A great conversation ensued on a LinkedIn group when I posted on the topic of what literary agents expect from authors using social media based on what I wrote in a previous blog post.
There were over 40 comments on the post in the LinkedIn group. Many authors were not very happy that I said literary agents expect authors to have a solid social media presence if they wanted to get noticed.
- If an author must do their own marketing, why should we pay a literary agent? Isn't it their job to market the book?
- If an author needs to have their own marketing plan, what will the agent do for me? Isn't marketing supposed to be done by the traditional publisher?
- Most agents don't care whether you have a website, a blog or a social media platform . . . because publishers have their own marketing departments.
There were many comments also from authors who do understand the need to have a solid social media presence.
- If you want your book to shine above the rest, you need to put in the hours and do the leg work. The good news is social media is basically free. It just takes time & persistence.
- There are over 4,500,000 titles on Amazon. To get your book noticed, it must be excellent and have excellent marketing and promotion backing it along with social media marketing skills. This does not guarantee book sales, but it helps.
- Agents need to have a strong pitch to publishers. Publishers spend little to promote books and authors unless it's expected to be a best seller. The author needs to show they can fill in the gap with social media and promotions.
I read an article by Jane Friedman (she has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry) where she states, "The most common problem leading to rejection: no author platform." She goes on to say, "An agent or editor is going to evaluate your visibility in the market, and will want to know the following:
- The stats and analytics behind your online following, including all websites, blogs, social media accounts, e-mail newsletters, regular online writing gigs, podcasts, videos, etc.
- Your offline following—speaking engagements, events, classes/teaching, city/regional presence, professional organization leadership roles and memberships, etc.
- Your presence in traditional media (regular gigs, features, any coverage you’ve received, etc.)
- Your network strength—reach to influencers or thought leaders, a prominent position at a major organization or business
- Sales of past books or self-published works
All of this inspired me to reach out to Joanne McCall, who represents a group of New York literary agents. We had an extensive phone conversation on this topic. I asked these questions with the nonfiction author in mind and asked her if she had information that might differ for a fiction author to please share it. Joanne reminded me that all the information she provided is valid at this point in time. Things are always changing.
What is the first step an author needs to take to find a literary agent?
Joanne explained that it’s really a two-step process. First, before looking for the agent, start building your platform: social media and blogging, if it makes sense to have a blog for your book. Second, approach literary agents who deal in your genre. Some specialize in fiction versus nonfiction. Others might even just specialize in business books or health and wellness books. Do your research and find out exactly what each agent wants from you when you approach them. Joanne recommends Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors and Literary Agents.
You’ll be sending a query letter to an agent and Joanne says, yes, you will get noticed more if you mention your marketing plan, including your social media plan, in your query letter. Most literary agents will look at your social media platforms even before they respond to your letter. Your query letter is sort of a short book proposal and this applies both to fiction and nonfiction. The difference is that with fiction your book is already written. With nonfiction, your book may not be completed. You may only have sample chapters or a Table of Contents when you send out your query letter.
Does an author need a literary agent to get a traditional publisher?
Joanne said it is possible to get a publisher without an agent, but not many do that. It’s better to have an agent since they have industry contacts and know what to look for. An agent can help you write a proposal that gets noticed. They also understand contracts and rights. If you don’t get a literary agent, she suggests you at least hire a lawyer who deals with literary contracts so you don’t give away things such as ebook rights. This applies to both fiction and nonfiction authors. For fiction authors to get media attention, most of your focus needs to be on reviews, unless you have a really strong nonfiction angle.
Does a literary agent expect the author to already have in place the following: website, blog, social media presence on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn?
Their job is not to get you on social media Joanne says. It already needs to be in place. Too many other authors are already embracing all of this and if you don’t, your book may not get noticed. There may be an exception. An agent might be willing to start without all of that if they really love your topic, for example, but as a general rule, they will reply to authors who already have those things in place versus ignoring those who don’t. This applies to both fiction and nonfiction authors.
The literary agent’s job is NOT to market your book. Their job is to find a publisher.
Publishers will be looking at your social media platforms and numbers and these things need to be included in your book proposal. That doesn’t mean you have to be everywhere on social media. Joanne and I agree that you need to be where your market is and then go deep. Pick just one or two social media platforms and then really engage. Pick something you like. The main thing is to be consistent. Joanne says video can be very important. But if you hate it, then trying to force yourself to do it means you’ll probably not come across well and you will resent it.
How often should an author blog? Are book excerpts good blogs?
Joanne advises authors to be consistent. If you can blog three times a week, great. If not, then at least blog once a week – consistently. Don’t do it and then skip a couple of weeks.
Book excerpts can be good blog posts, particularly if you can show it causes engagement. This will show publishers that there’s already interest in your book.
Is a larger social media following a factor in whether a literary agent or publisher accepts an author's manuscript over another?
It used to be the norm that bigger numbers won. Since some authors are buying likes and followers, this doesn’t apply as much. Now they are looking more at engagement. Do your posts and messages engage people? Are they sharing your posts and commenting?
Joanne advises authors not to be too self-focused. Reframe your messages to show how others can benefit from what you are sharing. Don’t be afraid of sharing your competitor’s messages as well. She calls competitors “niche-mates”.
Is a book proposal necessary to get a literary agent?
No, but a query letter is necessary to find literary agents, and it should include some information on how you plan to market your book.
Is a book proposal necessary to get a publisher?
Yes, particularly for nonfiction authors. Even fiction authors should consider writing a book proposal to help define their target market, know what the competition is, help determine what you need to write, and to plan your marketing and book promotion.
Does a book proposal need to have a section about social media marketing?
Yes. According to Joanne the marketing section is the biggest part of the book proposal – both in its importance and in the number of pages it takes. The marketing section shows the publisher how you’re going to help sell your book. Are you going to speak, do webinars, hire a publicist and a social media expert to amplify your efforts? An agent and publisher may have a catalog of books and may include your book in it. Publishers may market your book on various media outlets and on their website. But most of their marketing dollars will be spent on books that are expected to do the best. You can help them see your book will sell by showing them what your marketing efforts will include.
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