the most part. You can use an agent to go to regional, small presses, university presses. You don't always have to, but you have to have an agent if you want a big five publisher or one of the other traditional publishers. And all this other stuff, which is all, there's so many opportunities and ways to get into publishing on your own or assisted, or hybrid options, we're not talking about any of that today. So, just what you need to get a traditional publisher, you need to get an agent. They are your path, your gateway, into that universe. So very quickly, I wanna talk about the pros and cons of this path, just so you know a little bit what we're getting into. This is all gross generalizations. What you're seeing on this slide. I've taken a very complex subject and condensed it down to sort of a ridiculous level. But basically, when you get an agent, you agree to give them 15% of all earnings for that book 'til the end of time. And every form of that book. If you sell your book to the movies, if you sell it to a TV show. If somebody wants to do a cool little gift version of it, the agent's gonna take 15% of that until the end of time. Some people will say, well why would I give 15% to anybody for that? But an agent does more than just get you the initial deal, they're going to guide your career, they're gonna negotiate your contract, they're gonna get your money when the publisher doesn't pay. It's really like having an advocate in your corner. So that's the basic way that getting an agent works, and how you work with them. They represent you to the publisher. So that's when you say, I have representation, that's what it means, they represent you to the publisher. So I wanna talk about the pros and cons of this path in general of the agent traditional publishing path. So, the pros are, and again, gross generalization. I've reduced this down to three pros, and three cons. The pros are with the traditional book deal you're more likely to get into a bricks and mortar bookstore and get reviewed by the mainstream press. So, those are two things that traditional publishing does much better than the other paths that you might take. You're more, there's a sense of prestige in a lot of peoples minds, that goes with a traditional publishing path. That has changed a lot recently, as self publishing has come in to the fore. There's people that are just killing it in self publishing. There's a lot of writers who would never go back to a traditional deal, because they have, they've made it work. They're making money, they're making a name for themselves, they feel that they don't need to go this route. But that sense of prestige is still really there. If you walk into a room and you say, I have been published by Penguin or Kenoff, or Scribner, that still means something. And the reason it means something is because those publishers are choosing the books, they're curating the books, and this whole other universe, that's not happening. Anybody can publish a book, and in fact, everybody does publish a book. There are so many books being published, that it's hard to get noticed in any, for anyone in any way that they get published. But being chosen and part of a curated list, is something that a lot of people still really want. So I put that as a pro for the traditional publishing path because it, I think it's real, it's a real thing that people feel, and I know I have published both ways, and I like to be able to say I was published by Penguin. That means something to me, and for better or for worse, it just is a reality. The cons of this traditional publishing path is that the agent pitch process, in other words getting an agent, what we're talking about today, is demanding and time consuming. It's gonna take you time and effort and money. And a lot of people don't wanna spend that time and effort and money getting the agent. They would rather put that in to their work or the marketing of their work. It takes a lot of effort. The author in the traditional publishing path gives up a lot of creative control. People are often surprised to learn, for example, you don't get to pick your cover. You don't get to pick the price of your book. You can't decide that on Valentine's Day you wanna do a promotion and give the book away for free. You give up all that control to a team of professionals. And that team of professionals is there to guide you through the whole process, but you're paying for it. And that's something to just keep in your head. You're paying for a team of professionals by the percentage that they take from your fees. So you give up profit and you give up control. That is just the truth of it. So if people want total creative control, and they want to take home more of the money, and they wanna go fast, they would want probably an independent publishing option. Traditional publishing is so slow. It's really old fashion. It's sometimes take, like if you sell your book to an agent tomorrow, you're probably not gonna see that book on the book shelf for a good year and a half. It's a really long process. So that is one of the cons of publishing it's written down here as a pro for this path. But that's kinda the general universe and the lay of the land. So the big question is, how do you get chosen? If what they're doing is choosing, how do you get chosen? How do you get to be the one they pick? And traditional publishers, they're looking for books that are gonna be commercially viable on a national level. So think about what that really means. That really means, you're book is gonna be in an airport bookstore in Kentucky. It's gonna be in a Barnes and Noble in Minnesota. It's gonna be read in book clubs in Seattle. It's gotta be a book that appeals to a really mass audience because that's what they do. That's what they're in the business of doing. Is national distribution and publication of books that have the chance to be a commercially viable hit. Now we're not gonna get into too much of the nuts and bolts of how they make money, and how it all goes, and what does exactly a profitable book look like, 'cause that's a different concept. But I just want you to go with that notion that there looking for a book that can really hit a lot of people. So if you don't have that, if that's not the book you're writing, this might not be the path you wanna take. So that's just something to think about. Now, I work with a lot of writers at a lot of different stages of the process, and as a book coach, people often come to me when the process is not working, so I see a lot of rejection letters, I see a lot of disappointed writers, I see a lot of excuses. And I wanna talk for a minute about those excuses because we all have them. So, people have this notion that getting into an agent in a traditional publishing deal that you have to have some magic handshake, or some secret, or what have you, and if they don't, we get these excuses. Like, well you have to know somebody to get a book deal. Or you have to have 10,000 Twitter followers. I hear that all the time, but the number always changes. It's hilarious. I heard you have to have 3,000 Twitter followers. I hear you have to have 10,000 Facebook followers. You know, and then details like, I heard no one buys first-person YA anymore. All anybody wants are own-voices books. They don't want any, you know, it's just these ridiculous sort of notions about what they do or don't want. But, the truth of the matter is, what they want is a good book. They want a good book that can appeal to a lot of people. And, I often say that, you know, people will say, well, good, what does that mean? That's totally subjective. And the truth is it's not. I mean, art is subjective, of course. But there are demonstrable things that you need to do well in any work, whether it's fiction, non-fiction, there are things that you need to do well. And somebody trained on this can look at your pitch or your proposal, your query letter, they can literally take five minutes, and know whether you've got it or not. And I'm not kidding about this. I do this every day. Just yesterday in fact, I was looking at a writer who came to me with, I do a thing called a rejection audit, so she came to me with all her rejections. Like, what's happening? Why am I getting rejected? And you know, I took five minutes, and it's just totally obvious to me. There's a fundamental flaw in the way that she is presenting a story. And it comes across in her pitch elements. So that's, there are reasons, usually when it doesn't work. Luck and timing totally play a part in this. I once worked with a writer who was working on an idea for a book. It had to do with, it was really cool, it was like a fantasy set in a beehive, which sounds kinda crazy, but it was, there was the queen and there was the whole thing, and while she was working on this, a movie came out in England that was exactly the same idea. And it was like, you know, and this movie was heralded as, what a cool concept, and it was like, okay, end of her idea. Like sometimes that just happens, it's just bad luck and timing. But that being said, there's room for all the stories. There's room for, you know, how many books on there, are there on Abraham Lincoln, for example? A million, and we love them! And we consume them, and we want them. So there's room for books, all your books, all the stories, but you have to think strategically. As I said at the start.

Class Description

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.



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.

Crystal Cervantes

This class was great to listen to and she had some fantastic ideas about catching a literary agent that I had never thought of! Loved every bit of it!

Sonja Dewing

Loved this class and loved being in the studio! Watching it again to get all the great details.