Traditional Publishing

How to get top-selling agents' attention

By Jill Nagle
Founder and Principal: GetPublished, guerilla guidance for your writing adventure – Thursday May 26, 2005

Many authors nearly jump out of their shirts when they get an offer of representation from an agent. However, not just any agent has the right contacts to get the kind of money your work may be able to command. A top-selling agent with a recent track record of selling work like yours for the kind of money you want is your best bet, yet so many authors shy away from approaching top agents, thinking those agents would never pay attention to someone of their stature.

The bad news is, it's true: top agents are often way too busy to give a new client the time of day. So how do you get top agents' attention? A personal introduction from one of their own author-clients gets an agent's attention more effectively than almost anything else. Some agents accept only such referrals, and no cold queries.

To create your own such connection, if you don't have one already, you'll need to approach authors whose work your target agent has sold. Some authors will be more willing than others to talk to you about their book, the process of getting published, and their agent. Those most likely to talk to you will probably be those who:

  • are less famous rather than more famous;
  • have a book recently out – they'll have publicity and connections on their mind, which you can leverage to both your advantages;
  • have a book that relates to but doesn't directly compete with yours;
  • view you as having something to offer them, which you most certainly do; and
  • after having looked at your work (proposal, or at least outline/sample chapters), believe it is worthwhile and want to support it.

Here's how to increase your chances of getting a personal referral to an agent from one of their authors:

  1. First, create a list of 5–10 agents who have recently sold works similar to your own for the kind of money you want.
  2. Next, do a search on using their text-search function, to get the names of authors whose books that agent has sold. The search will turn up the acknowledgments section in which the author thanks the agent – that's how you'll know which authors' books that agent has sold.

    Watch out for the rare agent name mentioned randomly in other sections of the book, as this is probably not an indication but a coincidence. Not every author thanks their agent, but enough do that you should be able to get a decent handful or two of authors, depending on how prolific the agent.

  3. Research those authors on the internet – check out their websites, if any, other places they've been published, so that when you approach them, you'll have done your homework on who they are.
  4. Familiarise yourself with the books of those authors you'll be approaching.
  5. Decide what you'll be asking the author for. Here are some suggestions:
    1. an interview, if you have a way to publish it (otherwise you may be perceived as wasting the author's time – I know I have been through this!);
    2. a blurb for your book. Don't ask them to write the foreword – you'll choose that person from among those who have written you blurbs, as you'll want the most famous; or
    3. help. About 25 per cent of authors will be genuinely interested in helping you as another author. The rest may be threatened, indifferent, or simply too busy.

Do not approach an author right off the bat by asking for an introduction to their agent. Ideally, you want such an introduction to be the author's idea. At that point you get to remain sceptical and ask about the author's experience working with that agent, letting the author convince you to approach that agent!

Here's a sample letter introducing yourself to an author whose agent you want to meet:

Dear U. R. Published:

I've been making my way through Another Way to the Top, and am particularly enjoying your perspective on Buddhism and gravity.

My own work centres around a Taoist approach to networking, and I was wondering if you might consider blurbing my upcoming book, Working the Web: How to Expand your Personal and Professional Network Using Small Increments for Exponential Results. I'd be happy to provide you with my outline and sample chapters, along with my bio.

I'd also be interested in talking with you about your experiences with your agent and publisher.

I can be reached at the number below or you can email me back here at your convenience.

Best regards,

I. L.B. Published, II

Jill's Guerrilla Tip:
Asking another author to blurb your book is a gift, not an imposition on them. First off, it's a compliment, even if they are too busy to receive it. Secondly, it's a great publicity opportunity to get their name in front of their audience, assuming your book reaches a similar audience.

You cannot have too many blurbs – what you don't use for the back of the book, you can use for other publicity materials, such as a press packet or website.

Here's another real-life example, a version of which I used with one of my clients:

Dear [Author]:

My name is [Aspiring Author], and I am inspired by your work and your successful marketing efforts. For the past twelve years, I have worked both as a therapist and as a corporate and nonprofit consultant to help engender more effective communication between individuals and within organisations.

Although I have approached communication coaching more from a cognitive than spiritual angle, empathy and recognition of the other have showed up as major themes in my work. I see us as taking complementary positions on these topics.

I am currently finishing a book proposal for [Working Book Title], based on [book's central concept]. [One-paragraph description of project].

I would very much like to send along my outline and sample chapters for your review and possible endorsement. I would also be interested in discussing with you joint publicity opportunities such as talk shows or interviews, and hearing about your experiences with your agent and publisher.

I can send my materials via email attachment or postal mail. I may be reached at this email, or at [phone number].

Best regards,

[Aspiring Author]

This letter is more content-driven, and attempts to capture the interest of the author by engaging her on a topic of obvious interest to her. This author also offers ideas for joint publicity endeavours, demonstrating that she's got the published author's interest in mind. She only mentions the agent in passing.

Jill's Guerrilla Tip:
Approach each published author you contact seeking to discover how it is you might work together. This is an important part of pre-publication networking. An agent introduction may well surface as an organic outgrowth of this type of connection. Even if it doesn't, you will have made a potentially important contact.

If after all this, you can't manage to wangle an author introduction, you've still got a number of other guerrilla tactics to maximise your chances of getting an offer of representation from an agent.

To learn more about how to avoid putting your dreams on hold by tying up your life's work with the wrong agent, get a copy of How to Find A Literary Agent Who Can Sell Your Book for Top Dollar at

About the Author

Jill Nagle is a published author and principal of GetPublished, which provides ghostwriting, coaching, consulting, teleclasses and more to aspiring and ascending authors. She has been helping other writers get published for the last decade.