You can read tons of articles or blog posts about how to write a query letter or book proposal that makes a literary agent want to take you on as a client. And it’s all well and good to know how to pitch. But what really makes an agent want to take you on as a client? Today, literary agent Jeff Herman, author of Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why, answers that question for you. It’s not always as simple as a great idea, good writing or the prospect of earning lots of money. NA
There are several obvious and universal answers to how to be an irresistible anything. A writer who has a no-brainer, slam-dunk, big money-maker book is by definition an irresistible client for any literary agent who is breathing. But what if you can’t reasonably claim to be one of those people? Okay, there still may be ways for you to be somewhat irresistible. Let’s talk about it.
Fun and Interesting
In reality, there aren’t many writers who can guarantee to make a lot of money for their agents. And there aren’t too many agents who only or mostly represent “sure things.” Understandably, money is a necessity and a motivator, but the absence of big money isn’t a door-closer. Believe it or not, agents want to have fun. I like projects that promise to be interesting even if they probably won’t make much money. If you can’t make me rich, then you ought to make me enthusiastic in other ways. Of course, interesting isn’t always enough; it still needs to be a book that thousands of people will want to buy.
Some books have the potential to make a big difference in certain people’s lives. Perhaps it has information about treating or preventing a specific illness or exposes a little understood public issue that needs to be addressed. Many books might be very important while also being non-commercial, but if the agent feels motivated by the author’s do-good motives, than representing it can be irresistible no matter the money.
Every now and then an agent will encounter a writer who they just happen to like and want to help, and money isn’t important. A romantic attraction might exist, but that’s a dangerous platform upon which to establish a professional partnership. Actually, so is friendship. The safest binder is one that’s professional, not personal, and agents sometimes form a professional interest in certain writers only because they want to help them succeed. It’s not unusual to hear an agent speak with passion about how they broke a no-body into the business without mentioning the paltry advances received. Be gracious, respectful, humble and appreciative for every experience, including rejections, and your attitude will pay dividends.
Servility is an old fashioned term that sometimes implies hidden agendas. So what? Many successful people have turned flattery into a powerful art form. A writer who makes his/her agent feel good about being alive has the potential to be irresistible for reasons that shouldn’t need explaining.
Some people are walking-talking people magnets; they just seem to know everyone and can actually get a hold of them. Their importance and value may be entirely due to their ability to make any introduction for any purpose, no matter how trivial or profound the agenda. Even if the book sucks, such a person could get a top agent, a huge deal and sell a lot of copies, only because they are extremely well connected. Such people are irresistible.
Most agents today are trying to figure out the digital revolution because they don’t want to miss the train. If they think they understand it well enough, then they have probably already missed the train. the near-future is as murky as it’s ever been in memory. If an author reveals that they have above-average tech skills and insights, they are likely to be seen as valuable regardless of their writing, and helping them with their writing might be a reasonable quid pro quo structure for getting them to help make the agency more efficient and profitable. Writing is just the first skill set that agents focus on, but it doesn’t have to be the only skill that makes writers irresistible. Always be thinking about proper ways you can serve an agent in addition to being a good writer.
About the Author
Jeff Herman opened his literary agency in the mid-1980s while in his mid-20s. The agency has ushered nearly 1,000 books into publication which have sold many millions of copies, including several NY Time’s Bestsellers. Herman’s agency has a strong presence in general adult nonfiction, including business, commercial self-help, technology, recovery/healing, and spiritual subjects. The agency is a trendsetter for new publishing models, such as the creation of branded imprints and multi-title programs. Herman’s own books include, Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents and Write the Perfect Book Proposal: 10 That Sold and Why. Herman cofounded the web site, WRITERS-AGENTS-EDITORS NETWORK (www.waenet.com), which is quickly becoming the go-to digital destination for millions of writers and media professionals. http://jeffherman.com/
Photo Courtesy: Free Digital Photo.net