Ready to Write That Book? Here’s How You Land a Literary Agent
By: Dawn Michelle Hardy
Like many people, finding my professional passion required a bit of trial and error. After a promising stint in visual merchandising, I switched career tracks and found myself working with authors. I literally started from the bottom—I had a part-time gig assisting a best-selling author—now I’m here. I’m a full-time publicist, a literary agent and book consultant. I love my career, especially during April-October, because it’s the industry’s peak season.
Summertime is when everything goes down in the book industry. Authors are busy attending writing conferences, tours, and appearances at large scale gatherings like Essence Music Festival, BookCon, LA Times Book Festival and the Brooklyn Book Festival, which means agents and publicists are running around too. I offer two services. As an agent with Serendipity Literary Agency, I champion for writers to receive publishing deals.
Since publicity is such and integral part of project’s success, I use my PR agency, Dream Relations PR & Literary Consulting to support authors’ needs, whether they’re in a publishing house or self-published. Both roles have their challenges. While self-publishing has made producing a book more achievable, it doesn’t guarantee you will make money, receive media coverage or have distribution outside of Amazon. On the flip side, getting a book deal isn’t as easy as it may seem, particularly if you’re not famous. As an agent and publicist, my job is to maximize opportunities for clients who are pursuing the same dream in different ways. It’s not always easy, but I do enjoy it.
Managing and monetizing a book as a self-publishing author is requires a huge investment of time and money, which is why many writers prefer to receive a traditional publishing deal. Signing with a publishing house means you get an impressive advance; an in-house publicist; and access to a marketing and sales team to promote and place the title. Even more, you get a book editor who helps develop your voice to give you that competitive edge.
So why do you need an agent? Literary agents are the gatekeepers between authors and publishing houses. Acquisition editors at publishing companies rely on literary agents to vet and present quality content that match the mandates and interest of what the publisher is looking to add to their catalog. If you’re interested in securing a book deal, landing a dope literary agent is your first step.
Here’s how you get ready.
1. Create a Platform. As an agent I look for writers who have strong visibility. A great example of this is “I am Judging You” author Luvvie Ayaji. For years she sounded off on all things pop-culture, social justice and red shoe related on her blog. Tens of thousands of readers loved her blog—and her agent was one of her top fans. An author’s platform is his or her first calling card for agents. An entertaining podcast or blog, a popular TED Talk, or repeat appearances on television are often ways that various talents have come into view.
2. Strong Creative Content. Whether you are writing an intense crime thriller or an informative and humorous call to action, your book needs to be something that people will want to read. Publishing is a business. Editors and agents want to represent content that the masses will find intriguing enough to purchase.
3. Exceptional Writing. Strong writing and a voice that resonates with the desired readership are important. In 2012 a colleague shared a Washington Post article about Allen Iverson on my Facebook page. The article concluded with the implication that Iverson a 16-time NBA All-star was broke. As a huge basketball fan, I was shocked. I reached out to the columnist Kent Babb, shared I loved his reporting, offered representation and a book idea. Kent’s writing was stellar and “Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Unthinkable Fall of Allen Iverson” was one of the best sports books of 2016.
4. Flexibility and Vision. Book proposals and manuscripts (drafts) require extensive tweaking before an agent can submit content to editors. As a writer you have to trust your agent’s judgment and be willing to take feedback and execute accordingly. Many books go through several rounds of editing—and lots of changes for marketability. Successful published authors are open to edits that will improve their craft.
Landing a literary agent is a competitive process. It comes down to the chemistry between you and the agent; the agent’s capabilities to sell a book in the genre you are writing; and how much work you’re willing to put in to win. The agent and author relationship is a partnership. The goal is to find a publisher who wants to do business with you both. To find agents for your work, check out Association of Authors Representatives, Manuscript Wish List, Poets & Writers, Writers Digest and don’t underestimate the power of hashtags ( #AskAgent and #Ten Queries) on Twitter.
I signed my first client from a social media conversation. Be forewarned, rejection is part of the journey so stay the course and happy writing.
Dawn Michelle Hardy is the Founder and Lead Consultant at Dream Relations PR & Literary Consulting Agency. She describes the work she does as being "a talent manager for creative storytellers across multiple platforms". www.dreamrelationsPR.com