How to Present Your Book Proposal to an Agent

By Leslie C. Halpern

Writer’s conferences are a great way to meet agents and present your proposal, because literary agents fly in from all over the country specifically for this purpose. Meeting a literary agent (or publisher or book coach or editor) face-to-face may seem far more intimidating than sending out query letters and proposal packages through the mail.

These 10-minute pre-arranged interviews, however, provide a tremendous advantage over the thousands of other writers who never get (or never take) the chance to pitch out-of-town agents in person.

Although direct interaction with the agent has a strict time limit, the amount of time spent preparing for the writer’s conference should be extensive. Authors can’t just walk in unprepared and expect to dazzle the agent with a great idea. Many people have wonderful ideas; it’s having a wonderful idea and proving that you can implement it that lands an agent and publishing contract.

Need a literary agent?

Need a literary agent?

In addition, if authors are lucky enough to interest the agent in a book project, then they need to send the materials immediately before his or her enthusiasm dies down. The only way to send these materials in a timely manner is to have them prepared in advance before the interview. Authors can consult one of the many books on the subject of how to prepare a book proposal.

In preparing for an agent interview, focus on two areas: what to do and what to bring.

What to Do

  • For nonfiction book projects, write a clean, edited proposal, a table of contents, and up to three sample chapters.
  • For fiction or collections of stories, write a clean, edited proposal and the entire manuscript, if possible.
  • Prepare a writing resume that highlights your publishing history and relevant education and experience.
  • Research the agents attending the writer’s conference to see what kinds of genres they represent.
  • Dress as if you were going to a job interview.
  • Be prepared to deliver an oral 2-3 sentence synopsis for your book. Have a clear idea of the genre and market.

What to Bring

  • The manuscript (or at least a portion of it). Agents usually don’t want to read it there or take it with them (because manuscripts weigh down their luggage). Typically they will give you a business card with directions to send it to them.
  • A writing resume, a 2-3 sentence synopsis, and business cards.
  • Copies of your previously published books or articles (if no book credits).
  • Pen and paper to take notes. Write down any suggestions the agent offers, even if they don’t want to take you on as a client.
  • A list of questions you would like answered.

Good luck!