How to Grab a Literary Agent's Attention

More often than not when I am contacted by a first-time author, I receive a long summary about their book, but little else to grab my attention. But what is more surprising is sometimes I am approached by published authors (who should know better) missing important information in their initial contact to hook me as well.

 Because it happens so frequently it is the topic of this week's blog.

Step One

In order to accurately review a project or manuscript, we need a formal book proposal submitted. (Click here for "Steps to Creating Your Proposal")

A thorough proposal provides us not only information on the story line, but also information about your intended audience, your background, your goals for the book, a possible second book, etc. and how your book compares to similar topics in the marketplace. 

And that is where I want to focus - on the Comps.

Step Two

Comps (Comparatives) are an important part of the book proposal process and one of the pieces of the proposal more often ignored or submitted without all the information a literary agent needs to assess the project. So to save us both time, here are some tips:

  1. Don't skip this step.

  2. Don't state that there is nothing similar to your book on the market. That one statement is the kiss of death to your opportunity of a literary agent continuing to take you seriously. You may have some very unique aspects to your book. We want to know that, but there is always something that has been published that can be used as a comparable and you need to find it and tell us how it is similar. You can also share 2-3 sentences on how it is different.

  3. Find a minimum of three books...which have sold well in the marketplace and list them. If you use comps that haven't sold well, then why should a publisher consider another book in the same vein that probably won't sell well either. Use wisdom.

  4. Do your research. The internet makes this step way easier than it used to be. You can start by googling your topic and grow from there. The publisher of the book, Amazon or Barnes and Noble all provide the information you need to provide the information listed below.

    Please provide ALL of the information requested below regarding the comparative books:

    COMPARABLES - Information Needed

    1. Title

    • Published by:

    • Publication Release Date:

    • Format & Classification: (Genre or Amazon classification)

    • Size:

    • Format: (hardcover?, papertrade?)

    • Retail Price:

    • Page Count:

      Amazon Best Sellers Rank: (General Number in Books or subcategory)

  5. Don't Be Lazy. When an author skips this step or does only part of it, then I personally begin to question how hard they will be willing to work to make their book a success in the marketplace. Or how hard they will work with me to get their book published. The "tag your it" concept where some think the literary agent does all the grunt work is erroneous. Think again. It is team work. Help me, help you. If an author isn't willing to take the time to submit a full proposal and research it thoroughly, I probably don't want them on my team.

  6. Compare apples to apples if at all possible.For example: If you have a children's book, don't compare it to an adult non-fiction book...unless the comparison you are making is that the comp is a wildly best-selling book and that your manuscript will be a great children's version. But believe me, you will have to make a really good argument to draw me into that line. If it is a children's book, then look for other books published for the same target age group. That rule applies for any manuscript. Use comps that are in the same genre and for the same audience.

Last, if you are truly a writer, then your goal is to hook an agent with your writing. Hook us. Don't kill us with too much. Once we take the bait, we will ask for additional information. Your goal in contacting us is to simply draw us into a conversation. You have about sixty seconds. Ready, set, go.