What do agents look for in a book?
Well, perhaps not surprisingly, they’re looking for a lot of the same things as publishers; after all, that agent is going to have to convince a publisher’s acquisitions editor that you book can sell!
Below I’ll list some of the qualities that literary agents want to see in a new manuscript. Of course, it’s difficult to scientifically quantify things in this realm; there is no set criteria, and agents are going to be going on their gut instincts more often than not. But at the same time, if you keep these things in mind when writing you’ll increase your chances of finding an agent to represent your book:
Last year, BookBaby president Brian Felsen had the privilege to attend the London Book Fair where he interviewed many publishers, editors, and authors. Below are some of the highlights from his talk with literary agent Brian DeFiore on how an author should go about finding the right literary agent.
1. Look for agents who take a traditional cut-
DeFiore suggests, in most cases, that you avoid agents who take fees unless it is part of a consultation. You want someone on your side that is paid a traditional commission on sales earned. It should be very clear that the only compensation an agent will receive is based on that agent’s performance on the author’s behalf.
Meaning– they are filters. Agents sift through many thousands of book submissions per year, picking a few gems from the pile to pitch to editors.
Publishers rarely want to receive unsolicited or even “un-agented” manuscripts, so this process saves their staff members from drowning in a deluge of words. The agent is the floodgate. For their work on behalf of their author clients, an agent generally receives a fixed percentage of sales proceeds (15% is standard).
Let’s assume you’re good, great even! Plenty of famous writers lived for years at a time on a steady diet of rejection letters. So what are publishers looking for in a world where being good isn’t good enough?
Exceptions always exist to prove the rule, but below I’ll list some of the qualities that acquisitions editors and publishers want to see in a new manuscript. It should be said, though, that the mystery person on the other end of those rejection letters is probably judging your book based on a gut feeling, rather than some standardized criteria. All the same, keep these things in mind if you want to increase your chances of having a book published: