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Securing an Agent

One of the most important decisions you will make as an author is securing representation for both you and your book concept. Most authors tell us they see enormous value in working with a professional book agent. The network, the friendships, the knowledge of the industry, and the connections are all enormously valuable to both you and your future aspirations as an author.

The first is through a literary agent. Literary agents add an enormous amount of credibility and connections for first time authors. Without an agent, it is enormously difficult to break the seal and get through to the people that matter. They are like the captain of the ship, steering you in the direction of your goals. Most talented agents are hyper-connected and can place a quality proposal not only with the right house, but also with the decision makers at that particular house. They are familiar with the market and the demand. You’d be surprised to find out that certain publishers may be on the lookout for a very specific genre of book at any given time. Wiley may currently be looking for non-fiction self-help and not Autobiographies while McGraw Hill may be scouring the planet for a strong Biography but have little interest in a new self-help book.

A literary agent is going to be in constant communication with the market and its pulse, always thinking about where he can place a new proposal. Once accepted by an agent, he can begin the process of connecting your proposal with the best house. In most occasions, agents will submit your proposal to multiple competitors to ensure numerous opportunities to obtain a book deal. If you are lucky, it may even create enough interest to justify multiple offers. Literary agents will generally email or directly connect your proposal with a publisher’s representative. This positions your proposal to rise to the top of the stack and most publishers will give credence and credibility to submissions via a literary agent. That simple connection may be worth its weight in gold.

Literary agents are talented at placing books. Through their network and knowledge, they can create a direct line of communication between both you and a potential publisher.

But not every author requires representation. Some authors submit their proposals directly to a prospective publisher. A direct submission may be the way to go because a potential author may not have the platform, connections, or even the desire to work with an agent. In the age of the Internet, many publishers maintain websites and social media chock full of helpful information. In fact, many of those houses will allow you to directly submit proposals or openly contact their representatives. They may outline a submission process or even offer details on preferred content and style of the proposal.

Finding the right literary agent may seem like an overwhelming experience. But the best place to start is by researching your competitors. Consider other successful books in your particular market. Head to a bookstore or to Amazon.com and peruse through the first few pages of each book. In those first few pages, you will find the author offering an expression of gratitude to his agent. Begin by making a list of those agents. You’ll quickly find the names of the big players in your space that have experience in representing your book’s subject matter.

Once you compile a list of a dozen or so agents, take the time to research them via the Internet. Most agents will have some Internet or website presence that will outline their bio, physical location, and often, preferred topics of representation. There are agents out there that only handle self-help and others that prefer fantasy or fiction. Ensure that the agent to which you are submitting focuses on the type of book you are writing.

Next, sculpt a cover letter or email introducing your concept, your background, and your platform. Attach your well-crafted proposal to your letter and then submit to each of your preferred agents. Remember, agents can also be inundated with submissions, so be patient and plan to follow up or check-in after two to three weeks. That gives your submitting agent time to review your project and determine if it will be a good fit.

In addition to using other published books as resources to locate potential representation, spend time searching the Internet to locate relevant agents to your book topic. We live in a world of accessible information and googling terms like “literary agent self-help” or “literary representation non-fiction” will generate hundreds of results and websites for those agents. You can then visit their websites and research which agents would be a good fit for you and your book. Consider their previous success, body of work, location, and whether or not they are currently accepting submissions. Most agents have contact information listed on their sites, welcoming the opportunity to connect with authors just like you.

The value of a well-respected literary agent cannot be understated. Agents bring both leverage and connections to you and your project. In the hyper-competitive book market, you’ll need to get every leg up on the competition. And generally, the personal cost is low. Most agents charge a small upfront fee of just a few hundred dollars to cover the usual expenses like copies, postage, and travel to meet with potential publishing houses. They then work off of a contingent percentage of your book sales. Most agents charge around 15% of fees you earn-a small price to pay for the value they bring to the process. In fact, most agents will spend time with you reviewing your proposal and offering feedback before it is even submitted. This offers particular value to first-time authors.

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