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The Process of Getting a Literary Agent

Your Writing Coach

People ask me about the process of getting a literary agent. You probably know you need to submit a query (or meet an agent who says, “Yes, I want to see your proposal”), then submit your book proposal (a significant document often 50-80 pages), then wait.

Dr. Randy Kamen Gredinger
Dr. Randy Kamen Gredinger shares her experience in finding a literary agent and writing her book

But what’s it like from the inside? I asked Dr. Randy Kamen-Gredinger to share her experience of finding an agent. And some of the things her agent asked for in the process before signing.

During a course at Harvard Medical School on Writing and Publishing Creative Non-Fiction Books, surrounded by colleagues interested in learning the ins and outs of writing  books and getting them published, Randy says she, “felt confident I, too, had a book in me.” She decided her book would focus on relationships.

When Randy started in my book writing course, she “hardly knew how to use a computer” by her own admission. As a psychologist with a very busy private practice, she didn’t really need to use a computer much beyond checking e-mails and Internet searches.

Entering the world of the aspiring author meant learning many new skills–not just how to structure a book and write in a compelling way. Randy quickly became skilled on her Mac, began organizing material collected throughout her career as a therapist,  and created keynote addresses on a variety of topics that related to her book.

Randy held a focus group to help find a title for her book
Randy held a focus group to help find a title for her book

After making headway on the book, Randy wrote her proposal. Literary agent Jeanne Fredericks liked the book and saw its potential. Still she wanted to see several revisions to the proposal and a more compelling title. At a gathering of twenty-five women friends in Randy’s living room, led be a trained branding expert and facilitator, they came up with the title What Women Need: The 12 Keys to Gaining Balance and Happiness.

Jeanne requested an edited video clip of one of Randy’s speaking engagements and four chapters of her book.  Nine months from the time of the initial submission, Jeanne accepted the proposal and formally became her agent.

Was it time to submit the book to publishers? No. Her agent advised her to continue building her platform and become a “thought leader” in her field as she continued to write her book. She developed a presence on Facebook and Twitter, gave an occasional radio interview and returned to the lecture circuit after a many year hiatus. (At one point she had shared the lecture platform with greats like Dr. Herbert Benson, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Joan Borysenko).

With the help of a dear friend and savvy internet marketer, Alan Bergstein, Randy built a new website and blog.

Response to this site about a wide range of women’s issues far exceeded expectations. Jeanne thinks the site will be an important feature in the selling and success of What Women Need.

Randy admits, “The process of writing my book became a much bigger deal than I ever imagined. It’s been an amazing, and sometimes frustrating, journey. Building my platform with speaking engagements, writing for various publications, building my website and blog, creating videos for YouTube (and next webinars) continues to bring all kinds of wonderful and unexpected surprises. The deeper I go down this path the more compelling it becomes.

“Developing the website is especially fulfilling because it all of the other elements. Though still in its infancy has become the umbrella of all the other activities going on in my professional world. It continues to evolve.

“As a psychologist I have been somewhat constrained by the confidential component of my work. Expanding my horizons as a speaker, writer and coach have given me a venue for reaching a much greater audience and making a difference on a larger scale.”

While it may seem a bit frustrating for aspiring authors to do so much up front work, the platform building and advance preparation means that, when your book comes out, you’ll have pent up demand for your book and you won’t be rushing to catch up and create an audience from nothing.  Can’t you just see those books flying off bookshelves and virtual shelves?

Lisa Tener

Lisa Tener is an award-winning book writing coach who assists writers in all aspects of the writing process—from writing a book proposal and getting published to finding one’s creative voice. Her clients have appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, CBS Early Show, The Montel Williams Show, CNN, Fox News, New Morning and much more. They blog on sites like The Huffington Post, Psychology Today and WebMD.

Reader Interactions


  1. Victoria says

    An interesting story about Randy’s experience, but it left me with more questions than answers. How did she decide on Jeanne Fredericks as a potential agent? How did she write her query and proposal in a way that got the agent’s interest? The title of this blog post is “The Process of Getting a Literary Agent”, but perhaps it should have been titled “The Process AFTER Getting a Literary Agent.”

    • lisatener says

      Good point, Victoria. Sometimes I come up with a title and the subject changes a bit and I forget to re-assess!
      I’ve asked Randy to comment and answer your questions. I do know that Randy attended the Harvard Medical School Publishing Course and met her agent at that course. The course offers a great opportunity to meet top literary agents, get feedback on your book idea and also get a sense of whom you might want to work with. I’m sure Randy will add more insights to your question when she comments.

  2. Randy Kamen Gredinger says

    Hi Victoria,
    Sorry it’s taken me so long to respond to your comment. First of all I never wrote a query because I met Jeanne Fredericks at the Harvard Medical School publishing and writing course. I attended one of her writing seminars. She critiqued a chapter I had written. After the seminar I asked her if this might be something she would be interested in representing. Her response was encouraging, although I knew I still had a long way to go in terms of writing the proposal. Also, as I mentioned in the article I needed to prove to her that I could speak publicly and become a ‘thought leader’. All of this has taken a considerable amount of time and has been quite a journey. Also, during that course I met other agents, but I liked Jeanne’s style and energy and decided that she was the person I wanted to work with. I then tailored my proposal and the evolution of my book accordingly, although always maintaining my integrity philosophically.

    • lisatener says

      Yes. You can start by visiting agents’ blogs and asking relevant questions or making astute comments. I wouldn’t overdo it, but as you become a part of their community and interact, they are more likely to check out your blog and get to know you.

  3. julie robinson says

    Thanks, Lisa, for publishing such helpful information. This is the first post I’ve read on your blog, and I cannot wait to read more.

    I’m writing a memoir-based book right now on dating and relationships, and (for now) I’ve decided to put my energy into developing my platform by posting regularly to my blog.

    Any ideas about how to know when you are “popular” enough to begin sending queries to the agents I’ve researched? I’m new to the scene and am not sure how long I should wait before I get those queries in the mail.

    Thank you!

    • lisatener says

      Congratulations on your blog, Julie–I checked it out and love your humorous tone.

      First, don’t send a query until your book proposal is 100% ready to go, so that if they say, “yes,” you can send right away.

      I would work on a multi-pronged platform approach, things that work with your blog synergistically–using social media to link to your blog. I would also consider other list building endeavors like joint ventures and affiliate programs. I have also sent some e-mails to agents asking for ranges of readers that would indicate a big enough platform. I will let you know when I hear back.

  4. Julie Robinson says

    Thank you so much, Lisa, for the helpful advice. I’ve been busy interviewing relationship experts and working at widening my blog’s base through social media. I will get on that book proposal right away–again the advice from your blog and website will be invaluable. Looking forward to learning those “magic numbers” agents look for from first time writers. In the meantime, I have a lot of work to do.

  5. lisatener says

    Hi Julie,
    While no agents would provide a magic number, because it varies so much depending on the size of market, type of book and more, I did have a very informative chat with Regina Brooks of Serendipity Literary Agency about advice (including some advice specific to relationship books). She provided such a wealth of advice that I took copious notes and am planning a blog post about her advice soon (followed by an interview we’re setting up. Stay tuned.

  6. Eliana GIlad says

    Thanks alot for your informative blog. I found through google search on agents – I have a completed proposal of Miriam’s Secret – Midwiving the Birth of Your Inner Transformation

  7. Eliana GIlad says

    Oops, got cut off… and I am learning to grow the platform for healing music and voice, which I spent the last six years growing before completing the book proposal. I am looking forward to reading the agents feedback on this blog.

    • lisatener says

      Hi Eliana,
      Congratulations on completing your proposal and growing your platform. Best of luck with it. There’s a good book that would be helpful to you in your agent and publisher search, although it’s from 2002: Spiritual Writing: From Inspiration to Publication by Deborah Hermann and Cynthia Black (a literary agent and an acquisitions editor/publisher).
      Did you have a specific question for Regina?

  8. Lisa Tener says

    [response to post that has been deleted] I am so happy to hear that my blog and newsletter have been a strong support to your book-writing. To get an agent, you need a book proposal and also to identify potential publishers (Spanish language publishers in this case). For the proposal, I recommend identifying published based on Writer’s Market 2015 and books that are similar to yours in some way. Then I would also purchase How to Write a Book Proposal by Michael Larsen. Publishers will expect that you are already reaching your audience and have people “waiting” for this book to buy it. If not, I suggest you work on developing an online following or self publish. I do not know which agents would be a good match for this book, but the strategies I suggest above will help you.

  9. Lisa Tener says

    Hi Luis,
    That is not how one finds an agent. Try and also writers market–you can look at it at the library.
    As I mentioned before also look for who agented similar books. It takes work and research to find appropriate agents. You waste your time and theirs if you just contact any old agent.

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