I wrote a book. It sucked. I wrote nine more books. They sucked, too. Meanwhile, I read every single thing I could find on publishing and writing, went to conferences, joined professional organizations, hooked up with fellow writers in critique groups, and didn’t give up. Then I wrote one more book.
—Beth Revis, NY Times bestselling author of the Across the Universe series
That, in a nutshell, is how you impress an agent. Let’s break it down:
- Act like a writer. That is, write. Write a lot. Keep on writing. Present yourself to agents, editors, and the world at large as a writer dedicated to the craft of writing, a writer who writes, day in and day out, through rejection and discouragement, to The End. Over and over again. Too many people who pitch their work to me have 1) not actually written very much, and 2) not actually read very much.
- Know your genre. I am always astonished by the writers who pitch me a crime novel, and then when I ask who their favorite crime novelists are, they proclaim to me, with some pride, that they never read crime novels. “But I saw Gone Girl,” said one of these writers (who shall remain nameless) to me recently, “and I knew I could write something just like that.” The idea that someone who doesn’t read crime fiction could pound out a novel just like one that sold 8 million copies in hardcover is not only clueless, it’s arrogant. And no agent I know, myself included, is looking for clueless and/or arrogant clients.
- Be part of a community of readers and writers. In short, this means joining your genre association and other reader and writer organizations, and participating in their activities. This community of readers and writers is critical to your career at every stage. In the beginning, you’re meeting fellow writers and potential readers and availing yourself of the networking and educational resources these organizations provide for their members—all of which can help establish you as the writer you want to be, by honing your craft, meeting agents and editors, and getting you published. Besides, once you’ve gotten an agent and that agent is selling your work, you must learn to be an author as well as a writer. This means calling upon that community of readers and writers to help you promote and market your work. Agents know how important being part of the reading and writing community is to both building and sustaining a writer’s career—and they’re impressed by writers who understand that.
- Write, revise, repeat. If there is a secret to good writing, this is it. It’s just that simple—and that difficult. Many of the writers I meet are very resistant to editing of any kind—be it self-editing or revision suggestions made by professionals such as agents, acquisitions editors, publishing execs, etc. Even once you have won a book contract, the revising goes on and on and on, until that story sings. Resistance is futile, and those who resist shoot themselves in the foot every time.
- Play nice. Most agents are nice people—myself included—and we want to work with nice people. At the very least, we want to work with professionals. So, play the part of a professional writer, even a nice writer, and you’re far more likely to be welcomed into the publishing community. Like any other industry, it’s a business built on relationships. You want your relationships with your agent and editor and publishing professionals and fellow writers to be solid, built on mutual respect and admiration.
When you approach an agent, whether in person or online or via a query letter, keep these pointers in mind. And let us know how it goes on our facebook page.