Looking for an Agent: What To Know
About 15-plus years ago, God dropped a book concept on me as I drove to work. OK, Lord, I said, let’s do this! I signed up for my first writers’ conference, made some agent appointments, and prepared my first book proposal. Not long ago, I came across that old document.
I started reading and cringed. It’s so bad; no agent would have gotten past the first paragraph. As they say, I didn’t know what I didn’t know.
What do I know now that I didn’t know then? Here are some highlights.
- KNOW yourself. What am I writing, and why? A great concept isn’t enough. I needed to find my unique voice — for me, this took a decade of practice. I had to understand my calling. What qualifies me to share the message God put on my heart? What skills do I bring to the marketing table? Years of prayer and reflection and I’m still tweaking the answers.
- KNOW your audience. When I write in my journal, I’m writing for God, myself and no one else. I don’t need an agent to help me with that conversation. If I’m writing to be published, I’m writing to real-life readers. Who are they? Why do they need the message God’s given me? Does that message even belong in a book?
- KNOW the business. My first effort was too long for a devotional and too short for a book. It had no home in the publishing business. I had to rethink the format. I browsed the shelves of bookstores and libraries, imagining where my book would fit. I studied the categories on publishers’ and booksellers’ websites. I looked at the product details of books like mine (including book size and number of pages). I read excerpts, reviews and author information. I discovered my niche.
- KNOW the agent. Even if our paths have never crossed, there are ways to know them. Agents have websites. Some blog. Others have written books. I read their words. I researched the authors and books they represent. I want to like the agent, and I want the agent to like me. But I’m looking for more than friendship — it’s a business partnership. Querying an agent who doesn’t handle books like mine wastes both our time.
- KNOW the process. One size does not fit all agents. Some want only a query letter. Others want a full proposal. Some accept attachments; others expect it all in one email. I want to make a good impression, so I follow their directions. If it’s a 15-minute appointment at a conference, I figure out how to pitch my book and my experience with time left to get to know each other.
- KNOW God has a plan. I don’t want to get ahead of Him, nor do I want to lag behind. Each step of this adventure is wrapped in prayer. My job is to follow His lead, and the results rest in His hands.
All of my efforts (even that first disaster) aren’t failures. They’re learning experiences. Every query, every proposal, every appointment has improved my books — now plural — and made me a better writer. Fear not, writer friends. You know you can do this!
Where are you on your publishing journey? Do you know enough to start looking for an agent? What’s your next step?
October 3, 2023
May 16, 2023