"The universe is made of stories, not of atoms."
—Muriel Rukeyser


by Jeff Rivera

I do extensive work with seasoned and aspiring writers to attract the right agent for them. I deal with literary agents every day on some level, either in matching them with the right authors or helping their clients to promote their current books, or even more important and lasting helping to build their authors' platforms. So, I'm in a very unique position to listen carefully to what agents are looking for and what they say they want right now.

We are constantly receiving an influx of media messages about economic changes and how that is or could be effecting the future of book publishing.

Some agents are scared with some of their key relationships in the editorial departments at publishing houses being laid-off and publisher's tightening their purses on the amount of an advance for a book they acquire, this is effecting the agents' pocket books.

They are having to redefine their interests, sometimes "selling out" as one agent put it and taking on projects they normally wouldn't be interested in but that they know will sell.

Right now, if you want to attract an agent you need to be concentrating on two things, whether you write fiction or non-fiction.

1) A fantastically written book or non-fiction proposal
2) A strong platform.

Some would argue this has always been what a writer should be concentrating on, but it is true now more than ever.

When I ghost or co-write a query letter for a writer, I see the difference in responses from agents between those that have a strong platform and those that do not. It is night and day.

Let's talk about the importance of Category 1: a fantastically written book. Do whatever you need to do to make that book unbelievably fantastic. You can no longer rest on something with a great concept that is written mediocre. There are no trends like chick lit or street lit to fall back on. You need to make that book zing. What does that mean?

That means if you need to find a qualified freelance editor like John Paine or those provided by www.thewriterslifeline.com or a host of other freelancers such as Marcela Landres who can line edit for you, then you do it. If you need to find a ghost writer with a track record of NY Times Bestsellers, like Pat Tucker to take your writing to the next level, then do it. You do what you need to do to make that book unbelievable. If you're writing a non-fiction book including a memoir then you better make sure that book proposal is solid. Talk to someone like Nancy Padron who specializes in writing book proposals.

And secondly, which brings us to Category 2: you need a strong platform. What is a platform? A built-in fan base. It can mean a YouTube audience, it can mean blog with thousands of subscribers, it can mean you are vetted as an expert by the national media, it can mean you have a radio show with thousands of listeners and you have a roster of thousands of fans poised and ready to buy your book. These are people who aren't just potential buyers but who are guaranteed buyers.

This goes for non-fiction obviously but fiction too, nowadays. Agents always comment about how difficult it is to sell fiction, but you better believe that if you've built a loyal following of thousands of fans (and you can prove it), thousands of fans that follow your weekly short stories and it's all leading up to what happens in a novel that agents and editors will take a good look. How many people do you need in your fan base? One agent says you need so many that those not in your target market will have heard of you. But I will go even further and say you need to have at least 10,000 fans (though you might be able to get away with 5,000 fans.) Did you know if you have 10,000 fans you can actually make a living? Here's a link to an article about that very subject, here.

To give you an example of how important a platform is to agents: One client we did a query letter campaign for yesterday had been in 3 national magazines, had a database of thousands of people and within 3 hours she had 12 agents requesting her work. To date, less than 24 hours from her campaign she's had 75 agents requesting her work (all top agents). Another client we did a campaign for yesterday also had won a major award, and we worked with him to get committments for over 12 television stations to write letters saying they guarantee to have him on their show when his book comes out. The result? over 70 agents so far requested his proposal in 24 hours. Platforms are important to agents in these economic times and they need to be just as important to a writer who is looking to snag an agent now.

To find out more about how you can build your own platform visit: www.GumboWriters.com

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