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5 Tips for Hooking an Agent

Most writers seeking traditional publication need an agent. Those writing category novels, pursuing a small publisher, or self-publishing might not need representation. But the vast majority of us at some point will have to throw out the bait and try to hook an agent.

More and more agents are blogging. Setting up a lawn chair and camping out at their sites is THE best way to get a picture of who they are, what they represent, and what their submission guidelines are.

Once we've studied agent blogs, educated ourselves about the submission process, and narrowed down the list of who to query, then we're ready to toss our letter and sample chapters into the pond and wait for a bite.

But as anyone who's ever fished knows, sometimes the fish just aren't biting. In today's tight economy and flooded writer's market, agents don't seem to be biting. They might be nibbling, but often we dangle our line into the murky depths and wait. Endlessly.

Even though agents might not seem to be biting, they are. I recently hooked an agent. And if I can get one, then certainly there's hope for all of us, especially if we look for ways to increase our chances of getting a bite. So, here are a few things that worked for me.

5 Tips for Hooking an Agent:

1. Don't send out a book unless it's been critiqued, preferably by another writer who's further along in the writing journey. Editors and published authors are ideal. Critique partners are helpful, but not always able to provide critical feedback due to lack of honesty or skill. The bottom line is that we MUST have EXCELLENT writing skills and we often can't see our own work objectively enough to know if it's truly excellent. When we're getting consistent positive feedback from qualified sources, then maybe, just maybe we're ready to send it out.

2. Have two books polished and ready to sell. While one book might be enough to showcase our story-telling ability, two books are even better. I first queried one book to Rachelle, but after I had two professionally critiqued, well-written manuscripts, Rachelle seemed to take a greater interest in my writing.

3. Take advantage of contest wins, awards, or national recognition. Many of us are entering writing contests (if you're not, why not?). After I finaled in the Genesis contest, I decided I had the perfect opportunity to follow-up with Rachelle who still had my manuscript. If she wasn't interested, then while I was in the spotlight I needed to get my name in front of other agents familiar with the contest. Thankfully, she was interested.

4. Network among the writing community. Building a web presence is critical. For a previous post on this topic, click here. Another of Rachelle's clients, Billy Coffey, was rejected by Rachelle at least once. Through blogging, he became friends with a client of Rachelle's who liked his writing. That client talked to Rachelle who then agreed to read his manuscript and subsequently offered him representation. Conferences, blogs, twitter, facebook--if used correctly, they can help make connections and put our names in front of agents.

5. Don't get discouraged and give up. My manuscript sat in Rachelle's slush pile for months. I followed up periodically. But as I waited, I wrote the next book, entered contests, and worked on improving my writing. If we're getting continuous rejections on one book, then we need to put it aside, write the next one, and do even better. If we keep on improving, we can't go wrong with that.

These are just a few tips based on my experience. Do you have any other helpful ideas to add to the list? What has discouraged you most in your attempts to hook an agent?

46 comments:

  1. You really eased my mind with this post. I always figured if they rejected me once--to never try them again. Thanks for this inside look!

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  2. I've queried agents more than once before, when I've got something new, but it's still no go.

    I have a question about contests. I don't want to enter a new contest with a manuscript until I've had a chance to review comments from any previous contests I've entered. However, it takes a while to get comments back from previous contests. Am I hurting myself by waiting?

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  3. Good post! I went to a writer's conference last fall and had the most encouraging meeting with an agent. She invited me to send more of my writing to her and gave me very positive feedback, and then I never heard from her again - even after I followed up.

    I'll be headed back to that conference this fall, and this year I feel better prepared with questions and comments. If at first you don't succeed.... :)

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  4. This post is a good reminder that none of this happens overnight. Waiting is a mainstay in any writer's life and at any level. I think the real key is to use the waiting time productively to produce more quality manuscripts.

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  5. Excellent post Jody, as always.

    I SO agree with #1. While critique groups are a good thing, unless some of the members are further along in this writing journey, it won't boost our writing skills.

    And I agree with continuing to write and networking. I've met some wonderful writers, authors and agents and trust me, who we know is very important.

    I think what has discouraged me most in trying to hook an agent is not hearing back, period. At this point, an agent liked my query and has my proposal. I'm grateful to have made it this far.

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  6. Very helpful and practical advice Jody, thanks. wb

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  7. Because I write for children and it is possible to get published without an agent, I've only occasionally subbed to them, sending straight to editors, instead. This summer, though, I've gotten serious about agents.

    I've gotten some good responses, too -- six fulls requested.

    I agree that participating in a contest and having more than one manuscript are pluses. Having recently won a local novel excerpt contest, my query was strengthened. When one agent liked my first manuscript but wasn't sure she could sell it, she asked for another. I was able to send it along the next day.

    I've read recently that this is a fantastic time for debut authors to break in.

    Don't get discouraged (as I often have to remind myself). The waiting is the hard part. I always hope the next agent/editor is the one but I also have a fantastic "plan B" (and C,D, E...)lined up for the next round.

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  8. I really appreciate your advice, Jody! Thanks for so willingly relating your experiences to us. You're great to share.

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  9. Hi Jody,
    Thanks for sharing this part of your journey with us. I'm so happy for you. I guess what discouraged me most were the short form letters that made me feel they hadn't even read the query. And that I don't know if it was the query that didn't work or the subject matter.
    Karen

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  10. So far I haven't felt very discouraged with the agent side of things, though my hook has had a fish nibbling, the fish hasn't bitten yet. LOL I'm just waiting, and while I wait, I'm working on another manuscript.
    Great advice about critiquing. Sometimes I worry that I'm not skilled enough to be critting other's manuscripts. I guess we do what we can and just keep trying to learn.
    I'm also hoping to meet agents and editors and get to know them, so when I'm ready to query this new story, I'll have people I feel comfortable contacting.
    And you know about my contest news. LOL
    I guess I should enter more, but right now money is a little bit of an issue.
    Critique groups are wonderful and I'm glad you brought that up. I feel really blessed with mine, and a writing buddy I have. They def. see things I don't.
    Great post Jody! :-)

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  11. Great tips...especially the last one :) I'm trying my hand at that one right now.

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  12. Hi, Jody! I really needed to read this today, so thank you for such awesome advice and encouragement!

    I think my biggest obstacle is being an unknown in a failing economy. When I queried my book last spring, I got a lot of responses that rejected my book not on the basis of the writing but on the fact that the agencies couldn't even considering someone without an automatic readership of at least 10,000. Not kidding... that was in one of my responses. Though it was great to not be rejected because of my work (unless, of course, that was just a "line") it was discouraging.

    I did have one agent suggest several changes, like rewriting specific chapters and using an editorial service.

    My plan is to sit back, keep writing, build my platform the best that I can, and somehow get that manuscript to a service. Hopefully in 8-12 months I can re-query again. It'll be like a triple threat--an even stronger, "certified" manuscript, a platform, and hopefully, a better economy that allows for someone to take a chance on me.

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  13. Great advice. Thanks for the practical tips, Jody! And I hope you have a super fabulous Labor Day. :)

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  14. Jody,
    As always, great tips. Your site is certainly a "must-read" for writers. I'd suggest not focusing on just one agent (or editor, for that matter). But in addition to pitching, get to know them. Give them a face or cyber-identity to associate with the name. Once they "get to know you," they may be more open to your approaches. Of course, in my case I met my current agent at a conference when she was an editor. She didn't accept the proposals I sent (and, looking back, rightly so), but years later she accepted me as a client. God works in mysterious ways...

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  15. I had an agent recently who had suggested changes to my ms. I made the changes and sent them back even though he didn't really request them. (You take the time to write two pages of suggestions, I'm gonna take them!) He sent me an e-mail feeling bad that because he hadn't really requested them, he's going to set my ms. aside and get to it after he got through all his requested changes. I felt the e-mail was unnecessary, but nice. I don't think I made a mistake in sending the changes to him, did I? He didn't say DON'T make changes and send it back...he just wrote all of these suggestions out. I guess it's an odd situation.

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  16. Those are some good tips, Jody--and timely for so many people! The only other thing I would suggest is really checking out the agent, particularly if they have a blog. Know that they're who you want to send your query to. And, reading through their Web site or blog will really give you a better idea of what they're looking for (this could help in the query letter).

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  17. When and if I have an agent (the small presses I'm shooting for don't require them) I hope they live relatively close by--Boston? I'd actually like to met them in the flesh a few times a year. Is that unrealistic?

    I think I've decreased my chances even more. *sigh*

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  18. Great post Jody, and I completely agree with all of your points. I wasted years ignoring what people were telling me about building a web presence, choosing instead to go the traditional route of querying. Things changed because I gave in.

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  19. Jody, great post as always. You motivate me to keep polishing and not getting discouraged. Thanks!

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  20. i'm with terri...i had always thought not to submit to an agent who had already rejected you. but who better than that agent to see if you've gotten better? or deserve more attention? interesting perspectives!

    jeannie
    Where Romance Meets Therapy

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  21. I hadn't considered an agent because I was targeting category. But when an editor rejected my partial with solid suggestions, I was afraid to resubmit because she didn't ask for it back. I was lucky enough to have her asst ed post a response to my question at eHarlequin and she suggested it wouldn't hurt to resubmit. I think if they go to the trouble to point out specific changes...how can it hurt to resubmit?

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  22. Jody, wonderful advice! How inspirational that both you and Billy were born of second chances. I once messed up with an agent so bad I was really tempted to try again but chickened out. I can see were a little courage could have yielded great results!

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  23. Sound advice as usual, Jody. Thanks for your generosity in sharing these valuable pointers.

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  24. I suspect my discouragements will soon come as I attempt to get to know some agents at the conference coming up. I'm praying big about God guiding me on this journey--one I'm not familiar with at all.

    Are you ready to be giving me a pep talk, Jody, as I pine over my flubs while brushing my teeth and washing my face at night? I'm feeling sorry for you already, roomie!!

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  25. I don't know if it's discouraging, exactly, but the waiting is just brutal. I'm hanging in there, and I'm comforted to know that your MS sat in the slush pile for months like mine is doing right now!

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  26. Great tips! Especially the ones about not querying until you have had your work critiqued or until you have two polished manuscripts. As you know, I queried too soon. I learned a big lesson.

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  27. Can I say I love your blog? I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, your blog. You have such amazingly helpful and poignant posts...I don't know how you do it.

    Okay, gushing aside - this was really helpful, particularly your advice on having TWO polished manuscripts ready. Um, wow. I've got my work cut out for me! :)

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  28. Great post. I'm headed to the fishing hole next week and it's nice to know I'm prepared with a contest finaling manuscript that's made it through two critique groups. But, that second book? It's still in the outline stages (unless you count the non-fiction ms that's finished).

    I'm packing my lunch box and preparing for the long haul, waiting for a nibble.

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  29. Great advice! Thanks for the post.

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  30. Great post. I always love to read about your journey.

    Lynnette Labelle
    http:/lynnettelabelle.blogspot.com

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  31. Hi Jody -

    Wow! I didn't realize you pursued Rachelle so long.

    I'm still polishing my first manuscript. It will be awhile before a second one is completed. Wonder if I'll be the Grandma Moses of writing?

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  32. I'd add only the fact that very few agent actually blog. While it's good to study the ones that do, don't forget about all of the amazing ones that don't.

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  33. Great post. Part of the reason I read your blog is because you offer ideas I don't get elsewhere -- new stuff. Thanks for that! I'm going to keep these ideas in mind when I'm ready to seek out an agent.

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  34. Timely post. I am thinking of querying my work soon. I have had it professionally edited and received very positive feedback. I am reworking it again before sending it out. I also have a critique partner working with me.

    Have you done posts on query letters before? I'll go take a look..

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  35. Congratulations on getting your agent! They really make life so much easier--my first and second book I negotiated my own contracts, but now I have an agent and it's SO much better. Your tips are really sound. It's really easy to get discouraged, as you mentioned. But it's good to remember that everyone is in the same boat.

    Elizabeth
    Mystery Writing is Murder

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  36. Jody, I, too, have experienced second chances -- through jobs, and in pursuance of publication. Never say never. It's amazing to me how many times I've ended up knocking on a door twice, even if in a roundabout way, and come out ahead. Glad you've experienced the same. Once you have that in your blood, you know anything is possible even when it seems impossible.

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  37. Write a blog post on Labor Day. :D

    Got some nibbles here. Waiting and improving. That's all I can do. And loving the writing in the meanwhile.

    BTW, I enjoy Billy's blog.

    I trust God more than anything and if this is His plan for my life I want to work hard at it and pursue Him so it will happen.

    Excellent input. Wonder how agents feel being compared to fish? :D Just playin' with you.
    ~ Wendy

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  38. Great advice! I think my critique group was one of the very best things for my manuscript. It is so hard to read my own writing objectively after a while.

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  39. Whether or not this advice will hook an agent for me, one thing is certain -- your post hooked me as a reader. I will be back for more visits.

    I love your writing. It's very accessible.

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  40. I need to really take the "don't give up" to heart right now. It's been a long trek and I'm growing weary.

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  41. I don't have any comments to add, but I appreciate the list you gave us. Thank you for the good tips.

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  42. I don't know enough to add any comments, but the list you gave is terrific. Thanks for the tips!

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  43. Great tips! I appreciate how positive and honest you are. :)

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  44. I've been away and am just catching up on your week's posts. It did my heart so much good to read of your closet experiences! However I don't think my reticence stems from fear of failure because I've had success with my non-fiction. But there's a sense of inferiority when it comes to promoting my novels -- still feeling that my fiction writing is frivolous... maybe an unworthy use of my time -- and I think that's why I haven't actively sought an agent yet. Entering the blog world has been my baby steps out of the closet toward visibility and it's helping build confidence. Hopefully one day soon I'll be ready to take the big step.

    Carol Garvin

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  45. Fantastic post- thanks for getting the good tips out there! :)

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  46. THANKS SO MUCH for these great tips, Jody! I will definitely need & refer to them when I start querying. :)

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