What are Literary Agents REALLY Looking for in a Manuscript?

Hey there, writers and muse daters! I’d like to talk to you today about what agents are looking for. One of the questions that I frequently get asked—whether it’s on Facebook or other social media or when I’m speaking at a conference—is “What are agents really looking for? What is it that they want? Why do I keep getting rejected?”

So, what are agents looking for?

If you’ve watched any of my videos in the Facebook group, you know I’m on the phone with agents every day, asking questions about the industry. Of course, I ask agents what they’re looking for, but another question I ask is, “What trends are you seeing in the marketplace?” Because like any marketplace, it’s volatile. Things change from day to day, right?

There was a book, “American Dirt,” that came out about a month ago that really influenced the publishing industry. The London Book Fair was cancelled because of this virus that we’re all dealing with. That impacts the industry.

So, things are always changing in the industry and knowing what the trends are, what’s impacting the industry, and what kind of books are getting published are important things to know.

I recently had a conversation with an agent friend, and one of the interesting things we talked about was a recent trend in the publishing industry. There is a change taking place, an evolution, from looking at the book as the product to looking at the author as the product.

So, what does that mean for you?

Well, it means that you better know how to create a product that is viable in the traditional publishing marketplace, and that’s exactly why we do things the way that we do them in the Writing Gym.

First and foremost: we get our information straight from the horse’s mouth.

I’m meeting with industry professionals every single week so I can bring that information to the writers in the Writing Gym to say: “Okay, here are the things that we want to target. How does your book fit into that?”

The second thing is that the Writing Gym is a comprehensive program. If you got an MFA (a Master’s in Fine Arts), you might learn how to write, which is pretty important.

But that’s about all you’d learn. In the Writing Gym VIP Program, we start by teaching you to write a quality draft that is movable quickly into revision for publication.

People who go from the VIP into the Publishing Mastermind—those who are accepted—are doing the market research, we’re talking about what agents are looking for, they’ve gone to presentations where I presented an agent to them and were asking questions in real time to a publicist from a publishing house and they’re able to ask their questions in real time and get them answered. They are gaining an understanding of the industry, which is very important.

During that time, I’m also reading their manuscript. Not once but twice, sometimes three times and I’m getting on the phone to agents and saying: “Hey, I’ve got this manuscript about, say, cows. What do you think?” And we’re having that conversation about that particular author. Now, frequently, that conversation leads to: “Hey, when it’s done I want to see it.” That doesn’t always happen, but it happens pretty frequently.

So we go from writing the novel in the VIP to the market research in the Publishing Mastermind. I’m creating the foundation for their platform. Then we move into the revision phase. This is really important, because they’re getting the right kind of feedback, learning who they are as writers, gaining confidence, and revising a novel to publishable. They moving on to the Publishing Bootcamp, where they’re submitting  their manuscripts and I’m making introductions to editors, publishers, and agents on their behalf.

Here’s the part that I really want to talk about today. There are two ending programs that happen after the book is finished: Paths to Pulitzer, where writers are improving their craft; and Novel Selling U, where they’re creating their author platform.

If the product isn’t just the book, if the product is the author, then it’s awfully darn important to know how to package yourself. I’m sorry to put it that way, but publishing is a business and if you don’t know how to address it as a business, if you’re thinking of your book as an art and you as an artist, then you’re missing out on what what can happen and the potential of what your book can become. Because this is what agents are looking for.

They may love your book and love your writing.

They may love your concept and they love your protagonist.

But if they don’t have a package that they can pitch as saleable to the Publishing House…you ain’t going nowhere. And that was the confirmation that I got this week in that conversation with my agent friend.

With the emergence of audiobooks and with Alexa devices and all of the changes that we see happening in the publishing industry, we’re at a turning point right now. So, if you don’t know how to market yourself, if you don’t know how to package yourself, you’re going to be lost. It’s no longer about writing just a good book; it’s also about knowing how to place yourself in the market.

If you’re ready for real results, I would love to chat with you.

But this isn’t for everybody. It’s just for people who are serious about having a publishing career.

You can probably understand as I talk about the scope of work that we do with authors.This isn’t something that happens in a week or a month or even sometimes six months.

This is a long-term process to build a career, because that’s what we’re doing over in the Writing Gym. If that sounds like something that you want, and you’re ready to stop spinning your wheels and to get real results, I’d love to talk with you about where you are, where you’d like to go, and how you can get there. You can put yourself right into my calendar and we can chat sometime in the next week or so.

Until next time, Happy Writing!

Pin It on Pinterest