The first time I attended a writers’ conference, the speaker incidentally introduced the one active agent who was attending the conference. As we walked out of the room, I followed a group of women to a table in the nearby café where I suddenly found myself sitting at the table with this one agent. Less than five minutes later everyone else at the table got up to go to bed. How good can it get?
That agent informed me outright that she had little interest in the topic of my book (transforming anger), but she was happy to offer advice and her advice was some of the best I’ve ever received: “Read Larson’s book and apply his techniques religiously.” She actually requires her authors to submit book proposals in Larson’s format.
2. Attend a “Meet the Agents” event through the International Women’s Writing Guild.
Men, women and children—this means you. Yes, the “W” word may be a bit intimidating for you men, but I have never been to a forum with more agents in one room offering you the opportunity to pitch your work to them. Avoid the slush pile and start here now. The meetings are in NY, but well worth the trip. Of course, other writers’ conferences can also be a great resource for meeting agents, particularly if you write for a niche such as children’s books.
Ask everyone you know if they know an agent or publisher. Tell everyone about your book project. You never know who has the contact that will land you the agent or publisher of your dreams. Get to know other writers—do favors for them when you can. Suggest your friend’s book for a radio talk show; offer to edit or provide feedback on someone’s writing. Then, when you’re looking for help, they’ll be happy to return the favor.
4. Edit, edit, edit.
Get your proposal in the best possible shape before sending it out. Misspellings, grammatical errors, or awkward sentences can land your proposal in the can before the agent finishes reading page one.
5. Consider collaboration.
Say you have a great idea, but you’re not the expert in this field. Perhaps you have no credentials in the field whatsoever, but you’re convinced you have something to say, maybe even because you lack the credentials. Have no fear. Find someone with credentials and convince them to work with you. Often the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. If your idea is interesting and you have something to offer in the project (good research, writing skills, a creative way of thinking about things) you may be surprised at how interested a seasoned expert may be. Hey, it worked for me.
6. Get experience.
If you’ve chosen to write about a field that’s new to you, work at making yourself an expert before submitting your proposal. Write articles on your subject. Interview experts in this field. Offer to do some volunteer work for someone known in the field. Start a website on the subject. Make yourself into someone who has the credentials.
7. Create a Platform for yourself.
We live in the era of platform. Most publishers are looking for platform when they choose their authors. Platform is how you’re going to reach your audience—website, speaking engagements, training, your own radio or TV show, a regular newspaper column, etc. This can be daunting, but it’s a huge plus if you can do it. Work your way up to it. Start writing a column for a local paper, or web-based newsletter. Or join toastmasters and begin to schedule speaking engagements about your topic.
One way to break in is to develop a well-visited website. Make sure you have newsy information and update your site regularly so that people will want to return. Find a niche to stand out and attract a targeted audience. For example, if you’re writing about depression, but there are many depression websites, write about teenage depression or offer holistic approaches to depression.
You don’t have to create your platform overnight. Give yourself time and it will develop. You can still begin to look for an agent while you develop your platform. That way, as you receive feedback and improve your proposal, you can also be expanding your platform.
Lisa Tener is a writing coach who teaches students five steps for creative flow and success which she terms, “Magic for Your Muse.” She is co-author of Good and Mad: Transform Anger Using Mind, Body, Soul and Humor (along with Jane Middelton-Moz and Peaco Todd) and founder of the South County Writer’s Seminar.
Lisa has appeared on ABC World News with Peter Jennings, PBS-TV Rhode Island and WCVB-Boston’s Chronicle and HealthBeat. She has been quoted in Glamour, Family Circle, the Boston Globe and more. She is currently working on a series of books for artists and writers to help them complete creative projects successfully. Visit her website at www.lisatener.com.
Copyright 2004 by Lisa Tener; This article may be reprinted without permission only if you retain it in its entirety with the author bio and this copyright notice. If you would like to reprint a portion of this article, please e-mail me for permission at [email protected]