The Secrets to Landing a Literary Agent

Entrepreneurs are full of lessons and advice, making them ideal candidates to write a book.

learn more about Dorie Clark

By Dorie Clark

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Many entrepreneurs dream of writing a book. For some, it's a lifelong dream; for others, it's a savvy way to market your business. (In addition to being a great read, Tony Hsieh's Delivering Happiness is a powerful commercial for Zappos.)

While self-publishing is becoming easier and more accepted, for many entrepreneurs a commercially-published book -- and the prestige and imprimatur that accompanies it -- is the ultimate goal.

Large mainstream publishing houses generally don't want to hear from authors directly. Instead, they require proposals to be submitted by a literary agent who does the initial vetting for them.

Therefore, the first step to getting published is landing an agent. Here's how to do it.

Related: Should You 'Write the Book' on Your Business?

Build your platform. Literary agents don't want to waste their time -- they only want to represent you if they think they can sell your book. The best way to convince them of this is by "building your platform" or, in other words, getting better known. Start investing now in growing your social-media following and booking speaking engagements to show that you're in demand and have an audience eager to hear from you. Making an aggressive effort to blog regularly was critical to my success in landing an agent, and ultimately a publisher, for my first book, Reinventing You.

Identify your candidates. The best way to land an agent is through a personal introduction. If you have friends or colleagues who have written books -- especially business books -- ask them to make the connection. If you don't, go to a bookstore and browse the acknowledgements section of books similar to yours. Almost always, the author will thank his or her agent. This is a good way to identify the people best suited to represent you, because they have a track record of selling works similar to yours.

Submit a query letter. Don't inundate agents with a proposal -- or, heaven forbid, an entire manuscript -- right away. Instead, write up a short one to two page query letter, which briefly explains the concept of your book, why you're qualified to write it and any notable details about why you're awesome (this often involves your platform, as discussed above). Invite them to contact you for the full proposal if they're interested, and when you hear back, you'll know you have a receptive reader.

Related: 10 Truths About Self-Publishing for Entrepreneurs With a Book Idea

Send in your proposal. Now, it's time to share your actual proposal. You can learn a lot in a variety of books that feature sample proposals (such as Jeff Herman's Write the Perfect Book Proposal), but generally speaking, your proposal will have two components. One is a sample chapter of approximately 20 to 30 pages, so they can get a sense of your literary voice and make sure you can write. The second is your actual marketing proposal, which includes a detailed description of the book and chapter outlines, an examination of competing works and why yours will be different, and an in-depth look at your qualifications to write and market the book: In other words, what's your platform?

If an agent likes the proposal and agrees to represent you, he or she will often ask you to make some revisions to ensure it will be even more irresistible to publishers and will then send it off. Generally, you'll start hearing back from publishers within two weeks and almost definitely within a couple of months.

Landing an agent isn't easy, and you'll likely have to approach a number of them before you find a fit. But once you do, the hardest part is over. Agents only agree to represent the very best authors and proposals. By following these techniques, you'll be well on your way to getting noticed -- and published.

Related: 5 Steps to Writing a Best-Selling Book

Dorie Clark

Speaker, Marketing Strategist, Professor

Dorie Clark is a marketing strategist and speaker who teaches at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. She is the author of Reinventing You. 

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