The Magic Focus Thatíll Get You an Agent

By David Ryback

Literary agents make a business of getting publishing houses to consider producing books written by their authors. Many writers, myself included, have long thought, ďif I could just get a good hard-working agent to represent me, then he or she would pitch my concepts to the publishers and voila, Iíd be a big successful published author.Ē Unfortunately -- and youíre probably ahead of me on this but Iím going to write it anyway -- it doesnít work this way. Literary agents are like speakers bureaus; they donít need you until you are a hot, in-demand product. They want to sign you up when publishers are clamoring for you. That makes their selling jobs easier and their credibility and incomes soar.

Well, does that mean itís impossible to entice an agent to represent you before your name is established in literary circles? No, but you have to prove to them that your manuscript has great potential for commercial success. How do you do that? Iíll tell you, but first let me warn you not to fall into a common trap for the new writer. Donít become so enamored with your manuscript that you fail to succinctly identify why it is unique and exactly what itís commercial appeal might be. 

Itís easy to understand how we speakers fall in love with our own writing. We slave at it for hours, weeks, years. We make sacrifices. We give up family life, social activities, even our own leisure alone time. We face blank pages with fierce determination to tame the unruly thoughts bouncing around in our minds until they make sense to the imaginary readers who will judge our results and fund our success. By the time weíve completed our masterpieces, you bet weíre in love with them, as any mother who has brought forth a child can clearly understand.

So when most of us write query letters to entice agents to notice us, we start off announcing what a piece of work our writing is, similar to the mother who proudly maintains that her child is the most wonderful creation of the ages. Bad approach. Thatís the assault agents are bombarded with on a regular basis. It is not uncommon for established agents to receive queries like this daily. Many agents have adopted a ďdonít waste my timeĒ attitude toward writers who are eager to proclaim ďmy book is great because...Ē

For years I struggled to find an agent who might be interested in lobbying on my behalf to get my book published. I was frustrated. But finally, when I changed my tactic, I began to find interested agents. The trick? I looked at the process from their angle rather that from my own self-centered point of view.

Hereís a letter I sent to agents. Youíll see the logic in it as you read it.

Dear Mr./Ms. Agent,

Unless itís got blockbuster potential, a book project isnít worth an agentís glance these days. One component of such a book is (1) buzz recognition. Another is (2) success orientation. My book (3), Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work is based on (4) Daniel Golemanís best seller, Emotional Intelligence, as seen through the eyes of (5) successful leaders in the workplace.

The underlined parts of the letter need to be filled in with your own manuscriptís special success features. Numbers (1) and (2) tell the agent two factors about the work that make it desirable in the marketplace. In my case, the buzz recognition is current popularity of the phrase emotional intelligence: (3) is the proposed title of the book: (4) substantiates the validity by saying what itís based on: (5) relates to the point of view or ďangleĒ the work takes.

To illustrate another book I wrote could be described by filling in the blanks like this: (1) a credible formula for youth and longevity; (2) a broad receptive demographic; (3) ďLook 10 Years Younger/Live 10 Years LongerĒ; (4) credible and useful research; (5) the emerging demographic of middle-age baby boomers.

Now I leave it for you to fill in the blanks for your book, as you are the best judge to determine how to craft it into a blockbuster. I hope you take the time to do this because if you donít readily have the answers, then you arenít ready to convince a literary agent that your work has blockbuster potential. Spend some time polishing your version of this letter and you will have agents taking a second and third look at what you are bringing to the marketplace. 

David Ryback is the president of EQ Associates in Atlanta. Heís the author of Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work and Look 10 Years Younger/Live 10 Years Longer. He can be reached at


Want to write a book? Go to Ritaís web site and click on The Writerís Room. Take a look at Rita's The Procrastinator's Guide To Authorship: Stop Putting Off Your Success. Find a free article about writing proposals in The Writerís Room

Donít procrastinate in going there now.

Rita Emmett, author of The Procrastinatorís Handbook and The Clutter-Busting Handbook, is a professional speaker who presents Keynotes and Seminars nationwide. She can be reached at 847-699-9950 and email is

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