Despite the availability of free print-on-demand self-publishing services, traditional publishing remains the holy grail for many aspiring authors (me included). It can be frustrating for writers to find a foothold in a hugely competitive market. Publishers want something that will sell, and often they don’t have time to sift through massive slush piles. Enter the agent. The big players in publishing rely heavily on agent recommendations to build their stable of authors. I know some writers resent the gatekeeping aspect of agentship, as, on the surface, it adds another step to the process, another barrier between you and your dream editor and a middleman who’ll want to be paid. But, in reality, a good agent will actually open that gate. So, how do you secure someone who will help you hone and endorse your story? I’ve been trying to work it out, but, honestly, I don’t actually know because I haven’t managed it yet. So it would make sense to ask an actual agent.
Enter Hope Bolinger, agent and author (so she’s ideally placed to speak about both sides of the process).
Hope’s novel, Blaze, is out in a matter of days, but she kindly agreed to take time away from her promo schedule to share some top tips for securing an agent.
Everything from here on in is Hope.
An agent’s top tips for securing an agent.
- Meet Them at a Conference
An agent loves it when she can put a name to a face. Most likely, an agent will take a longer look at your manuscript or send a personal reply if they know you took the time to go out of your way to meet them.
- Work on Platform
As much as possible. Unfortunately, in the publishing world now, you have to have a significant presence for a publisher to take a chance on you. Because of this, agents can only take on those who publishers will not reject right away simply because they don’t have enough followers.
- Be Realistic
I would love for Disney to pick up my book. But I don’t know how many arsonist boarding school dramas they would do. The book isn’t exactly family-friendly.
Authors who tell me that their book is the next Harry Potter or will get gobbled up by a big-name studio (unless they have major connections with that studio) aren’t thinking of writing as a business. The more realistically you can look at your book, the more realistically an agent will as well.
- Do NOT Stalk Them
Or, please, do it in secret.
It’s good to research your agent beforehand. But if you like every tweet since 2016, they’ll know you dug a little too deep. Also, if you quote their blog back to them in the query, it doesn’t get you bonus points. Sorry.
- Have Three (or more) Solid Comp. Titles
Know three books that have sold in the past ten years that your book is comparable to.
Tips for these:
- Traditionally published books
- More B-list than A-list (don’t just have Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, and Children’s of Blood and Bone on there)
- In your genre (it’s great to have a book that sold well like But if it’s a children’s book, you probably don’t want to compare your book with Stephen King)
- Please try not to insult them
We have thick skin, but here are some examples of comments I’ve heard over email or in person
- “You’re way too young to know all of this.”
- “I see you’re a smaller agency, so I thought I would give you a chance to look at this before querying a larger one.”
- “Agents are the bane of the publishing world. Oh, by the way, here’s my manuscript.”
- Be Honest About Your Publishing History
If you’ve previously self-published, no worries. Some agents may reject you because of that, but better to be honest upfront, then for them to do a Google search and find out differently. We do search the author and have found people who lied about self-published titles, platform numbers, etc.
- Be Proud About Your Platform
I’ve had authors shyly tell me, “Oh, my platform isn’t much.” And then I see they have a solid 2,000+ followers on Twitter.
I think authors like to tell me this to set my expectations low, but honestly, I’d rather you own it. Authors have to step out in front of crowds for speaking engagements, talk on podcasts, and do a lot of scary phone calls. We’d rather you be confident than show a false humility.
- But again, be realistic
If you say, “I have a 5,000+ platform, so I’m hot stuff,” I will kindly mention that good writing has to play a factor in the submissions process as well. Followers are great, but I need to fall in love with the story.
- Stick it Out
Rejection sucks. As someone who has received hundreds (if not thousands at this point) of rejections, I get it. And it never gets easier.
Keep at it. I have clients who queried for six years before landing an agent. Some, longer. Do not give up. Ever.
Hopefully (pun intended), this will help a few more authors launch a relationship that could help them make that difficult break into traditional publishing. Good luck!
Notes: Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University’s professional writing program. More than 300 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer’s Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column “Hope’s Hacks,” tips and tricks to avoid writer’s block, reaches 2,700+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young’s blog, which receives 63,000+ monthly hits. She is excited for her modern-day Daniel “Blaze” to come out with IlluminateYA (an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas). She enjoys all things theater, cats, and fire.
Blaze is available to preorder here, but hurry, it launches on June 3.