Anyone serious about getting a book published knows that one of the biggest hurdles to a book deal is attaining a literary agent. While almost all agents share their information on their websites, the sheer number of agents can be overwhelming to first-time authors. But, like it or not, learning to focus on what literary agents want is the only chance you’ll have of landing a book deal. There are a number of websites and databases where you can sort literary agents by their specific genre interests, but there’s one fundamental business question that you must consider if you’re going to successfully reach a literary agent: “How can I sell this book?”
Literary agents are not charity workers or nonprofit organizations. If they choose to represent you and your book idea or manuscript, it’s because they believe they can make money by selling it to a publishing house. It’s crucial to understand this basic fact, because once you acknowledge it, you can begin to tailor your work and your message to the desires of the market.
This doesn’t mean you have to rewrite your book just to suit the tastes of one person, but you certainly need to convince that person that your book is going to make them money. While obviously there are no hard and fast rules, being ready to answer the question, “Who do you think will buy this?” is critical to success. Is your book meant specifically for a religious audience? Are you writing women’s literature? Fantasy? Literary fiction? Who is going on Amazon or walking into a Barnes & Noble and searching for a book like yours? When you think long and hard about this question, it helps to change your perspective on how to talk about your book like a business product.
Another question to consider is, “What other books are like your book?” Don’t be afraid of this question. You may be intimidated or skeptical, thinking either that your idea has to be unique in order to pique their interest, or that your book needs to be similar to others, or else there won’t be an audience for it. The reality here, like with most things in life, is somewhere in the middle. Obviously, if your book is exactly like other books in your genre, then no one would want (or even need) to read it. And yet, it is true that any writer must tread lightly when going into uncharted territory with new ideas and concepts. Some ideas can be so new and unknown to a general audience that a literary agent may simply not know how to sell it. Who could have imagined that The Hunger Games, where teenagers literally battle to the death in a dystopian Olympiad, or that Twilight, would be popular? After their success, however, an explosion of similar titles came on the marketplace attempting to capitalize on their success.
It’s worth bringing up a relatively obvious point here. The Internet is your friend when it comes to preparing your query letter and any requested marketing documents. Say you want to write a novel about two cockatiels living in Miami who inherit their owner’s fortune. At first that might sound a little silly, sure. But many folks will remember when Leona Helmsley left her dog $12 million. On top of that, you can see that the cockatiel story is also real. There are dozens of news stories about animals inheriting their dead owner’s fortunes. Suddenly, the idea isn’t so strange. When you show you know your subject matter, even if it’s on a funny little thing like this, it goes a long way to getting a second glance from an agent.
After that, it’s really about how interesting and compelling your story is. Literary agents, and the ghostwriters and editors at Kevin Anderson & Associates, know that at the end of the day, the only story that’s going to sell is a compelling one. We can even help you develop a high-quality, query letter to help place your book with the right agent. With a lot of hard work and thick skin, you too may find yourself among those lucky enough to be called “author.”