by Cynthia Rutchi
Approaching an agent with a project in hopes of having your work represented is sometimes a complicated process. Agents wear many hats. One of them is Talent Scout. Even an agent with a full list of clients and multiple projects in the works is always open to considering a great book, well-written, from an author who knows both the craft of writing and the publishing industry.
The percentage of those who think they’re ready to send a query to an agent is high.
And some authors are ready but hesitant to do so, which is another form of heartbreak for author and agent.
How do we know? When is the time right?
Am I Ready to Approach an Agent with My Proposal?
Agents want to meet with you. It’s why we attend conferences. But we also want the meeting to be as productive as possible. If you’re considering approaching an agent, trying to set up an appointment at a conference, or wondering if you dare hit “send” on your query email, consider how many points from this checklist describe you.
- I have a novel that is complete or nearing completion…or…I have a proposal and sample chapters ready for my nonfiction.
- I understand what makes my book fit its category, but also what makes it a fresh approach.
- I’ve done a title and topic search on Amazon for books already on the market on a similar topic.
- I can describe my book in two or three sentences.
- The book I’m proposing has not been published before, including independently.
- I study the craft of writing.
- I’ve received constructive criticism from writing mentors, writer friends, or a critique group about this project.
- I have a website, an active social media presence, frequent speaking engagements, or other means of reaching readers (especially important for nonfiction projects).
But Can’t an Agent Help Me with These Things?
Yeeesss. But a typical agent–a misnomer, since we’re all atypical–wades through more “not ready yet” queries and proposals than a typical writer–misnomer, since we writers are all atypical–would imagine. Agents deal with, and often have to pass on:
- Concepts that have been overdone.
- Concepts that are underdone (not yet fully formed in the mind of the writer).
- Verbiage that reveals the author is unfamiliar with what’s already on bookstore shelves.
- Self-aggrandizement that hints that the prospective client is not in a place of humility necessary to learn and grow…or take rejection as part of the process.
- Great writing that won’t have an opportunity to be considered by a publishing house because the writer is set against joining the digital age.
- A good story that doesn’t move the agent, so how can it move an editor, the publishing board, and readers?
- An intriguing book with no real takeaway.
- An author who is convinced he or she is the ONE exception to industry standards, publisher guidelines, protocol, or reader expectations.
Agents Want to Say Yes, But Often Have to Say No
Why? For the reasons listed above. Because their client list is full, and their current clients deserve the bulk of their attention. Because the checklist above is missing too many factors to make representing the work successful for either author or agent.
If I’m Not Yet Ready for an Agent, What Do I Do? Give Up on Having an Agent?
Get ready. Study. Investigate. Work hard to move your social media/built-in audience reach numbers (but more importantly, connections) higher. Make sure chapters four through twenty-four are as strong as the first three chapters on which you’ve focused your efforts. Keep reading informative blogs like the Books & Such blog. Listen to podcasts about the industry. Study the “personalities” of various publishing houses. Get a good grip on the category into which your work best fits.
Don’t let “I guess I’m not ready” derail you from your writing goals. Use the guidelines above as goals rather than stop signs.
Cynthia will be presenting a Night Owl session, Pitch Perfect, with Susan K. Stewart.
Cynthia Ruchti, agent with Books & Such Literary, tells “stories hemmed in hope” through novels, nonfiction, devotionals, and speaking events for women and writers. Her more than 25 books in print have garnered many industry awards. In 2018, Cynthia was honored to be named Mount Hermon Writer of the Year. In addition to her role as the ACFW Professional Relations Liaison—connecting with retailers, reviewers, libraries, and book clubs—she serves as a literary agent with Books & Such Literary Management. She and her grade-school-sweetheart husband live in the heart of Wisconsin, not far from their three children and five grandchildren.