This is what every writer who wished to get published, asked themselves at some point in their writing endeavor. It’s a serious question. What is going to make your book stand out amongst hundreds of others? It can be quite overwhelming, and if you think about it too much you might stop yourself from trying all together.
So what do you do? You gotta start somewhere, and if you’re going to do this, then you need to do it right.
Focus on the things you CAN control in your writing. If you take the time to find out what literary agents are really looking for, then you’ve taken half the step in making your manuscript shine in the middle of all the others. Now, don’t confuse what I’m saying. I’m not telling you to go find the latest writing trend out there like boy wizards, vampires, and girl heroes and write about that. By the time you got finished there would be a new trend started anyways. Relish in being an individual and making your writing yours, and yours alone.
What I’m ACTUALLY talking about, is how to present your work to an agent with professionalism and a progressive working knowledge of what writing is all about in the publishing industry. No, agent expects you to know everything. What they DO expect, is for you to put forth an effort in your presentation, have a willingness to learn, and the understanding that it’s a partnership, not a parent-child relationship or even a boss-employee one.
I guess, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. The first step is to catch an agent’s eye. What do they look for?
Here’s a list of some of the qualities that literary agents want to see in a new manuscript. Of course, there are really no set criteria, and agents are going to be going on their gut instincts more often than not. But at the same time, if you keep these things in mind when writing you’ll increase your chances of finding an agent to represent your book:
Killer Query Letter – It’s worth mentioning that agents won’t even see your actual BOOK until you’ve intrigued them with an excellent query letter. This letter needs to convey the uniqueness and marketability of your book in just a few paragraphs. Make sure to spend some serious time and effort on your query letter. You’re a writer, after all! If it doesn’t sparkle, why would an agent assume the prose in your manuscript is any good?
Marketability – Hmmm…What the heck does that mean? Well, will your book sell? To how many people? Maybe you’ve written the definitive volume on the Wizarding World, golden rings, or vampire love. While that may be exactly what a niche press is looking for, it probably doesn’t have the makings of the next Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, or Twilight. (Not yet, anyways.) To attract an agent (whose main task will be to get you a deal with one of the major houses), you’ll need to write a book that can sell, and sell big. The broader the appeal, the better your chances.
Uniqueness – Having broad appeal does not mean you need to pander. It shouldn’t be a cookie-cutter book. You should provide new perspectives on a relatable theme, or twist expectations in pleasing ways. Can you make the familiar new? If you have then, you’ve upped your chances of finding an agent.
Memorable – The people you want to impress most are the hardest people to impress. They have a hundred other manuscripts on their desk right now. At the end of the day, did your query letter stand out? Did you hook them enough with a few paragraphs so they want to read the whole manuscript? And when they read the book, did you leave them with a feeling they can’t shake? Did you make them laugh the loudest? Think the hardest? Uncap their deepest reservoir of sorrow? With so much competition, your book needs to be worth a second thought.
Clear demographic – This is part of marketing, of course, but you want to be sure your book has a target audience and an obvious place on bookstore’s shelves. While you SHOULD be unique, you don’t want your book to be so complex and convoluted that people don’t know what to do with it.
Along these lines, if someone asked you what your book was all about, could you pitch it to them in two sentences or less? Could you convey something about the plot, characters, attitude, AND style, all in a matter of seconds? If so, agents, editors, and publishers will appreciate the effort to keep things succinct! Plus, if your pitch is concise and descriptive, they probably will assume your writing is equally crisp and focused.
Polished Product – Does your book read like a finished work of art? Ask friends to read it and point out any flaws they find (grammar, syntax, character development, continuity, etc.) The less work an agent has to do to prepare your book for the big time, the more they’ll like you.
So, those are my thoughts. What has your experience been like finding an agent? Any other tips? I’d love to hear about them!
Happy Writing Ya’ll!