What Literary Agents Want to Know From You

01 Apr
Choosing the Right Publishing Path

Choosing the Right Publishing Path

There are some questions agents frequently ask writers before they sign them. The problem is most writers are caught off guard by these questions and don’t always answer them the way they would’ve liked. I’ll let you in on the secret so you can prepare ahead of time.

Question: Why do you want to be published?
Seems like a simple enough question, right? Wrong. Well, sort of. The agent isn’t just interested in your answer but your attitude. Let’s take a look as how some of your answers COULD be perceived…

Answer #1: I just want to get my story on paper.
Agent’s reaction:  Then you don’t need me. If you’re not going to take this seriously and consider writing your new career, I’m not interested.

Answer #2: I want to share my stories with the world.
Agent’s reaction:  Why would anyone want to read your stories? What makes you more special than any other writer out there? If you don’t know what’s unique about you and you can’t sell yourself, how am I supposed to?

Answer #3: I want to become a bestseller and make a bundle.
Agent’s reaction: Get real.  Do you know how hard it is to become a bestseller? Do you understand how much work is involved? Why do I get the feeling you’re not interested in the writing, just the possible financial benefit.  Oh, did I mention you will make next to nothing with your first book and possibly every book after that? If you want to become a millionaire, buy a lottery ticket. Your odds are probably better.

Answer #4: I want to be famous.
Agent’s reaction:  Rolls eyes… That’s not going to happen overnight. Are you willing to put in the time and sweat?  What if you don’t amount to more than being a mid-lister?

So, what are the agents expecting to hear?
They want to know you’re committed, that you understand this journey is hard, long, and not always rewarding. They want you to dream and to set goals, but they need to believe you are willing to work to attain those goals. In reality, there is nothing wrong with the answers above as long as you explain them. Don’t give the agent a chance to react in the ways I described above.

Here’s another one—and it comes in many forms:
-What’s your next book about?
-What else are you working on?
-Where do you see this series going?

Regardless of how the agent asks the question, she’s looking for a certain answer. She wants to see that you are not a one-book-wonder. If you don’t know what you’re going to write next, that’s a red flag for her. Editors at publishing houses like to make a two or three book deal with an author if they truly believe in the writer’s ability and the marketability of her work. Knowing this, the agent will ask you to complete a plot outline or synopsis for your next TWO books. They don’t have to be a part of a series but should be in the same genre as the book the agent will pitch. She’s looking for material she can sell to the publisher, so she can convince the editor, during these very competitive times, to take a chance on you.

What’s even better is, if you can supply her with that second book and the outline for the next. This will show both the agent and publisher that you have the potential of becoming a career author. In fact, I have seen a big NY publisher have two of the three books at signing and wait for the author to finish the third so they could publish the novels one after another and heavily promote them. While it meant the author had to wait a little longer before seeing her book in print, she’s very fortunate. With three books on the line, the publisher will do everything possible to ensure these books sell well.

It’s also a good idea to have a sense of how long it takes you to write a book, including all of its editorial stages.  That way, you’ll know what kind of commitment you can make. Are you realistically able to write and edit three books a year or are you only able to produce one novel annually? It’s best to know this going in because giving the agent or publisher false expectations, by telling them what they wanted to hear, will only disappoint them in the end if you can’t deliver. Depending on how far you were from hitting your deadline, it could cost you the contract. So, start that timer now. Figure out how long it’ll take you to complete the first draft and every draft after that.

One last thing I’d like to mention is digital publishing. Before you talk to an agent, you need to have an idea where you stand on this issue. Some agents help authors self-publish. Others won’t. Some agents want you to do a combination of self-publishing and traditional publishing. Some don’t. Some agents will specifically target the big NY publishers’ digital lines because they’re more open to new authors. If you only want to see your book in print, you need to let the agent know before she starts shopping around. Plus, knowing how you feel about digital publishing will help you decide if the agent is a good fit for you. Even though the agent has to first want to take you on as a client, you are hiring her. If you don’t share the same vision for your career path, you may want to keep looking.

And be prepared when meeting for the first time with the publisher for another question that can make or brake your contract: “How are going to market your book?” or “What is your marketing platform”.

Blog post by Lynnette Labelle



Hyper Smash


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