What are Literary Agents REALLY Looking For?

What are Literary Agents REALLY Looking For?

What are Literary Agents REALLY Looking For? 


One of our Writing Gym Podcast guests, Jeff Kleinmann from Folio Literary Management, recently shared with us what it’s like to be an agent and some of the things that happen behind those closed doors.

Before that, we asked Jeff how and why he became a literary agent. 

“Oh, it’s a huge mistake,” Jeff joked. “My career is not normal. I’m actually practicing intellectual property law and I happened to share offices with a literary agency. I would read manuscripts for the agency, and the first one I read ended up being sold for $100,000, and then I did a seven-figure deal with the author soon after. I worked with them back and forth but received no credit, and I thought that maybe I should seriously consider pursuing this path. And that’s where I am today. ” 

Jeff doesn’t believe that there are any low moments in his work. Recently, a book he worked on was on the best-seller list for a while, a memoir he worked on received a deal to make a series with Netflix, and so on. With such great accomplishments, it’s no wonder literary agents are as respected as the authors. 

However, there’s this myth out there that agents are these stuffy people who seem to enjoy rejecting authors and their manuscripts. I know that’s not true.


So, what’s it really like to be an agent?

 “It’s totally true,” Jeff stated.

“We own the Herald Ober Associates, which is one of the longest and oldest agencies in the country. It was established in 1929 and they represented William Faulkner, Agatha Christie, Langston Hughes and so on. Back then, anytime the phone rang, agents would say the standard: Thank you for calling. We are not accepting any new submissions. There is some sort of feeling that all this agency wants to do it to stay away from writers–which was kind of cool. But I think most agents aren’t at all in that world,” Jeff explained.  

One of the problems that Jeff finds in many writers is they submit manuscripts that aren’t ready.

“We see a lot of unsolicited stuff that isn’t ready to go. And because of that, we get to be protective of our time. To prevent us from slogging through 20 manuscripts that aren’t ready yet, a lot of us put up barriers. We want to make sure the writer is ready to go–and the only way to make sure of that is if they have gone through the right channels to get their manuscript ready.” 

I asked Jeff what he is seeing in the publishing industry, and he shared an important distinction between traditional publishing and self-publishing. 

“The split between those two really is the voice,” Jeff stated. “It’s the ability of the writer to be distinctive in the way they write. If you have distinctiveness, then it seems like you’re going down the trade route–the traditional publishing route. If you are maybe less distinctive, your book might be more commercial. It’s going to be more focused on plot rather than the writing itself. These books tend to be self-published, or non-traditionally published.” 

Indeed, not everyone has to go through the traditional route. Some people may realize that self-publishing makes more sense to them than going to a big traditional publishing house. 

As a literary agent, Jeff certainly receives a lot of manuscripts and other submission materials.


What kind of elements in a submission makes him feel excited?

There are three elements that I look for. The first, and most important, is the writing. Every word in the query should sound mastered, should feel smooth and distinctive. Authentic. The second is premise. What is it about the book that would make me want to pick it up and read it? The third is credentials. Is the author speaking regularly? Are they a part of a literary community? Do they have an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) from a prestigious program? These are things that make me think they are serious writers.” 


What about things that don’t impress agents like him? 

“I used to read query letters with my daughter,” Jeff started. “When she was just four years old, I would read these letters to her like a bedtime story. When the letter is boring, she’d ask me to go to the next one. And, you know, having a four-year old judge a query letter is really useful. If I’m not interested or enthusiastic about it, then I just go to the next one.”

It’s definitely important for a writer to catch the attention of an agent with their query letter. If they don’t feel interested, they will go through them quickly and find other things to do. I always tell my writers that they have 30 seconds maximum to impress an agent. 

“Things like misplaced apostrophes,” Jeff continued, “passive voice, try-hard language, clumsiness of language–all these sorts of things end it for me. Before submitting query materials, authors should proofread their submissions.” 

It may seem unfair, a misused comma having the final say in the agent’s interest on your manuscript, but it “says to me that the author didn’t proofread their submission well enough,” Jeff finished. 


It’s one of these things that make agents seem very unapproachable, but I asked Jeff what it was he wished that writers knew about agents. 

“We almost see ourselves as the front-liners. Before your book gets to the publishing house, we really try to get the book in its strongest shape. But sometimes, we deal with authors who want to do their own thing. In reality, we want an author who would listen to us. And so, the question is: do you actually really want to hear somebody else’s opinion and are you actually going to make the changes?” 

Jeff was working with a writer whose book he loved so much, he read it twice. But he noticed that the writer seemed to be writing two completely different books. 

“I told him that he has to change the last part to fit the first part, or the other way around. The first part was just wonderful, but it didn’t fit the second part. He didn’t want to change anything. Maybe the second half of the book is the book he really wanted to write. But in order for the whole book to make sense, both parts have to make sense first.” 


What about for unpublished writers–what kind of thing should they know before sending anything to an agent?

In my line of work I see many aspiring writers send in materials that are half-cooked, not yet ready. And thank goodness they come to me for help, because I help them cook it. Jeff agreed. 

I would encourage aspiring writers to have other people read their book. I would really make sure, from page one, that everything is clear–that there is something at stake and that the action is absolutely driving the story on the character’s desires.” 

Finally, I asked Jeff one tip he would give to aspiring authors.

“Ask somebody you trust, someone who reads a lot, to read your book. If your mom is a very gifted reader, ask her. Have them cut any words from the page they feel is unnecessary and pay them money. Real money. It is scary, but if you don’t want to pay up you have to make sure that your book is really tight, that it has narrative movement, before you have a different pair of eyes look at it.”

Thank you for your time Jeff. 

The Curtain Pulled Back: What Publishing House Editors Say about Your Next Book

The Curtain Pulled Back: What Publishing House Editors Say about Your Next Book

The Curtain Pulled Back: What Publishing House Editors Say about Your Next Book


Every November is National Novel Writing Month. Tens of thousands of writers bang out a novel in a month and think, “Great! I’m done! Now, I can get it published!”


But even if you’ve managed to crank out a great story in just thirty days, getting published is far from a done deal.


Publishers are looking for work that meets a certain standard. They are looking at books on multiple levels, with an eye toward how it can be successful and how they can move a book out into the marketplace. There are lots of quality issues to deal with, so publishers and editors can get a little persnickety.

Here’s what New York Times bestselling author Mike Bender has to say about the subject:

“They’re seeing the bigger picture,” Mike says. “They know exactly what’s out there, and they know what the trends are. They know the books in their own library that are being published.”

When Mike finished his second manuscript, his editor thought it was a great story, but she also remembered what made Mike’s first book so successful.

“She took me back to the first book and said, ‘Well, what I really loved in that book is that there was an educational aspect to it. Like, you were teaching the kids about this concept’,” Mike says.

“I had to rethink the way I was writing the book,” he says, “and the manuscript we ended up writing was (geared more toward) teaching it to the kids. There had to be an educational aspect to this book for libraries to want to pick it up in schools. And that’s not something, as a writer, I was thinking about. I was just thinking about story.”

That’s the kind of thing we’re doing over in the Writing Gym.

We take good writing and not only help you make it better, but we work with you to make sure your novel meets industry standards.

If you’re serious about getting your work published, I’d love to chat with you. You can book yourself into my calendar, and we can talk about where you are, where you’d like to go, and how you can get there.

Until next time, Happy Writing!

How Can I Find the RIGHT Editor?

How Can I Find the RIGHT Editor?

How Can I Find the RIGHT Editor?

Are you serious about getting published? How do you know if you’re ready to be a published author?

I was speaking to a would-be author who’s been writing for a while, and we were talking about getting published. She was really excited, because she hired an editor. 

It turns out she hired an editor for about $125 or $150. I got really honest with her and cautioned her about low price points, because at the end of the day you get what you pay for.

I love all of the writers in Write to Publish, and I don’t want to see anyone selling themselves short and not getting what will truly help move their writing careers forward.

The author and I looked at this editor’s website. He seemed like a nice guy, but he also seemed to be doing many different things that didn’t have a lot, or anything at all, to do with editing. He was a book editor, but he was also a web designer. Not to mention his website was a little hard to navigate, due to other icons being over each other and some animations over text that it distracted me.

I was honest with my client and told her that this editor may be a nice guy, and might want to sincerely help writers, but he does not specialize as a copy editor. I told her she was selling herself short by hiring someone who wasn’t a specialist.

So, how do you choose someone to help you with your manuscript? 

What are the criteria for a quality editor? 

  • They follow the editing guidelines. There is a very large rule book for editors from publishing houses. The rules are extensive and every good editor must know to look for more improvements to be made than missing commas. Many times, editors throw manuscripts to the slush pile when books are simply not up to publishing standards. Why? Because the authors might have hired someone who didn’t follow the rules. So please, find someone who knows the guidelines of editing to help you make your publishing dream a reality.
  • They specialize in editing. When you look for an editor you might want to ask them how many hats they wear–are they only an editor or do they mostly do graphic design? Maybe they can do both really well. You just have to make sure that they specialize in the thing you hired them for. 
  • They have inside knowledge of what the industry is like. You want someone who can tell you what is selling on the market and what isn’t, because this will ultimately determine if you will be able to sell your book. I know this because I speak with industry professionals every single week. I get the inside scoop of what is trending and what is out of trend. What is marketable today may be passé a month from now. 

I want you to take this to hear, because this is really serious. You’ve spent a lot of time working on this manuscript. Why would you hand it over to the cheapest option?

If you’re ready and really serious about becoming an author, if you’re willing to invest in yourself and in your writing true, let’s talk. We help writers get published every single day at the Writing Gym. If this sounds like it interests you, let’s chat.  


How do You Find a TRULY Professional Editor for Your Work?

How do You Find a TRULY Professional Editor for Your Work?

How do You Find a TRULY Professional Editor for Your Work?

Many writers come to me and ask about what to do with their finished  manuscripts, where should they go next, and what happens. A lot of writers already know that they have to get a professional to look at their manuscripts before they send it to a publisher. If you didn’t know that until now, this is your sign. 

You need to find a professional to look over your manuscripts because publishers don’t want sloppy writing. But how do you find a professional that you can trust and can give you the kind of results that you need?

The right professional to look at your manuscript before submission: 

  • Knows the difference between a copy-edited and content-edited revision and the right time to do each one of these. Some writers do not even know these differences and leave it up to the professional to know them. You have to make sure that the professional you are working with is a quality editor. 
  • Is qualified to edit. This does not mean that a published writer can look over your writing and know exactly what to do. Writers do not equal editors. Don’t let this logical fallacy  tempt you into asking other writers to edit your manuscript. Someone who I have been working with at the Writing Gym is also working with a thirty-eight-time published author. You would think that this writer would have published by now. Yet she hasn’t. 
  • Has high success rates. Great acting coaches have high success rates in getting their clients into stardom. Similar to writing, great editors bring writers to success. When you;re looking for an editor, you want to ask them “How many authors have you gotten published?” In Write to Publish, you have seen me, my movies, my television shows, my books, client testimonials, and more. I have a full client list of published people. This is how you spot a professional–when you see their success rates. 

How serious are you about actually publishing versus playing around with someone who might be able to help you? If you are really serious about publishing, let’s talk

Fill out my online form

Pin It on Pinterest