My Agent Answers: Why Is It So Hard to Land a Literary Agent? (Conclusion)

My literary agent, Rick Broadhead, specializes in non-fiction and works with the top publishing houses in North America. Rick has represented non-fiction books that have appeared on bestseller lists. His clients’ books have also been shortlisted for literary awards, translated into multiple languages and optioned for film and TV development.

By Rick Broadhead

Copyright © Rick Broadhead. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

(This is the final installment of a two-part series. Read Part 1.)

Often, a book proposal doesn’t get the past the editor’s desk if the editor doesn’t believe he/she will be able to generate internal support for the idea.

Even if an offer is made and you sign a deal with a major publishing house, you’ve still got two more major hurdles. A book isn’t guaranteed to be well-distributed just because a major publisher has acquired it. If the booksellers don’t get excited about it, orders will be small, and the book can stagnate before it even hits the shelves. And regardless of how many orders are placed by retail stores, if there isn’t sufficient publicity to generate awareness and momentum for the book, sales could be very disappointing.

Publishers are looking for books that can move tens of thousands of copies, so the bar is set very high. This is not as easy to achieve as you may think.

Keep in mind that most agents are receiving dozens or hundreds of book pitches a week. Editors are usually in the same boat. The process of pitching a book to editors, and then negotiating a contract, if an offer is made, is very time consuming. It can take several months. So agents have to pick and choose their projects carefully. It is simply not practical or possible for an agent to circulate every proposal to publishers.

I once had an author ask me why I couldn’t just send out his proposal to editors and see what happens, even though I wasn’t keen on it. Editors depend on literary agents to vet proposals and send them the most promising prospects. Even though editors and agents often disagree on what constitutes a strong idea, I have to believe in a project in order to attach my name to it and then take up an editor’s valuable time.

When an agent rejects a proposal and says “it’s not right for me” or “it doesn’t fit my current needs,” it means that the agent isn’t motivated enough by the idea to be able to pursue it enthusiastically.

That decision is usually based on multiple factors, including the agent’s current client load, the quality of the writing, what the agent’s personal interests are, what projects the agent believes his/her publishing contacts are most likely to be interested in, how much the project is going to sell for, and more.

It’s a complicated business!


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