Monday, October 15, 2012

How to get publishers and agents to knock on your door


I was discussing the events of my last post with my assistant at work (about an author complaining that publishers and agents weren't coming to her), and she commented that it actually is very possible to get publishers and agents to "knock on your door", and I thought that might make an interesting blog post. Because it's true--I think most agents and editors have reached out to a potential author or agent at some point, whether or not it turned into a book. Here are a few ways it can happen (note: this is for all books, not specifically children's books):

Become a celebrity 
Okay, so this is probably the most difficult to accomplish, but it's probably the easiest way to get noticed in the publishing world. Heck, there's even a whole category for it: celebrity books. And the main reason why this is a viable publishing model is that most celebrities (depending on who they are, of course) are able to get media coverage for their book. This is huge when it comes to book sales, mainly because if a bookstore knows that a celebrity is going to be on the Today Show or the Tonight Show or on the Ellen Show, they're more likely to stock the book in their store.

Get a platform
This is similar to the first category, but perhaps a bit more "doable" for the non actor, singer, politician, or reality star. Getting a platform can mean becoming an expert in your field and writing papers, speaking at conventions, and being interviewed. It can mean creating a blog and keeping the content fresh, useful, and interesting, and getting tons of readers. It can mean making viral videos on Youtube. It can even mean just being very funny on Twitter and gaining a ton of followers. If you're an illustrator, start an Etsy store and sell prints, cards, T-shirts, and other products featuring your artwork. Many of my colleagues have contacted artists they've admired on Etsy. Todd Parr was discovered at the Licensing Show selling T-shirts. It can happen!

Become a journalist/write articles
Oftentimes editors and agents will contact the authors of a fascinating article they've read, whether in the NY Times, the New Yorker,, or another magazine, newspaper, or online journal, to see if they might be interested in expanding the article into a book. This perhaps works best for nonfiction books, but can happen for fiction as well.

Live a unique, fascinating life. Speak out.
If you have a unique life story, you can get noticed. Maybe you're the oldest Peace Corp volunteer in a certain region. Maybe you've sailed around the world in eighty days. Maybe you because the youngest person to climb Mt. Everest. Maybe you started an anti-bullying campaign that went viral. Maybe you saved a beached whale. None of this guarantees a book contract, but it sure doesn't hurt. I've definitely heard about people with interesting stories and approached them about writing a book. One of my colleagues read a New York Times article about layoff at the New York City Ballet, and took notice of one dancer who was very outspoken in the article and contacted her for a meeting. That turned into the book Bunheads by Sophie Flack.

Self-publish your book, do it well, and sell a bunch of copies
Easier said than done (it's a tough market for everyone), but this has been happening more and more, such as with Amanda Hocking and 50 Shades of Gray

Post your writing on writing community sites like, or write fanfiction
Some editors and agents I know look on these sites to find talent. If your writing is "voted up" by the community, it can get noticed.

Are there other ways you can think of to get the publishing world to come to you?


Libby Koponen said...

Interesting post, Alvina!

This isn't a new way but more a variation on one of yours: even a LETTER in the NY TIMES will do it....I remember reading about someone, of course I can't remember who, whose letter on the OpEd page generated many inquiries and even I think some offers from both agents and publishers.

This next one MIGHT be something fictional, not real -- but I have a vague memory of a couple who faked a crime in order to get publicity for the wife's book. It ended with them in jail....not recommending this of course, juts showing the lengths to which some people will go.

Anonymous said...

I would think that something as seemingly old-fashioned (in this age of virtual interactions) as networking at conferences might be another effective way to get an agent/editor knocking at your door.

Kimbra Kasch said...

Fun post. Of course it made me want to comment on this post... and minimize lurking. You know speaking out ;D on a community site.

Meghan McCarthy said...

Two of my editors found me this way. One editor saw my artwork on a local brooklyn website and sent me an email and the other saw my first book in a bookstore. It DOES happen!

Carol Baldwin said...

I wouldn't have guessed that self-publishing your book would be the way to get noticed. Thanks for all the info.