Last time we covered getting negative feedback from agents. This week we’re covering the more common problem: getting no response. This will happen to the majority of your submissions. I admit, maybe things have changed, I’m not sure yet via first-hand knowledge. The last time I did this process the Internet was just gaining traction, and Wikipedia, FaceBook, and Google didn’t even exist yet, so it was all snail mail. And even though I included return postage, most of my queries got zip, zilch, nada in terms of a response. I do hope in the age of email it’s better, but human nature being what it is I won’t hold my breath.


At least the next step is the same: you need to get new leads. Here is where you’re going to be a little sneaky and think outside the box (outside the Internet in this case).


It’s going to seem underhanded, truly, but before you worked hard and honest, now you need to work smart. I want you to go to a bookstore. A REAL one. No online, and no libraries. We need insider info on sales data. So find a real bookstore, and if you’re shy, meditate, knock back a drink, take a Xanax, whatever helps. Take along pen and paper, or a phone where you can take notes.


Now, you’re going to find an employee. Ask them who is on staff, there currently, who knows your genre well. If you wrote a mystery, e.g., find out who knows mysteries best.


Next, you’re going to ask that employee what books have come out in the past year that they thought were good, but didn’t sell well. Got that? You need to know about books that:


1. Were published in the last 12 months

2. Are well regarded critically

3. Did not sell well/were commercial disappointments


Make sure you ask about FIRST or SECOND books. Many authors don’t start selling at high volumes until they have 5-10 books out, so you want to target the ones that haven’t reached that milestone. We’ll go over why shortly.


I want you to collect as many as possible, 15-30 is ideal. This is where a larger bookstore comes in handy, and only ones that deal in new books, please. You’re not going to buy anything, so if you have moral issues with big box retailers, stow it.


Take your haul, find a place to sit. You are going to look at the author acknowledgements. Pick out any agent names (almost all authors thank their agents), and your haul should be 10-20 names. WRITE THE NAMES DOWN.


All right, be kind and reshelf the books correctly. Don’t skip this, booksellers are our friends! Now, you’re going to Google those names. Find their agency if they have one, and only cross off names if the agent’s website explicitly states they are NOT accepting ANY new submissions OR if their client list contains a best-selling author.


Note the requirements for the rest, and send your queries off again.


Why do this? These agents are proven to have contacts in publishing (they have gotten books published). They are also, likely hungry (but they didn’t sell well). We narrowed the field to agents who have contacts but as yet do not have a high seller, meaning their cut is pretty much coming from advances only. Since they are not representing best-sellers, have recent contacts, and have bills to pay, you stand a better shot.


Why didn’t we do this the first time? Because, frankly, it’s intrusive. Some of these agents may have crossed your desk in the first search, and that means they are actively seeking, and you already mailed them. We’re targeting the ones not actively seeking, but have a need that you can fulfill this round. This is hard-selling, and when you’re a first-time author you don’t start out with the hard sell. A good salesman asks the customer if they need help long before he tries to convince them what they need.


I’m going to level with you. Finding an agent can take time. You’ll have faster luck with a boutique publisher, but if an agent and a traditional publisher is what you want you’re going to have to work for it. If you tried boutique publishers and got no response, I’d wait a little longer- they usually have a 100% response rate.


If this round nets no positive responses, go back to the Internet and look for new agent listings, as you did before. If that doesn’t work, try this method again. Always leave yourself at least 8 weeks in between each round. Sometimes it’s just a numbers game and you have to wait for an agent to be available that would also be interested, which is more luck in timing than anything else.


Remember, Tom Clancy went through 70 rejections before getting published. Whatever you think of his writing, you have to admire his determination, and emulate it. Just keep repeating the cycles until you luck out.


Next time, we’ll go over what to do when you get a positive response. What will you have to sign? What will you have to pay? What can you expect? Until then, happy hunting, and godspeed!