Networking with Literary Agents: Let’s Build a Relationship!

Posted: February 3, 2012 in On Writing
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Literary Agent Andrea Hurst recently did a workshop for Oregon Writer's Colony and will attend OWC's April Spring Conference of 50 people.

When I go to writer’s conferences I see hundreds of writers willing to pay tons of money to get face-time with an agent. Well, not tons, but some will pay $20-$30 for 10 minutes to pitch their book. I’ve seen some writers buy 10 or more such opportunities at a writer’s conference.

But is this money well spent? If it gets you a book deal, maybe. But there are other more expedient and cheaper ways. I think most writers go the purchase and agent for 10 minute route because they are . . . writers. They are not marketing genius’s or extroverts. By nature many writers are introverts, pounding away at their keyboards for hours a day, perfecting their perfect manuscript.

When they finish their books, this whole new world opens up, consisting of finding agents, finding publishers, marketing their book–even before they have an agent or publisher– setting up web pages, tweeting, and otherwise building an audience for their work.

I think there is a better way to find an agent. It’s called relationship building. There are several ways to build a relationship with an agent.

  • Try to meet an agent away from the pitch tables at a conference. I once bought a drink for an agent after hours in a bar. I was with a friend and we invited her to sit with us. I danced with one at a mixer. Agents are human too. They are open to meeting writers. That’s why they attend the conferences. It’s okay to pitch your book idea to them in a bar, down a hallway, or anywhere but the bathroom.  Just ask first. I’ve never been turned down and it has saved me tons of money.
  • Watch for workshops featuring agents. Some agents will conduct a workshop where they will review 10-30 pages of your manuscript and give you feedback.  The setting is usually small (10-15 people) and you spend a day or so receiving valuable feedback and getting to know the agent. Ask for the agent’s card and if it would be okay to send your manuscript to them upon completion. Remember, you may need to revise after the workshop. Please don’t send them your first draft. Revise, Revise, Revise.
  • Follow an agent’s blog. More agents are doing blogs these days as a way of giving back and likely to meet new writers. Subscribe to their blogs and read them in your email. If you can comment on their blog, do so. It’s the beginning of establishing a relationship. Also, check their website and see what types of books they represent. Make sure you are following agents who would represent your work. Many offer excellent resources for writers. I’ve followed an agent who represented Christian books because her advice is so good. Last month she announced she is working for a different literary agency and now represents mysteries (my genre).  When it comes time to find an agent, you can query with confidence, knowing you can mention you have followed their blog, know some of the authors they represent, and have commented on their posts. But make sure you’ve done your homework about them. Follow their submission guidelines carefully and polish your manuscript. You only get one chance at making a good impression with your book and how you present it.
  • Volunteer for writing organizations and meet people who can refer you to an agent or write a blurb for your book. Introduce yourself as a volunteer to an agent. Agents respect people who attend conferences–it shows their commitment–and they also respect people who volunteer in the writing community.
  • Write a query letter and get asked to send 30 pages or a manuscript. If you are rejected upon sending part of your manuscript, send a thank you note or email and ask if you can submit again on a future project. This can get you a “yes” and maybe a personal note about your work, which is always encouraging. and can be very useful in researching agents. Query Shark offers a website where you can post query letters and receive suggestions from an agent. However, if you don’t follow the Shark’s guidelines, your query could wind up in the shark pool for “what not to do in a query” and read by all (It would have to be very bad or obnoxious).

The key is to start building relationships now. You can do it over time while you are writing your book. Follow a blog, volunteer at a writer’s organization, attend an agent workshop, send a query.  Save your hard-earned money to buy paper, ink, or that web page agents will say you need.

For info on Oregon Writer’s Colony

  1. Helen Wand says:

    As usual your advice is brilliant. Thanks Don!

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