Tuesday, April 21, 2009

What do agents look for?

This question comes up a lot when I got to conference. What is it that agents are really looking for with a submission. I think it is important to answer this question in two parts. The first is the submission and the second part is the writer. As strange as this may sound, when an agent is looking at a new writer, we really need to find someone we can work with and someone that wants to work with us. The problem is that we as agents base this entire relationship off of the piece of writing that is sent to us through the normal submission process. Let me break this down into the two parts - the submission and the writer:

This one is pretty simple. We need to find a story that is not only marketable but one that we are passionate about. You need to have both in a story for the agent to want to pursue the project. Let's begin with the marketability.

I don't care how good the writing is, if the story is not something we can sell, then what is the point of acquiring it. I have read a lot of great pieces of writing, but if the market is not ready for it now, then there is simply nothing we can do about it. Now, sometimes it is a matter of the market in general not being open to the idea, or it could simply be the agent doesn't have the connections at this moment to support the project.

We can then start looking at all of the other elements of the story. The quality of the writing, the genre, the premise and so forth.

The submission must also demonstrate a high concept that makes it unique to the market. Again, it doesn't matter how well the writer has crafted the story, if it is just like all of the other writing out there right now, then why acquire something like this. We already have the established writers doing this. I am seeing a lot of this now with people trying to be another Stephanie Myers. Hey, it just ain't going to happen.

The writer is the second element of puzzle. In many ways, this is going to even link to the writing.

After an agent has had a chance to determine if he or she likes the writing, then it is on to the writer. Remember, this is someone we will want to work with. Again, it doesn't matter how good the writing is, if the writer is someone not willing to grow as a writer, pull their share of the work, or grow, then what is the point of signing the person.

For myself, I look for someone that is in it for the long haul. Unless it is a rare circumstance, we won't be making a lot of money from you until many books down the line.

We also want to find someone that is a professional. This means you write like one, you act like one and you think like one. I might be representing your writing to publishers but you are representing the agency when you are out there in public.

I know I have only glossed over these ideas but it should get you thinking. The line I hear a lot of writers say on the loops, that if your writing is good, then someone will sign you is a bunch a garbage. There are some pretty good writers out there that need to work on the professional side of things if they wish to see their career launch, (or even continue).


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