How to Get a Foot in the Door With Agents

Since most royalty paying publishers are closed to unsolicited manuscripts, writers usually need to find an agent who can represent them to publishers. But the "agent hunt" can be one of the most discouraging aspects of the quest for traditional publication.

When I began my agent hunt, I quickly realized that a large number agents had hung out the "not accepting unsolicited manuscripts" sign too. After I narrowed down those that might possibly be interested in what I write, I was left with a very short list of agents to query. I felt rather discouraged, knowing if none of the agents were interested, I might end up at a dead end.

With so many publishers AND agents closed to unsolicited manuscripts, what are writers supposed to do, especially if they're seeking traditional publication? What hope is there of getting a foot in the door when it seems like it's slamming shut?

It may appear hopeless, but the longer I'm in the publishing world, the more I realize that there are ways to get around the dead ends and push the door open a crack, especially when hunting for an agent. Here are just a few of the ways to overcome the barriers:

1. Get to know the agent through blogging, twitter, or facebook.

It's probably not a good idea to "stalk" agents in cyberland! But commenting regularly on their blogs, joining in their twitter discussion, and retweeting their helpful advice or posts can make a difference if done appropriately.

The internet makes agents more accessible than ever before. When we take the time to get to know them, they in turn can become familiar with our names (which is an important reason why we should be careful of the kind of online image we’re projecting). Of course there's no guarantee agents will remember our names among the hundreds they see every week, but I've heard plenty of stories about writers who were able to get a head start with a query or manuscript request because agents recognized their names through the interactions on blogs and twitter.

2. Developing a strong web presence could perk the attention of an agent.

In addition to getting to know agents on their home turf, we can take our internet presence a step further. When we begin to develop a wide-reaching web presence in our own unique ways, and as our name shows up more and more, we might garner the attention of an agent.

Agents sometimes pop onto writer blogs. I’ve had agent visits from time to time, especially when I’ve written a particularly interesting post or if I’ve discussed something an agent talked about in one of their blog posts. While most agents aren’t out cruising blogging-land for new clients, I have known writers who’ve landed their agents because of their strong web presence.

3. Attend a writer's conference to pitch to agents.

This tends to be one of the primary ways for writers to get their material in front of agents (and editors) who are otherwise closed to queries. It can be a fantastic way to get a foot in the door. It’s also expensive. If we hope to garner interest from an agent through a conference, we should do our research thoroughly. Get to know the agents and what they represent, target the best fit, and make sure our writing is really ready (we should even consider having a freelance editor help us polish the first 15 pages).

4. Connecting with published authors could lead to agent referrals.

Of course no published author wants to feel like someone is befriending them in order to get a referral to their agent. But because authors (like agents) are so accessible, it’s possible to form genuine friendships with them. Sometimes, through those relationships, authors will make recommendations to their agents on behalf of friends.

5. Building relationships within the writing community can lead to new possibilities.

All writers must start as unagented and unpublished. But as we move forward on the journey toward publication, doors will begin to open. We’ll soon find ourselves or our best buddies getting agents. Through the natural progression of our networking and friendships we never know what fresh opportunities will arise for us. That’s why it’s so important to join in and become a part of the writing community. We can all help each other reach for our dreams.

What about you? Have you ever been frustrated by reaching a dead end in querying? When so many top agents are closed to querying, what’s a writer to do? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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