4 Ways to Maximize Your Ability to get the Literary Agent You Want

By: Jeff Herman

1. Don’t start off by asking what the agent can do for you. You’re a noncitizen until the agent has reason to believe that you may belong to that exclusive 2 percent club the agent wants to represent. It’s a mistake to expect the agent to do anything to sell herself to you during that initial contact. You must first persuade her that you’re someone who’s going to make good money for her business. Once you’ve accomplished that, and the agent offers you representation, you’re entitled to have the agent sell herself to you.

2. Act like a business. As you’re urged elsewhere in this book, get yourself a professional letterhead and state-of-the-art office equipment. While rarely fatal, cheap paper and poor-looking type will do nothing to help you—and in this business you need all the help you can give yourself.

Virtually anyone—especially someone intellectually arrogant—is apt to be strongly affected on a subliminal level by a product’s packaging. People pay for the sizzle, not the steak. There is a reason why American companies spend billions packaging, naming, and advertising such seemingly simple products as soap. We would all save money if every bar of soap were put into a plain paper box and just labeled “Soap.” In fact, the no-frills section does sell soap that way—for a lot less. But few people choose to buy it that way. Understand this human principle, without judging it, and use it when packaging yourself.

3. Learn industry protocol. I never insist that people follow all the rules. As Thomas Jefferson wisely suggested, a revolution every so often can be a good thing. But you should at least know the rules before you break them—or before you do anything.

For instance: Most agents say they don’t like cold calls. I can’t say I blame them. If my rejection rate is 98 percent, I’m not going to be enthusiastic about having my ear talked off by someone who is more than likely part of that 98 percent. Just like you, agents want to use their time as productively as possible. Too often, cold calls are verbal junk mail. This is especially true if you are a writer selling fiction; your hard copy is the foot you want to get through the door.

Speaking for myself, most cold calls have a neutral effect on me (a few turn me off, and a few rouse my enthusiasm). I try to be courteous, because that’s how I would want to be treated. I will allow the caller to say whatever he wants for about one minute before I take over to find out what, if anything, the person has in the way of hard copy. If he has some, I invite him to send it with an SASE. If he doesn’t have any, I advise him to write some and then send it. Usually, I don’t remember much about what he said on the phone; I may not even remember that he called. But that doesn’t matter; it’s the hard copy that concerns me at first. This is the way it works with most agents. We produce books, not talk.

An agent’s time is an agent’s money (and therefore his clients’ money). So don’t expect any quality access until the agent has reason to believe you’re a potential 2 percenter. If you’re the CEO of General Motors, for instance, and you want to write a book, then all you need to do is call the agent(s) of your choice and identify yourself; red carpets will quickly appear. But the vast majority of writers have to learn and follow the more formalized procedures.
4. As explained elsewhere in this book, view the query letter as a sales brochure. The best ones are rarely more than 11⁄2–2 pages long and state their case as briefly and efficiently as possible.

Click the link to Purchase a copy of Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents

Remember to follow us on Twitter and Like us on Facebook to be the first to learn about new releases, see behind-the-scenes at BP Wiz headquarters, and stay on top of the latest news from the publishing world!

No comments: