Why You Still Don’t Have an Agent

by | Oct 18, 2010 | Book Marketing Basics

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Many writers have been struggling for years to find an agent and they’ve tried everything. They’re starting to think that they’ll never get one, or that there’s some kind of universal conspiracy against them and they’re wondering why.

If you still haven’t landed an agent or know someone who hasn’t, listen up. I’m about to tell you exactly why and what you can do about it, to change things today.

Saving Faith
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As someone who deals with hundreds of agents every year, who’s constantly on the phone with top editors and publishers and authors from James Patterson and from Nicholas Sparks to Janet Evanovich to David Baldacci, I hear first-hand what successful people in the industry have done to separate them from the pack and why they’re successful and others are not.

Today we will discuss one of the top reasons why writer’s can’t get an agent. In fact, I’ve helped so many aspiring writers (literally over a hundred) take that first step, getting an agent to even request their manuscript, that I can scan someone’s query letter in less than 5 seconds and tell you exactly what they’re doing wrong.

Let’s start with the first mistake writers make and prevent themselves from landing one:

The first 50 pages suck.

Sure, I’m supposed to say something politically correct like “your work is not up to par” but no, I’m not going to insult your intelligence. I’m going to tell you how it is. In fact, I’m going to say exactly what agents tell me about 98% of writers, behind closed doors. “They suck.  Their work is awful.” The agents wouldn’t use the writer’s manuscript to wipe themselves if they ran out of toilet paper or at the bottom of their pet Parakeet’s cage.

Books in the Douglasville, Georgia Borders store.
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Sure, the writer thinks it’s a masterpiece. After all, they’ve spent the last few months, if not years writing it.  Everyone likes it. Even their best friend and mom told them so.

NOTE: That’s the writer’s first mistake, relying on the opinion of those that love them.  They say they want their feedback, but in reality, the amateur writer only wants their loved ones’ praise and their loved ones will give them nothing else.

No, you need to take it to the most objective, negative, nasty person you know and after they say it’s amazing, then it’s ready. Drop your ego, and resist the writer’s kryptonite, defending your work. In fact, take it to three objective people, who aren’t related to you, who don’t even know you and aren’t afraid to tell you the truth.  In fact, remove your name from the manuscript, use another name, a pseudonym, and ask them to read it. Then, you’ll get the truth.

How well I could write if I were not here!
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Writers are often in such a hurry to get an agent that they blow their chances to get one by rushing to get their manuscript to an agent before it’s even ready. No, no and no!  If you really want to land an agent, that thing better be better than anything else there on the market. Read, read and read your competition. Stop thinking there’s nothing out there like it because that’s a lie. And to tell you the truth, it’s the last thing an agent wants to hear from an aspiring writer.

NOTE: Agents and editors aren’t looking for something that hasn’t been done before, they need to be able to compare it to something successful (other than Twlight and Harry Potter) so that they can get a proper advance for you. But it has to be different enough, that it feels fresh.

It’s those first 50 pages that really matter.  When an agent reads a query letter they like, they often ask for a partial (the first few chapters, equivelant to about the first 50 double-spaced pages).

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If you want to guarantee those pages are ready, after the three objective opinions, get it edited by a professional and I’m not talking about for grammar and spelling. I’m talking about for content, for pacing. You need developmental editing, line editing and then finally copy-editing.

NOTE: And if you can’t afford it (though if you’re going to invest in anything, it should be this), see if you can trade services with a professional editor. There has to be something you can barter. You might be able to find an older, more experienced writer who is willing to do it for you.

But that’s not all. There are 11 other mistakes that writers make that are blocking them from ever landing an agent, more on that in the future. But I will tell you this quick little tidbit: You don’t have to be a good writer to land an agent, you only have to be a good storyteller.

Guest post by Jeff Rivera, the the founder of GumboWriters.com, a firm based in New York City. He is a highly-respected book publishing professional who writes regularly for GalleyCat, Mediabistro and Huffington Post and his work has been featured or mentioned in the Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, New York Observer, Fast Company, TMZ, NPR, Billboard Magazine and many other publications. Rivera interviews high profile power players such as Janet Evanovich, Jeff Kinney, Seth Godin,  Philippa Gregory and James Patterson.

He is one of the most sought-after book publishing industry young professionals in the business, often invited as a panelist on writers conferences and a published novelist (Grand Central Publishing).

Rivera has assisted over 100 aspiring writers in taking that first step of crafting the right query letter and has a 100% track record of getting top agents to request their manuscript. Agencies such as William Morris Endeavor, ICM, UTA, and Writers House are just a few of the literary agencies who have requested his clients’ work. Many of Rivera’s clients have gone on to sign with top literary agencies and even secure book deals.

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