My Agent Answers: Why Did You Become a Literary Agent?

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.

I’m an entrepreneur at heart and I love the business side of publishing–finding great authors and book ideas, pitching book projects, negotiating deals and being a part of an exciting and dynamic industry.

I became a bestselling author early in my career and eight years later, after several successive bestsellers, I decided to put my business savvy and passion for publishing to work for other authors.

I love what I do, and I love getting excited about a new book project that I can pitch to the editors I work with. There’s something special about holding a book in your hand and realizing you played a part in its creation.

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My Agent Answers: How Can a Writer Improve Odds of Landing an Agent?

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.

First of all, you should know what types of books I’m most interested in, as I’m most likely to be receptive to a pitch if the book fits my interests and the subject categories I like to work on.

Second, books rarely sell themselves these days, so I need to look for authors who have a “platform.” This means that, ideally, you have some type of public stature that a publisher can leverage to promote your book.

If you’re a leading expert in your field or you have experience writing for major newspapers or magazines, I’m more likely to have success selling you to a major publisher. If you have a popular blog or Web site or you’re affiliated with a major organization or university/college, publishers are more likely to be interested in your work.

The lack of a decent platform is one of the most frequent reasons for an agent to reject a book proposal. It is very hard to generate publicity for books, even when a major publisher is doing the pitching, so publishers, and hence agents, are very leery about taking books by authors who don’t have a platform.

Third, you need to have a strong proposal and strong writing skills. As good a salesperson as I may be, publishers usually make decisions on the strength of a proposal that outlines the book, the author’s credentials, and the marketing opportunities the author can bring to the table. A strong proposal can make the difference between getting an offer and not getting one.

My Agent Answers: What’s the Most Common Author Complaint?

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.

Most authors are unhappy with the marketing efforts expended by their publisher. In some cases these complaints are warranted, but in many instances they are not.

A publisher will typically include your book in their catalog (used by the publisher’s sales reps to sell your book to retailers), include it on their Web site, and assign an in-house publicist to mail out review copies and pitch the book to print and broadcast media. Sometimes the publisher will run print advertisements in selected publications or on Web sites. The publisher cannot be expected to do much more.

Most publishers are publishing dozens of books a year and it is simply not practical or effective for your publicist to continue pushing your book month after month.

Some authors hire a publicist at their own expense to supplement the publisher’s efforts, but even with this added ammunition, the results are often disappointing.

By and large, the media decide what books they are going to review or feature. A well-connected publicist (yours or your publisher’s) will get your book to the right people, but after that, it’s up to a reporter, editor, or producer to decide whether they are interested or not.

If you’ve ever tried to get publicity for yourself or an organization, you know how difficult it can be. Publicists have the same challenges. In an environment where there are always more books being pitched than there is space or air time to feature them, the media usually give precedence to books by well-known authors or hot topics that they feel their readers will be interested in. Even if you’ve got a decent platform and a timely book, there’s no guarantee you’ll secure the type of national press coverage that’s usually needed to sustain strong sales.

Even if you’re able to generate publicity or land a positive review of your book in a major publication, it doesn’t necessarily translate into sales. Sometimes luck and/or timing play a role in determining what books make it onto the bestseller lists.

Since a publisher has limited control over which books succeed and which ones fail, and a narrow window of time to promote any given book, it’s essential that you work hard to promote your book through your own network of industry-specific contacts.

Publishers are generally focused on reaching mainstream media outlets, so you should draw up a list of your own contacts, people who may not be on your publisher’s radar screen, and have your publicist mail out review copies.

Your personal involvement in your book’s media campaign doesn’t guarantee success–you’ll no doubt run up against the same obstacles your publisher faces–but at least it will give your book a better shot at success.

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!

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

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.

To understand why literary agents scrutinize projects so carefully, you need to understand the sales process.

I’m going to be most responsive to projects that I believe are saleable to the major publishers I work with. Even if I’m interested in the idea you’re pitching, I have to believe that the editors I work with are also going be receptive to the idea.

Because of the considerable amount of time required to shape an idea, pitch it to editors, and negotiate a contract, it’s simply impossible for an agent to represent everything, even projects that are likely to result in an offer from a publisher. Literary agencies are businesses, and they are not only motivated by their personal interest in certain topics, they are motivated by projects that are going to generate the most interest (and the strongest offers) from publishers.

No two literary agents are the same. Since agents have different personal interests (one may be interested in history while another may not) and different relationships with editors and publishers, it may take awhile for you to find an agent who can be an effective champion for your book.

There are several steps in the process of getting a book published.

First, the agent has to pitch the idea to an editor at a publishing house. Second, the editor has to sell your project internally to his/her colleagues (including the marketing and sales staff) and build enough in-house support to justify an offer from the publisher to the agent. Third, the publisher has to sell your book to the book buyers at the chains and bookstores.

This doesn’t happen until about six months before publication, when the publisher releases its catalog for the upcoming publishing season and publisher’s sales reps call on bookstores (and other accounts), hoping to generate big orders from book buyers.

Fourth, the publisher (and the author) need to generate enough publicity to make the public aware of the book and in turn drive sales.

When an agent is reviewing a book proposal, he/she has to think about all of these hurdles and whether or not the proposed book can successfully clear them.

TO BE CONTINUED.

My Agent Answers: Why Do You Need a Literary Agent?

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.

Due to the overwhelming number of writers seeking a contract with a major publisher, editors cannot possibly keep up with the hundreds of unsolicited submissions that come in every week. This is why most major publishers do not accept submissions directly from authors who are seeking publication.

Instead, they rely on a network of literary agents who understand the publishing business, have relationships with editors and know the subject areas and types of books that specific editors are most likely to be interested in.

Within each of the major publishing houses, there are dozens of editors, each with their own interests and “wish lists” for books.

A literary agent is usually the most efficient way to find the right editor, and the right publisher, for your book. An agent can help you improve your book proposal, resulting in stronger offers from publishers, and consider publishers you may not have even thought of approaching.

Publishing is a very specialized field, and book contracts can be especially complicated. Just like you should never sign a business contract without a lawyer, I don’t recommend you sign a book contract without a literary agent.

A literary agent can help you secure a better deal by helping you to select the right publisher and negotiating improved contract terms that will protect your financial and intellectual property interests.