5 Things Literary Agents Wish You Knew


Man, the process of getting a literary agent can suck. You send query after query and receive rejection after rejection—if you receive a response at all. Trust me, I feel you. I’ve had enough thanks-but-no-thanks letters to wallpaper my home.

But, in the traditional publishing world, an agent is a necessary and valuable ally on your path to book deal, Population: you. I like to think of agents as The Night Watch, guarding the impenetrable Wall that is Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Agents are the gatekeepers. You just need the key. I eventually found it—and you can, too.

To get the inside scoop on what makes agents sign you or decline you, I spoke with big-time, literary agent, Stacey Glick, on my podcast Write About now.

Stacey’s been in the game for 20 years with the NYC-based agency, Dystel, Goderich, & Burrel, She represents an eclectic stable of authors, who write everything from memoirs to cook books, picture books to children’s non-fiction.

You can hear the entire interview on my podcast Write About Now. Here are some key takeaways.

Think of Yourself As a Pizza Pie

I’m a New Yorker, so I know from pizza pies. This advice really resonated with me.

Stacey encourages writers to think of themselves and their brand as margherita. Having a great book idea is one slice of the pie, so is having amazing writing chops—but it’s not enough. “The rest of the pieces of the pie need to be filled in before you have a book deal." These include your social outreach, your audience, your ability to market and sell yourself without dipping into the publisher’s piggy bank.

Have a Unique Take

Seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many people don’t heed this advice. “What’s your saying has to be unique or different,” Stacy says. The world doesn’t need another World War 2 book, so what is it about your World War 2 book that’s never been done before?

Also, Stacey encourages you to run your book idea through the magazine test. Could your point be explained fully in an article, or does it require an entire book? And while we are on the subject of articles…

Write an Article First

Think of an article as a trailer for the movie that is your book. If you write your book idea first as an article, and said article goes viral, they will come in droves. Heck, you might even be able to get your book in a bidding war. Stacey has many tales of books that started off as articles. For example, she signed  Amy Morin, author of  13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, based on an article she wrote in Forbes magazine.  Says Stacey, “Ideally you want to speak to a cultural concern or issue of something that hasn’t been explored or told in a way that will resonate with people and offer help.”

Think Non-Fiction for Children

We often think of the publishing industry as stagnating, and this is true in a lot of ways. But Stacey sees one big market opening up that you might be not have been aware of. Non-fiction for children.

She encourages writers to take a look at the Rutgers University Council of Children’s Literature. “There are so many resources for perspective writers there,” she says. Much more than on the adult side.

She also recommends the Society of Children’s Book Authors and Illustrators (SCBWI) as a terrific resource for networking.

Thrill or Instill Confidence

Tracey says that thrillers are all the rage in the adult fiction side. What kind of thrillers? “We joke about it in the business, but if it has the word “girl” or “woman” in the title, it’s gonna be a bestseller.” Think Girl on the Train or Woman in the Window.

Whatever you do, don’t get all Hunger Games or Twilight. Says Stacey, “There was a long time where you could sell anything dystopian and before that vampires, now you can’t sell anything dystopian or vampires.”

On the non-fiction side, the big sellers are books on doing something irreverent with R-rated titles like, The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F$#k and You Are A Badass. But she stresses the facts that the authors of these books had big platforms that they mobilized to get sales.





Jonathan Small