4 Questions to Answer Before Contacting a Book Agent
Obtaining agency representation is your first step toward getting profitably published. Most publishers won’t even look at unsolicited manuscripts.
But, before approaching an agent to represent you, you should finalize the presentation of your book.
Agents don’t have time to waste dealing with publishing ‘wannabees’ who don’t have, and may never have, a concrete project to represent. To busy agents, dreams don’t make it.
If you approach an agent before you’re prepared, you may never be able to contact them again. They’ll consider you a ‘dreamer’ and disregard you emails and phone calls.
Before approaching an agent, prepare an ‘elevator speech’ describing your project in the less than thirty-seconds it takes for an average elevator ride. If you can’t, your project probably isn’t ready for prime time.
Your elevator speech must answer four major questions:
What is your book about?
Who is going to buy it?
How does it differ from existing books on the subject?
How are you going to promote it?
1. What is your book about?
Finalize your book’s title and contents before contacting an agent.
The title is crucial to your book’s success. It must attract the attention of acquisition editors, book reviewers, bookstore managers, web surfers and readers. The title is often your one – and only – chance to make a sale.
Finalize your book’s table of contents and prepare a brief description of the contents of each chapter. You should also know how long your book is going to be and the number of illustrations, graphics or worksheet
Prepare two – three, if you’re a first-time author – sample chapters and hire a professional editor to fine-tune them. It’s better to show three perfect chapters than a finished manuscript filled with spelling errors.
You don’t have to write your whole book before approaching agents. And your sample chapters don’t have to begin with the first chapter, nor do they have to be in sequence. But, they must represent your writing at its best.
2. Who’s going to buy your book?
Next, show that there is a reachable market for your book.
Strive for urgency. Describe the market intrigued by, or frustrated by, your book’s topic. What symptoms does your book help solve? How many people share the problem? What are the consequences of the problem your book addresses?
Quantify your book’s market in terms of buying power, willingness to buy books and ability to be reached through associations or publications.
3. How will your book be different?
Next, position your book relative to existing books on the topic. Existing books on the same topic are a plus, not a minus. They prove there is a market for books on the subject.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of existing books?
Why will readers choose your book over existing books?
This section offers you an opportunity to describe your background and how it contributes to your book.
4. How will you promote your book?
Promotion is your responsibility, not the publisher’s. Your ability to promote your book is as important as your ability to write your book.
Start by identifying book reviewers and editorial contacts who can help promote your book. List publications that might run an extract from your book. Research producers who book guests for radio and TV interviews.
Discuss your speaking experience and willingness to travel to support your book. Describe how you will promote your book on your web site.
List authorities in your field who have offered to write a foreword or provide you with cover testimonials.
Agents are busy. To the extent you can sell your book idea as a realistic possibility in thirty seconds and can support your answers with research and strong sample chapters, you are well on your way to success.
After you’ve been successfully published, you may be able to sell a book on just the basis of an email. But for now, you must be fully prepared.