By: Jeff Herman
To be perfectly honest, this isn't a subject I'm especially motivated to write about just now. However, it's one of the subjects that gets the most hits, by far. That's fair and it makes sense. Now I have to come up with original things to say about it. We'll give it a shot.
If you ask an agent what they're looking for, you may not get an answer that helps you. Not because the agent wants to be unhelpful, but simply because she may not have cognizant awareness about it. Anyone who does something all the time may lose the ability to clearly explain what they do in ways that makes sense to outsiders. This means you may have to ask round-about questions in order to trigger more revealing answers.
What's even more important than what you ask the agent is what you ask yourself. Until you are clear about your own goals and methods, you may not be prepared to understand the answers others give you. A good place to commence is to ask yourself what you think agents want, to which one of the answers ought to be that they want want they can sell, and nothing else. It follows that you want to avoid giving the impression that you are part of the "nothing else", which is a challenge since 98% of unpublished writers are considered to be part of the nothing else. How do you shape what might be perceived about you? By self-assuming you belong to the 2% that agents want. If you are unwilling or unable to make or at least fake that assumption, then why should the agent? It's logic, stupid. You can't be the 2% until you walk it and talk it.
Are you one of the 2%? Wrong question, stupid. Actually, to ask the question is to abort the purpose. Don't ask, just be the 2%. However, it's very possible that you are ahead of your work, which means that your work doesn't qualify for the 2% and will be rejected. No problem, fix your work. It's easier to upgrade your work than your self-projection. A lot of excellent work is ignored because the author acts and feels like a loser. A lot of mediocre work is considered and even published because the author is Mr./Ms. Amazing. Package yourself before you package your work, because it will greatly affect how you present your work, and how others perceive it. If you're seen as successful then what you produce will be presumed to be likewise. What people think you can do is crucial if you want them to pay attention to what you have done.
What do agents what? What they can sell, and they don't want to be bothered by anything else.