How I Landed A Literary Agent

If you are a writer who is unpublished you might be puzzled as to how do you get your book in front of agents and publishers. After trying to get a book in the hands of traditional publishing experts several years ago, I learned the hard way of what didn’t work. Fast forward to 2015 and I now have a literary agent that is highly respected in the Christian publishing industry. With all of the options in self-publishing and the higher quality of books coming out of the that segment of the industry, why would I want to go the traditional publishing route?

I have stacks of rejection notices from agents and publishers dated back in 2006 and 2007 when I was sending in queries and proposals. I received lots of positive feedback back then from those rejection letters that helped me land an agent in 2015. Without an agent and a publisher I decided to self publish then using an author services company that no longer exists. The book cover was beautiful and the formatting was excellent all the while selling a grand total of 300+ copies. After thinking about the experience during the next several years and becoming a intense reader of publishing books and joining many online writing and publishing communities, I decided I would try this writing/publishing thing again.

I read four books over and over again that electrified my thinking; Platform by Michael Hyatt, The Well Fed Self Publisher by Peter Bowerman, How Do I Decide? by Rachelle Gardner, and Ape:How To Publish A Book by Guy Kawasaki. Each one of these books educated me on the rise of self publishing and the how the publishing paradigm has shifted in the positive to self publishers. What this meant for me was that I was going to have to set up a publishing company, get my own ISBN numbers, hire an editor, a designer for both the cover and the interior layout and figure out how to market this new book.

So, before going the self publishing route again, I decided I would send out some emails to the agents whom I had queried several years earlier to see if there would be any interest in this new updated book I was titling, Uncluttered: When Spiritual Baggage Hinders God’s Vision For Your Life. Over the next several weeks my email began lighting up with agents who were interested in talking to me and finding out more about the book, myself, and other future books I might have in me. I was humbled to have some of the top agents in Christian publishing be interested in my writing. After prayerful consideration, I decided to accept the offer from Literary Management Group and Owner Bruce Barbour. Bruce is a stalwart in the Christian publishing industry. In 1870, his great-grand uncles, Fleming H. Revell and Dwight L. Moody, started publishing Christian books and founded Revell Publishing. But what made the difference this time and what did I do different? That’s what I want to share.

In 2006 when I began to query agents, I really had no idea what I was doing. I read some very good online articles about how to contact agents, but I found an article that stood out about how to write a formal book proposal by literary agent Terry Whalin. So, I decided I needed to write a formal proposal and start sending it to every agent that I found who worked with Christian authors. Then came the rejection letters. Some of them were the standard form letters while others offered tips and wished me luck.

Here’s what I learned:
1. What I did not know was that agents don’t want to see a completed proposal, they wanted to see a query letter.
2. You need to follow the agent’s directions on how to query them exactly as they specify.
3. You only send in a proposal when the agent asks for it.
4. The query had better grab the agent’s attention, you only have one shot.
5. Your writing has to be excellent

Here’s what I did different in 2015 to land a top notch agent who will partner with me in this publishing journey.
1. I had my manuscript edited for spelling, grammar, and content by a professional.
2. I secured endorsements from some leading ministry leaders and very well recognized authors
3. I recreated a new book proposal for Uncluttered
4. I chose only five agents I had queried in 2006, who would represent the type of book I was writing (Christian non-fiction). Three offered representation.
5. My email subject line read, Follow up from several years ago.
6. Attached the full proposal to the email
7. Began blogging, again. I began blogging in 2003 and from my estimate, was one of the first one hundred Christian bloggers at the time. I used to blog under the title The Southern Scribe. Blogging is essential to your writing career.
8. Began to work on building an email list by giving away a free ebook I had written.
9. Began to build my social media presence on Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook and I am just starting with Pinterest.
10. Waited.

In reality I had tightened up my writing skills, changed the title, pursued first class endorsements and educated myself on the publishing industry. I didn’t even know what a recto or verso page was, but I learned. More than anything, I did the very best I could to sell myself and why I should be writing this book. If you do not have the background and experience to seriously address a nonfiction topic, then save yourself the time and disappointment by not submitting a query. If you are writing nonfiction, choose a topic or need you can speak into with a fresh insight and practical experience. If you want to write a smash hit fiction book, make it a Amish Vampire novel.

Feel free to ask questions or leave a comment as I will answer everyone. I look forward to letting you know how it goes!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Jeff, I’m intrigued by the tips you laid out here based on your experience. I’m trying to do similarly and follow those points. I got positive feedback from Bruce and decided to research him, hence I came across your blog. How had your experience been in the market since partnering with his agency? TIA