Guidance on how to approach a Literary Agent by Vanessa Grossett

I mostly receive emails or direct messages – concerning representation – via my social media network. I know that most of the authors, who inquire of my services, haven’t been to the website, as they ask me questions that are already there. Nevertheless, I do respond to their queries, as I think it is unpleasant to ignore people without good reason.

Not every agent will do this, however, and there are methods they would like every potential client to adhere to, so here are some tips for potential authors to follow when approaching a literary agent, and the same guidance can be applied when approaching publishers.

Check the submission guidelines carefully, and submit what they ask for. When I was new to this business, a publisher wrote to me stating they wouldn’t read my submission because I hadn’t completed the book proposal.

I know writing queries and doing a book proposal can be very long-winded, especially when you might still get turned down. However an agent or publisher is looking to see if someone can follow instructions and guidance. For an agent, someone who can follow instructions or guidance will be easy to work with. It also shows them you take pride in your work and presentations, and that you are willing to put in time and effort to succeed in your project.

If you don’t know how to write a book proposal, please do your research; there is plenty of information available on how to write one. As you grow in this business, you will get more confident in your queries and, if you become successful, you may get agents or publishers approaching you but, for now, follow the submission guidelines carefully.

Check the clientele they are looking for. Some agents do not take on unknown authors. If you see ‘No unsolicited manuscripts’ on an agent’s website then, as a new unknown author, it is best to go elsewhere.

Now don’t take this personally at all. Agents’ wages are mainly commission-based, and with unknown authors it takes time to build up their readership – time that some agents don’t have, especially if there are staff and offices to pay for. Also, publishers want high sales, as they are investing into the project, especially the large publishing houses.

Unless someone on their already existing clientele has referred you to them, it is best that you do not send a submission. Speaking from experience, you will be wasting your time!

There are agents and publishers who do take on unknown authors, however, so do your research and submit to the ones that do. Always check the clientele they are looking for, as you will also want an agent who is suitable for you.

Do not come across as arrogant or desperate. How I look at arrogance, compared to someone else, may be different, but I see it as someone who is overly confident. It’s good to have confidence in your work and in yourself, but it has to be balanced with humility.

I once had a potential client say to me: “This book and I will take your agency to the next level. It would be a very foolish thing to turn it down.” Well, firstly, I rely on God to take any ventures I am doing to the next level (!) and, in my heart, I knew that working with this person would not have been the best decision; they wouldn’t have listened to advice, and we wouldn’t have worked as a team. Even if an agent or publisher has made a bad decision in turning down your work, don’t tell them – show them. Action speaks volumes.

On the flip side, I have turned down authors, who sounded too desperate. One wrote back to me requesting that I reconsider; another said the project was “everything I am looking for”, and then cc’d me in a mass email promoting their book. This is extremely off-putting, as I never asked to be included in any email. It also shows me that these authors don’t possess the resilient ‘thick skin’ they need. People are going to say ‘No’. Publishers have turned me down and they’ve turned my clients down, but that doesn’t put me off. I know God will always connect me with the right publishers and clients – and He always has. Not everyone is going to be a right connection, so the ‘No’ could be a blessing.

To conclude: follow instructions, do your research on the clientele the agent is looking for, and be you. Who and what God has for you is for you, and nobody can take that away.

With love


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