Ambit Creative
Wendy Lawton

Wendy Lawton is an agent with the much-respected literary agency, Books & Such. She relishes all aspects of the work-- especially helping her clients develop their ideas and chart their careers. She's served on the faculty of several major writers conferences, won the infamous Bulwer-Lytton competition and authored thirteen books.

Landing the Right Perfect Agent

Many writers believe that the way to find an agent is to shotgun queries to a whole list of agents and let the chips fall where they may. An agent is an integral part of the team you are assembling—you need to be more intentional about going after the perfect agent for you. It’s true that far more writers are seeking an agent than they have openings on their client lists, but even though it may seem that a writer has little clout early in his career, he can do things to land his dream agent.

Techniques that may tip the scales:

1. Write a Stunning Book—This almost goes without saying. If your book is anything less than remarkable, don’t expend the energy yet to connect with an agent. Put that time into the craft of writing. When the manuscript is ready, the hard part becomes how to get it in front of Perfect Agent. With queries up more than 100 ̶ 200 percent over last year, every agency is drowning in submissions. We know treasures may be among the queries, but there is no way to know without asking to see more. And the simple truth is, agents have no time to read any more partials. Agents and writers alike are frustrated by the impossibility of it all.

2. Meet the Agent in Person—A perfect way to get out of the gruesome realities of the slush pile is to meet the agent at an event or at a writer’s conference. Reality: With most conferences scheduling fifteen-minute agent appointments back-to-back, this is not the best way to meet the agent. By the fifth or sixth appointment, it all becomes a blur. For me, I prefer meetings that happen in the lobby, at mealtimes and in groups—where I’m able to connect in a casual way with a writer and begin to see them in context. Will it happen the first time we meet? Probably not.

3. Meet the Agent Repeatedly—I find that I take note of writers who interest me. If I eat with them once or twice and meet them in the lobby or watch them onstage at a conference, I start paying attention. I may ask other writers about them. When I’ve met the writer at a couple of conferences and still like what I see, I may ask to see a manuscript. It is the repeated contact that works for me. I know I’m going to work with a client for a long, long time. I don’t want to jump into something too early.

4. Become Memorable—In an over-saturated market, the key is for a writer to become memorable to their target agent. This

needs to be done in a winsome, often humorous way. The I-have-chocolate-and-I’m-not-afraid-to-use-it approach. Or by the sheer brilliance of the writing. At conferences, people talk about the writing they’ve seen.

5. Connect with the Agent Online—I admire several writers who do this with great finesse. I noticed when our agency began blogging——that several writers left regular comments. Brilliant. Don’t you think we take note of those writers who are doing the hard work to find out who we are and what we’re thinking? Also, I’m following several very interesting writers on Twitter. I’m getting to know them long before they send me work.

6. Connect with Friends/Clients of the Agent—One of the best ways to come to an agent is with the recommendation of one of his clients. Of course, this is no small thing to ask of your fellow writer. My clients will not recommend a writer to me unless they’ve read that writer’s work, feel I would be a good match for that writer, and feel like that writer would be a good fit for the Books & Such family.

7. Come with a Contract in Hand—You often hear that a writer cannot sell a manuscript without an agent. That’s not true. Several wonderful houses welcome submissions directly from writers. And many writers sell their first manuscript at a writing conference. When you’ve been offered a contract that might be a perfect time to call your target agent to see if he’ll represent you. It won’t necessarily be an automatic yes, however. The agent still has to believe in you, love your writing, and be willing to sign on for your whole career. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking, “Why would I need an agent now when I’ve already sold the book?” Selling a book is just the beginning. An agent is going to go to work on the contract, probably getting you a better offer and safeguarding you against all kinds of possibilities. Then the agent will begin to plot out your career with you—a far more complex task.

Those are just the tip of the iceberg. Be creative and be intentional. Landing your perfect agent is worth the work. We agents feel the same way about the hard work of finding the right perfect client.

Wendy Lawton ©2009