My contribution to the two-hour "Take Five" panel of agents at RWA
5 Things That Can Make You More Attractive to Agents and Editors
1) Write a fantastic novel
In the end, it's all about the product. A great concept, a strong, fresh voice, a well-developed plot with perfect pacing and a satisfying conclusion. It can be difficult not to rush your novel out the door, particularly when it's been requested at conference, but remember, you probably only get one chance to impress a particular agent or editor. S/he won't sign you just because you had a laugh or a drink at the con. That only gets you a foot in the door. It's your work that will have to blow us away, not just with the quality, but with the marketing possibilities, which leads me to…
2) A great hook
Is your heroine, maybe, a police sketch artist or your hero a panther shifter wanted for a murder he didn't commit? We're looking for new and oooh; we want something we haven't seen a million times before and something that will intrigue not only us, but marketing departments and book buyers. Acquisitions are about more than a single agent or editor loving and championing your work. Editors require second and often third reads to get others behind your work. They need to run P&Ls (Profit and Loss statements) and present the work at meetings where it's decided whether offers can be made and for how much. Work on tag lines – brief single phrase or sentence descriptions of your work that pack a whollop for query letters and pitches. If your work can't be described in a juicy sound bite – not that we don't all know it isn't more complex than that – it may not have a high concept or a clear enough hook for the market.
3) Speaking of which, do you have a platform?
Maybe you write for a magazine or have some other claim to fame or connections that can be used to promote your work. Let us know. Our decision will be based primarily on how much we love the work, but you've first got to get us to request it. Then we'll have to consider not only whether we like it and think it can sell, but whether we think it will stand out in the marketplace and that we can really build your career. Knowing that you've got a leg up on building an audience can be very helpful.
4) Contest wins and previous credits
Again, we still have to fall in love with the work itself, but knowing that you've placed first or second in a contest we really respect can get your foot in the door, maybe even get your work requested by the contest judge(s). It appeals to agents because a) it indicates that this is a quality work that's worth considering and has received a level of editorial feedback already and b) it gives us fodder for our own pitches to editors down the line should we decide to represent you. Likewise with credits. Already we know that you're writing publishable work, so the question will be, "Is it for us?"
I say it here, but it really pervades all the other points as well. We can tell a lot from a meeting and a query letter – whether you've got a good attitude and a sense of humor, for instance, or whether you'll be arrogant and difficult to work with. It's not a perfect system, but just like with fiction where voice is all-important, personality and attitude matter. We're in it for the long term. Agents and editors want to build your career, build you to bestsellerdom, and want to know that you're going to help pave the road rather than put up road blocks.
Unfortunately, Deidre Knight from The Knight Agency was sick the day of the panel, but Kristin Nelson, who moderated, has posted her top five pearls of wisdom on how authors can get derailed by comparisons with other writers. Check it out.