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What Agents Are Really Looking For

It’s frustrating. You’ve worked for months on your book, writing and revising. You’ve worked equally hard on your query and you know you’ve written something amazing. Yet still, no one wants to see it.

This is the frustration of many and leads to this question,

It is discouraging. I do know what my audience is and all that r the other points with a good query letter. I also have researched which agents might be amenable toward my work. However it often seems they are still not willing to give a new author a break unless that person is on the level of a Grisham, King, et.al. I can’t be these people and they can’t be me. So why expect me to be just like them?

The truth is, we don’t. There are fabulous authors out there who have been published, some for years, some with one great book. And every agent, and I assume every author, wants that same sort of success. That doesn’t however mean we want that same book.

Grisham might very well not sell that first book today. That very first book he published doesn’t necessarily fit today’s market. Despite the fact that he has a solid audience, it doesn’t mean that the next person writing that book will. Despite his continued success, it doesn’t mean there’s an audience hungry for legal thrillers in today’s market.

What agents really want are the next big thing and we want an author in our inbox to surprise us with it. That doesn’t mean it can be something out of touch with the market, but we do want something that pushes the boundaries of anything we’ve ever seen before. Just like those big hits once did.

You’re always going to get rejected, but if you want to find the success you’re looking for it means you need to look at your work and quit blaming the messenger. Sure agents get it wrong, but we are readers first and are, like readers looking for that next mind-blowing book. If we aren’t getting it, readers won’t likely get it either.

Like readers, we aren’t looking for more of the same. We are looking for something that we haven’t seen before. Something that grabs us and never lets go. The hangover book. The one we can’t put down when we’re finished and the one we know an editor will feel the same about. That’s not typically the same thing we’ve already read.

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8 comments

  1. I am impressed when I hear an author like Anthony Doerr say “All The Light We Cannot See” was ten years in the making, or similarly, the author of Cold Mountain confess his false starts. i am not impressed by FB writers who seem to write and publish a new book every few months.

    1. There was a agent and editor panel event at York Literary festival this year. Including, screen plays, poetry as well as a range of fiction and non-fiction.
      As you can imagine it was packed and people traveled for miles just to ask them questions.
      The biggest thing that came across from them all, was first books often take many years to finish.
      Or your first manuscript never sees the light of day, it’s the place you learn your craft and should be kept as that, and you can return to it when ever you feel the need.

  2. I’ve published a book in Spain, and I need advice because I would like to reach the English speaking readers and publish it in the US. I have signed an agreement with my publisher in Spain about my author’s rights and I need to find a publisher that would negotiate with them and translate the book. Which are the steps I have to take to make that happen? ¿Can you give me some orientation?

    1. Assuming you licensed translation rights to your publisher this is something they will do for you and have a staff to handle. Keep in mind that different countries have different tastes in literature and not all books are translated. Good luck!

  3. It’s that conundrum of having to write something that grabs an agent, but not knowing what that thing might be or which agent it needs to go to. All you can do is write the best story you can and then hope.

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