In a recent interview with Denise Bukowski, Denise gave writers advice on being taken seriously by a literary agent. Denise has been in book publishing since 1970, so she knows what it takes to get an agent’s attention.
Denise said that she takes almost nothing from the slushpile because most of the manuscripts there are ones that she doesn’t want to read. Also, a blind submission doesn’t tell the agent anything about a writer. The agent doesn’t know if they can sell the writer if they don’t know anything about them. For that reason, many publishers do not accept unsolicited submissions. This raises the question, if agents aren’t accepting submissions, how does one get noticed by one.
Look for events put on by publishers and agents. These events are a great place to meet editors and agents who are always looking to meet talented writers. Some publishing houses will even tour university campuses in search of new talent.
Have successful writers who will vouch for you. A new writer doesn’t need to know a prominent author like J. K. Rowling or Stephen King, but they need someone who had a successful publication and is connected to publishers and agents. When a writer tells their agent that there’s someone they should look at, the agent pays attention. A recommendation means that a writer has worked hard to make their writing known and is good enough for a published author to support them.
Make your work visible. A writer’s work should appear in a variety of publications, both in print and online. While getting published in Canadian literary magazines is nice, Denise encourages writers to “take their eyes off the ground and look up.” She says writers are much more likely to succeed if they get their work published in American literary magazines. It doesn’t have to be magazines like The New Yorker or The Atlantic. According to Denise, even smaller American literary magazines will get more attention than the big Canadian ones.
Connect with writers at readings, festivals, and other events. An agent is more likely to take on a writer who is already a part of their community. If a writer is already taking their work out to readers, agents will take that as a sign that they should take a writer seriously.
Make sure you’re the right fit for an agent. Before a writer approaches an agent, they should research the agent’s author list to see who the agent already works with and to make sure that the writer’s work fits within the genre that the agent sells. Denise said that she receives manuscripts for genres she doesn’t specialize in all the time; those manuscripts don’t even get looked at. A writer is better off focusing their efforts on agencies that work within their genre and making sure they connect with those people.
Invite the agent’s writers to literary events. That can mean a reading group, a writing group, or asking the author to judge a competition or be a guest lecturer. Agents will notice the writers who work with their authors. Writers shouldn’t limit themselves to one agency. They should connect with writers from multiple agencies to expand their network and increase their likelihood of being noticed by an agent.
Connect with agents and writers online. These days everyone, including literary agents, is on social media. Writers should connect with those they want to work with online. Join Facebook groups, connect on Twitter, and read an agency’s blog posts. A writer should make themselves known to agents, publishers, and the writing community as a whole. Being involved with the writing community will help a writer make a name for themselves. When a writer becomes part of the community, it shows agents that they are serious about their writing and their commitment to their craft.
Make yourself sellable. As Denise said, it isn’t good enough to just be good at writing. Writers need to connect with the community and be able to sell themselves to their audience. Being a good writer is just the tip of the iceberg. Writers have to remember that getting published is a business, and people need to make money. An agent will only take on a writer they believe they can sell. That means writers have to have a presence within their community, credibility, and exceptionally well-written work.
Buy the books. Writers should buy the books from their desired agent’s author list. The only way to keep the literary community alive is to support it. As mentioned before, publication is a business, and it can only keep going if people buy books. Buying an agent’s books will also show interest in the work that they put out. If a writer isn’t interested in the books an agent is selling, that agent isn’t right for them.