December 24, 2014

How to Think Like an Agent

By Janet Kobobel Grant 

If you want to connect with an agent, the best way is to think like an agent. Here are four tips:
1.     When we read a query, a proposal, or sample chapters, we look for a reason to say no.
It’s not that we’re inherently curmudgeonly (well, not all of us), but we have heaps of potential projects to look over. That means we have to be exceedingly picky about what we say yes to.

TIP: Presenting your idea or you, as the author, as run-of-the-mill will in not garner you a yes. Tell the agent what makes your idea and you a standout. If you don’t know what that might be, then you’re probably not ready to submit to an agent.

2.     Remember we get paid exactly nothing for reading what you wrote.
An agent receives a commission off of money his or her clients earn. That means every minute we spend on submissions is a minute away from selling something for our clients.

TIP: Use those first few seconds that an agent looks at your query to best advantage by showcasing the most attractive, amazing or unique aspect of your project. That might be a stunning title, your one million faithful blog readers, or an idea that’s about a perennially popular topic or genre with a surprising twist.

3.     Connect with each agent in the way he or she specifies on the agency’s web page or other agency listing.
See #1 and #2. This means emails addressed to “Sir or Madam” are hard for us to take seriously. Such a salutation says you’ll take any agent who shows interest in you.
This means do not phone an agent to spontaneously pitch your project. Such conversations turn into the agent providing a brief history of how submissions work, which might be helpful to you but that agent will not be interested in looking at your project.

TIP: Do your homework before contacting an agent. Know how that person wants to be contacted, what sort of books the agent represents, and some of the agents’ clients. Imagine, if you were an agent, how you would respond if a potential client wrote this in an email: “I’ve read and loved books by these four clients of yours: ____________, __________________, ____________, __________. I think you and I have similar taste in books. For that reason, would you consider looking at title of your manuscript, a genre or category of your project…”
Showing you’ve done some research on who the agent is, aligning yourself with that agent’s sensibilities, and treating the agent like a real person, will have the agent taking special notice of your work.

4.     Remember that part of an agent’s job is to find the next breakout writer.
Yes, we’re busy; yes, we make no money while we’re reading your proposal; yes, we see a lot that isn’t even vaguely what we’re looking for…but we’re looking. We’re always looking. And nothing gives us greater joy than finding.
Janet Kobobel Grant is founder and president of Books & Such Literary Management, which consists of five agents and more than 250 clients. The agency began in 1996 and represents New York Times best-selling authors; and RITA, Holt Medallion, and Daphne du Maurier Award winners along with a host of other awards. You can find out more about Janet and Books & Such Janet is active on Facebook at and on Twitter @JanetKGrant. Each Books & Such agent writes once per week on their blog at

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