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?

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