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5 Ways to Gain an Agent's Attention

The traditional editor slush pile may be near extinction, but the agent slush pile is still alive (See last post). But for how long? Already many agents no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts. And those that still do close their inboxes from time to time because they’re overwhelmingly busy.

Writers bite their fingernails and wonder if it’s possible to even find an agent anymore, much less get into a larger traditional publishing house. Is there hope? And how can a writer increase their chances of getting noticed?

Let me start by saying, yes, there is definitely hope. If an obscure wannabe like me can land an agent and a subsequent book deal with a major publishing house (Baker/Bethany House), then it can happen to anyone. I’m just an average writer and I didn’t have any inside connections to give me a boost.

So, how did I get noticed? How in the wide world of enormous, overflowing slush piles can any author gain an agent’s attention?

1. Write a book that grabs attention. Yes, this seems like a no-brainer, but while many of us want to write heart-grabbers, we don’t always know how or what.

I made myself a student of my genre. I read widely and decided how to approach my stories in a way that was unique from what was already available. If we can find a fresh spin, present a new voice, or develop a gripping plot, then we'll give agents a reason to take a second look at our story.

2. Learn industry standards and be savvy. We can’t crack open the latest Literary Marketplace guide and start sending out manuscripts. Instead we need to spend time familiarizing ourselves with the current market practices, learning standards, reading guidelines, and becoming a part of the pulse of the publishing world.

When someone tells me they’re a writer and then proceeds to ask me how to get published, I always point them to agent blogs. Read past posts, dig deep, learn as much as possible before querying. Agents can smell the difference between those who know their stuff and those who have absolutely no clue. And they don’t have the time to waste on writers heavily laden with the scent of ignorance.

3. Final in a writing contest. This worked for me. After I finaled in the ACFW Genesis contest, I emailed Rachelle Gardner to let her know. My manuscript was already buried in her slush pile, but the final was enough to perk her attention. She dug out my book, looked at it, and called me a day later.

Of course, the larger the contest the better, especially contests that agents and major publishing houses recognize. The book also needs to be finished and already out on submission or at least ready. I’ve seen far too many writers final in contests but not have their books completed and polished in order to take full advantage of that final.

4. Look for ways to introduce yourself to agents. Most agents blog and twitter. Following them not only helps us grow more savvy about the publishing world, but gives us an opportunity to leave comments or respond to tweets. In such interactions, we broaden our web presence, get our names out there, and perhaps eventually gain more than a passing glance.

Writing conferences can also give us access to agents, help them to get to know who we are, and give them a glimpse of our writing. The ten minute appointments may not be much, but combined with all of the above, could work to push us to the top of the slush pile.

5. Last but not least, persevere. When our manuscripts sit in agent slush piles for months, it’s easy to begin to think our books aren’t good enough, or that we’re not cut out for writing. But as I mentioned in the last post, most of us have done our time in the slush pile. We should just expect to languish a long time, and then if we defy the odds, we can consider ourselves blessed.

In the meantime, we need to write another heart-grabber. Agents and editors want to see that we can write more than one book, that we’re not a one-book wonder. And perhaps that second or third book will be the catalyst that pushes our other book out of the slush pile.

What do you think? Can you think of anything else that might help to get the attention of an agent? What do YOU plan to do?

45 comments:

  1. I think you've pretty well covered it. The only contest I finaled in was for an unfinished manuscript. Talk about panic. LOL I had only entered for feedback and then... Heheee. But now I know a little better.
    Great tips. :-) The Miss Snark blog was how I got my crash course in learning the industry.
    Have a great day Jody!

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  2. Agent blogs are a boon. I'd have noooo idea where to start without them.

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  3. I love how you talk about agent blogs and following them on twitter. Hmmm, I follow a few agents, but sometime today I will look up the agents I plan to query along with a lot more and follow them.

    Learning the industry isn't easy though, Jody. I hear such conflicting advice from those supposedly in the know. How do we really understand it all. I do love Rachelle's blog. I trust the things she says, but I write for children, so everything that applies to agents like her doesn't apply to agents that accept MG and picture books. And the agents that do accept what I write have differing views on certain subjects. It's just so hard.

    I think (and this is true) that I have learned so much from you. This is where I come and find comfort and solace for the long querying road ahead. I could never begin to tell you all that I have gleaned from your blog. Thank you Jody. Be savvy. GOTCHA! =) Oh, and I have entered a pretty big contest. *fingers crossed*

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  4. For me, it was definitely the conference! That helped a ton. Right now, I'm trying to decide how beneficial it would be for an agented writer like myself to enter Genesis. I'm not sure yet.

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  5. I think these are an excellent start, I am not in the realm of publishing at the moment however I do know that knowledge is key and though I may not be ready it doesn't mean I can't take the time research so that when I am ready I'm covered!

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  6. Conferences definitely help! My wip is sitting in a slush pile right now, and I'm making plans to enter the Genesis specifically because of your experience. I think the key is the last thing you mentioned--persevere.

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  7. Thanks for this list. I will also agree that conferences are a wonderful way to meet and see that agents are actually people. Congrats on your awesome agent!

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  8. Great suggestions. Maybe not everyone can final in a contest, but entering them gives yet another layer of judging and suggestions that can ultimately improve the product.

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  9. I had to think about this one. I left and came back. Finally, I'll write...I'll let you know once I gain the attention of one. ;)

    I can say that when I sent a handful of queries out the first time an agent shot me an email back w/in five minutes requesting my MS and they wrote, "Nice query." I still have that email in my inbox.
    ~ Wendy

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  10. All great ideas! I really think you covered everything I can think of...

    I agree though, the biggest thing is having an awesome, well-written book. You can do ALL the other things, but if you don't do that, you fail before you start.

    My two (still maybe's at the moment) full requests have come from 1.) a query letter and 2.) a conference mtg.

    I probably should start sending more queries out, but one of those is the agent I REALLY want, so part of me is kinda waiting on that. Actually, I take that back. I'm mostly waiting to get my newest book finished editing, because I think it's the one I want to query with this year.

    And with contest season coming up... hoping I have better luck this year! (last year was my first year trying, so I was like Jessica, just kinda getting the lay of how it worked.)

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  11. I plan to follow your advice to a T! I do believe it's possible, with hard work and a great story, tons of prayer, and patience.

    You are a living testimony!

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  12. I think you've hit about all the major points.

    But it's so great to be reminded. Especially with the last one. Perseverance is the most important!

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  13. Great series, Jody. I try to keep myself convinced that with a well-polished, attention-grabbing story, there is hope in this publishing world. I love all of your suggestions and think each one of them are important.

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  14. Great post, Jody.

    I guess it WILL take me 10 years to do all of this. . .

    Seriously, this is very sensible advice that all writers can benefit from. You were very savvy about chasing your dreams. It didn't just happen.

    I know you will love my post at The Moonboat today on courage. I'd love to borrow some of yours: you have so much of it.

    One step at the time. Just take the next little step. That's what I need to do, and it's achievable.

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  15. Sounds like some great advice to me. Covers just about everything a person can do to get their name out there. Thanks.

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  16. Great post, Jody! Love Krista's comments about "that great book!"

    The only other comments I could share is get to know other clients of the agent you love by reading their work, following their blog. Agents sometimes prefer certain genres or types of books. I've asked folks of the agent, publisher kind about the books they love, then read them. We all love talking about our favorite "friends;" agents and publishers are no exception.

    Patti

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  17. Great ideas! Since I parted ways with an agent several months ago, I'm starting to think/wonder/pray about pursuing another one. Always a scary prospect for me, but tip-toeing into the social networking arena with them is a great way to start.

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  18. Did you mention conferences, yet? I go to one every year. SCBWI. We get professional critiques, great education and interactions and connections. Thanks for keeping the hope alive. I like how you describe yourself as average and obscure - NO LONGER, Baby! You're the tops!

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  19. Thanks for the tips. I'll definitely keep them in mind when that time comes for me. :) I have an award for you at me blog!

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  20. Great advice!!!!!! I'm already doing most of those...and I'll be attending a writers conference next month!!

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  21. I am hoping to attend my first conference this year. I just keep trying to get my name out there and like you said keep persevering. :O)

    www.dianeestrella.com

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  22. I plan to continue working on my new writing projects and not even think about publishing right now. But when I do, this is the path I will follow.
    Karen

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  23. I was thinking about skywriting, "will you be my agent?" Or perhaps gift certificates to their favorite sushi restaurants, or a steady supply of Belgium chocolate. I'm really trying to think outside the box.

    Other than that I've had my novel edited not once but twice, and I've been invited to resubmit with dream agent. I completely trust the lord. Not in a lazy I'm-sure-he-has-this sort of way, but in a I'm-clinging-to-his-promises-because-I-know-there's-not-enough-chocolate-in-the-world kind of way.

    I believe it's all an exercise in patience.

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  24. I think all of this is good, but I have one thing to add. It is all about standing out or branding who you are.
    If you go to a convention and appear dull or worst combative--for get it.
    If you go and appear very likable and generate a certain charisma, the agent or editor is more likely to remember you in a good light.
    Remember the agent and editors are there to find someone they really want to work with.
    I approach conferences as a way to make friends and,of course,I do have a good time at them.
    Johnny Ray
    http://www.sirjohn.us

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  25. Your comment about contests has my stomach in flip-flops. I recently finaled in a contest...one that Rachelle is actually the final judge for... and while the manuscript is finished, it has some overarching plot issues I need to resolve before I'd ever submit it. The problem is that it's a totally different style than my second manuscript, and I think the second manuscript has much greater market appeal. So I guess my question is...If by some miracle, I get a request for the full manuscript (the one that finaled), should I spend all sorts of time trying to clean it up, or keep focusing on the one that has more potential to get published first?

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  26. Jody, great advice. You have one awesome agent. Thanks for sharing your experience (and featuring my books in your sidebar! I appreciate that)

    I'd add, Don't be dull, don't be desperate and don't waste their time.

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  27. Good advice, Jody! I have to add that I was fragrant with ignorance when I signed with Rachelle. I'm sure few people who sign with agents are quite as wet behind the ears as I was, but it goes to show that what really matters, in the end, is the quality of the writing. I'm going to blog about my foolish misadventures in querying in next Monday's post. ;-) Embarrassing for me, funny for others!

    When I look at the manuscripts of most people who ask me for help, I find that the BEST thing they could do would be to go to websites with reliable advice about improving one's writing. My favorite is Camy Tang's. She has specific, detailed posts about the most common writing flaws.

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  28. I learn so much from you Jody, thanks.

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  29. Sarah asked:If by some miracle, I get a request for the full manuscript (the one that finaled), should I spend all sorts of time trying to clean it up, or keep focusing on the one that has more potential to get published first?

    My answer: Sarah, you're in a tough situation. If you get a request for the manuscript that finaled, then I think you should have it ready to go. That's the one that they'll be interested in. But you could try to finish up your other and have it ready to send AT THE SAME TIME. When my manuscript finaled in the Genesis, I had another book ready. So I asked Rachelle if I could send BOTH.

    Every situation is unique, so it won't hurt to ask when you get that request. But you just don't want the agent or editor wondering why you entered your book in the contest if it wasn't ready? Ya know?

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  30. These are all great tips. And let me echo Jody, if she did it and I did too, then you can! I mean, I went from query slush to full slush to signing to being on submission. I don't have a deal yet, but I'm out there at the big houses. So it's doable!

    One thing I want to add: You have to follow up your amazing book with an amazing query letter. It's the gate to getting your MS read. If your query is flat or unreadable, the agent will never get to your MS.

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  31. These are some great tips. It wasn't until recently and by reading your blogs and some others that I even thought of looking at agents blogs. Now I'm following a few and it is a wealth of information!
    Happy writing to you today!

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  32. Thanks for your thoughtful comments! It is so frustrating when you feel like you've found the perfect agent and they're closed to submissions, but you remind us this is a process.

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  33. Thanks for these tips. I am not trying to "push the river", and am active while I wait and write.
    Terra
    1st book co-authored, "Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts: Stories to Warm Your Heart and Tips to Simplify Your Holiday".

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  34. Excellent post. Thank you, it gives me a broader perspective on writing. And has me re-thinking writing contests entirely. Thanks!

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  35. Take rejections gracefully and professionally. The next time you query, agents may remember reading your work before.
    Great tips!

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  36. Hi Jody -

    I like the fact you didn't wait until Rachelle noticed you'd finaled in the contest. You pointed it out to her.

    Blessings,
    Susan :)

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  37. You covered this so completely that I'm forwarding the link to your blog to friends trying to get published.

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  38. Thanks for the posting this Jody. I guess it boils down to have some talent, apply yourself and don't give up!

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  39. Preserving is what I'm trying to work on.

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  40. These are extremely good tips. As a matter of fact, I simply must link to it on my writing blog. It's the kind of thing my readers want to know. I particularly like the idea of making friends with agents on twitter. That makes so much sense.

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  41. This is great information, Jody.

    Your writing stands out so of course someone would pick you up! :)

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  42. I've got to pop back in to add one thing. If you don't think you'll ever get asked to the prom, you might accept the first invitation. Not so with an agent. Working with an agent is a long-term process, not just a few dances. Do your homework and concentrate on agents who seem "right" for you (and Jody, that might be a blog post in and of itself).
    And lest there be any question, Jody and I are fortunate enough to be represented by a great one. Good luck to all of you who are still looking for Mr/Ms Right. Hang in there.

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  43. Great comments. You probably mentioned this and my bleary eyes (too much editing) missed it, but I use Natasha to fill me in on industry trends. She provides a depth of knowledge that I cannot glean from blogs and writer chats.

    Always great info here!
    Patti

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