Chip MacGregor

February 6, 2017

What can a new writer do to get noticed by an agent?


A regular reader of the blog sent in this question: What can a new author do to get noticed by an agent or editor?

The most essential thing you can do as someone new to the industry is to be a great writer, of course. All the agents and editors have seen wannabe writers who are anxious to get published, but haven’t put in the time to really learn the craft. We see stories that have plot problems, shallow story lines, weak characters, bad dialogue, tons of description… And the surprising thing to me is that I’ll sometimes see that from a writer at a conference who is pushing hard for representation.

It’s why I’ll frequently ask people at a face-to-face meeting, “What’s your goal for this meeting?” I mean, some people at a conference are looking for me to react to their story. Others want to show me some writing and interact a bit on it. Some people just have questions about the business or their career. But if a writer sits down at a ten minute meeting and expects an agent to offer representation, that’s probably unrealistic. A much more realistic goal would be to have a discussion about the salability of your work, and see if the agent or editor wants to take a more in-depth look at some later date. Maybe have you email the manuscript to him or her.

If you want to get noticed at a conference, show up for your appointment on time. Dress professionally. Have a brief pitch prepared, and make sure you’ve actually practiced it out loud, so you know what you’re going to say. (Your family will think you’ve gone crazy for talking to yourself in the basement… but that’s okay. If you want to be a writer, you probably already qualify as “crazy.”) Do some research on the agents, to make sure you can target your pitch. (I’ve lost count how many times people have set up meetings with me at conference to talk about their poetry, or their children’s book, or their fantasy novel… even though it says clearly on our website that I don’t represent those genres.) And try to relax. Most of the editors and agents you meet at a conference are volunteering their time to be there, so they WANT to find a good writer to work with. Just think of it as a conversation, and try to engage the editor or agent a bit.

A couple other things to keep in mind: Have a great bio of yourself, and include all your writing experience — if someone is really interested in you, they’ll ask for that, so have it ready. Make sure you talk honestly about your platform — all the avenues you have for helping promote your book. It’s best if you have a story that stands out, rather than version 137 of The Same Old Thing. And be ready to talk more in-depth about your book if someone wants to have a side conversation later in the bar or restaurant — something beyond retelling the story. And, of course, if the editor suggests you make a change to your manuscript, show that you’re easy to work with and actually make the change. No manuscript is perfect — we’re all still learning and growing.

One thing to keep in mind at conferences (and I’m struggling to say this the right way)… Be pleasant. Don’t be The Weirdo We’re All Talking About In The Back Room. There’s frequently somebody like that at a conference — too friendly, too overbearing, too in-your-face. I remember one conference in Chicago where I had this guy right behind me ALL DAY LONG. Every time I turned around — BANG! There he was, smiling. The conference staff finally had to pull him aside and ask him to tone it down before I felt the need to stab him with a pencil. Another time I had a guy follow me into the men’s room, rambling on about his manuscript, and he actually slid it in front of my face as I was standing at the urinal. Let me repeat: As I was standing at the urinal. (That’s a true story, by the way. It’s become sort of apocryphal in the industry, but it really did happen to me at Seattle Pacific University about twelve years ago. I yelled at the guy, “NOT NOW!” But I wish I’d turned to face him when I said it…)

There’s really not a magic bullet for all this. We like pleasant people who we get along with and who show an ability with words. I think you stand your best chance to get noticed by an agent or editor if you spend time preparing to be that person.

All right, everyone: What advice would YOU give to a new writer?


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  • Iola Goulton says:

    Well, it’s obvious from this post and your earlier ‘bad query’ post that the best way to make a lasting impression is to do something memorable.
    So the answer is obvious.
    Write a family friendly romance about a serial killer, stalk you at a conference and pitch it to you in the bathroom.

  • A.E Sawan says:

    First of all, you promised me not to tell or repeat the urinal incident. You still owe me for the dry cleaning when you turned around (accidentally).

    Don’t be a stalker, but Research the agent. You may regret signing with the wrong agent. Make sure they represent the genre and have a great reputation in the business. Keep improving your skills and craft. A smart guy once said
    “I have never seen great writing, that have not been published”.

  • Edwina Cowgill says:

    Great article Chip. I would suggest that a person have at least two agents in mind (you and one other 😉 ) that he/she would like to represent him/her. They should study the agent/company-find out who the agent has represented or currently representing and look at those author’s work. Where has the agent worked previously? Has he/she been involved in other aspects of writing? There are many aspects of the agent/company an author can look into before meeting with the agent.

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