When the topic of self-promotion comes up at writers’ conferences, I always encourage aspiring authors to establish some sort of web presence to help literary agents learn more about them than just the basics included in a query letter. I always evaluate what a writer has posted online in addition to the information formally presented to me in a query.
Being discoverable online is one of the best things a writer can do to create opportunities for publicity, networking, or getting published.
In 2011, as I mentioned previously, I’ve been paying closer attention to the approximately 3,000 literary journals and magazines that publish creative writing in English. Editors and writers are investing their time and passion in these publications, and I would rather examine their output than read query letters. I hope my new strategy proves to be worth the effort.
When I see a published story that appeals to me, I read the biographical details included with the piece and guess at whether the author is represented by an agent. If I think the person is likely to have a novel or memoir in progress or completed, and if it appears as though the person might be seeking representation, then I look for an email address, so I can send the writer an invitation to contact me.
I’ve reached out to only a handful of writers so far, because I’m gauging their reactions. I need to refine the wording of my invitation so that it anticipates and answers most of their questions. There’s also the potential difficulty of overcoming the many well-intended warnings issued to aspiring authors, who are frequently told that real literary agents never contact writers to express interest in their work. I’m here to tell you that it happens all the time—to writers whose work shows obvious promise. That’s the catch; there’s good reason for what you might call the average writer to be wary.
Frankly, if I were an ambitious new writer, I’d rather be flattered by attention from a celebrated literary agent like Nat Sobel or Esther Newberg or Janet Reid than baffled by kind words from me, a relatively new agent in a flyover state. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for getting in on the ground floor. And I couldn’t ask for better clients than those who have sought my assistance and decided to work with me.
But back to the problem of discoverability…
I’m surprised at how difficult it’s been to locate email addresses or other contact information for the writers whose work I’ve read and admired.
When an interesting writer’s name is a common one and the person has no blog, website, or online profile, then there’s very little hope of tracking the individual down. Spending more than fifteen or twenty minutes searching is unproductive. Posting a comment on a blog or profile asking the individual to contact me is too public. I’m not offering representation when I ask to read more of someone’s writing, and it’s entirely possible that I won’t be able to. Making our conversation about the matter public isn’t something I care to do.
If you’re an aspiring author who might appreciate the opportunity to work with an agent, to be interviewed by a reporter, or to be invited to a literary event, don’t be afraid to make your contact information discoverable online. Links to your published writing and a downloadable press kit are also helpful. Oh, and don’t forget to check your inbox!