looking for a literary agent

Mistakes Authors Make When Looking for a Literary Agent

Conventional wisdom says you can’t get a loan until you can prove you don’t need one. The corollary in the publishing world is that you can’t get a literary agent until after you’ve published a blockbuster. That’s why many disheartened authors give up and take an alternate route to seeing their book in print.

But often, authors make one of the following mistakes that limit their chances of finding an agent and getting a contract with a major publisher.


5 Mistakes Authors Make When Looking for a Literary Agent—and How to Avoid Them


Failure to Research

Just like real estate agents, insurance agents, or financial advisors, literary agents specialize. It’s extremely rare to find an agent who can handle all genres equally well.  Some become so specialized that they narrow their clients to those who write only on certain topics such as leadership, finance, or fitness.

Some may handle only a couple genres of fiction—say, romance and mystery—while others may handle “nonfiction—business books and pop psychology.”

For a list of agents, go to the website for the Association of Authors’ Representatives (www.aaronline.org) and find contact information from those who look like a possible fit. Then go to the selected agents’ websites to discover their areas of interest.

Typically, they’ll have one of the following sections that will provide the information you need:

  • “What We Want to See”
  • “Authors We Represent”
  • “Books We’ve Recently Sold”

These sections tell  you exactly what the agent wants to see. And often you’ll find a short section or sentence or two labeled something like this: Topics We Do Not Handle.” Believe them!  Don’t think you’ll be the writer to change their mind.


Failure to Personalize

After you select several agents to query, make your approach personal. Obviously, use their name in your greeting. But also state why you think your book would interest them. Have they sold similar books? Do you have a mutual colleague who has referred you? Did you see their name on the Acknowledgments page of a book on a similar topic?


Dependence on Connections

Publishing is not about who you know. It’s about what and how you write. Some authors are fantastic networkers. So they try to take the tact of talking their book to any and everybody they know in the industry. In any given week in our socially connected and linked world, they’re only two degrees away from a conversation with a publishing house employee, editor, agent, or author.

So when you find yourself in conversation with an agent and ask about their interest, most will say the socially acceptable thing: “Sure, send it along, and we’ll take a look.” The agent’s gatekeeper does take a look. For about 15 seconds. Before deleting it.

Bottom-line: It’s not hard to “make a connection.” The difficult part is gaining interest for your idea or book. And that’s the only thing that counts. Many people can “talk a good book.” Far fewer deliver one.


The Big Gap

Some eager authors query an agent with a great idea and are thrilled to get an immediate response: “Love the idea! Send along your proposal.”

Then crickets from the author.

The author doesn’t have the proposal ready to go. And by the time, he or she pulls together a polished proposal, the agent has either forgotten the idea, lost interest, or signed a competing book.

So think positively. Prepare both your query and proposal upfront. Then when you get a nibble on your query, you can zap your proposal out the door without delay.


Protocol Pitfalls

Agents don’t make money by talking to their authors. They make money by reading manuscripts and pitching editors. So if they get the idea that a prospective author will pester them with calls or bombard their inbox with “What’s the status?” emails, they’ll likely “pass” on a good idea.

Pay attention to what their website says about their response time and how frequently they stay in touch with authors. Roll with their preferences.


Avoid these mistakes, and you’ll be thrilled at how quickly you link up with a literary agent who loves your book and wants to sell it to a major publisher for a great advance!


Learn ways to increase the profile of your writing and help land an agent in Dianna’s upcoming Booher Book Camp.

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