How Writers Can Show Agents They’re Career Authors

pen to paperAn agent’s job is part project manager, part contracts consultant, part therapist, part editor, and always full-time advocate. We try to be so many things for our writers and all agents have particular strengths in one part of that equation.

However, what we all have in common is treating our writers’ careers like a business.

When we sign up new authors this is what we ask ourselves:

“How can we help you make a living from your writing?”

Not only do we have to fall in love with a manuscript, connect with the author personally, sell ourselves to the writer as their champion, and know how to sell their book–we have to have a strong vision for their career and know that we are the best agent to help them secure that future.

That’s why you hear agents saying “it wasn’t for me,” or “I liked it but I didn’t love it.”

We have to be looking two books, three books, or a series ahead. It isn’t just what’s on the page today, but if we think they can grow into an author we can help for years to come.


  • In the author bio paragraph of your query letter tell us you are working on your next book.
  • Have a short synopsis of your next book prepared if an agent asks.
  • Know where you see yourself in 5-10 years as a writer. Writing the same genre? Switching gears? Still writing?
  • Network with other writers and show a public commitment to your own success.
  • Make sure your social media bios include the word writer and your posts link to writing or creative topics from time to time.
  • You don’t have to have an MFA, but attending writing workshops or joining organizations is helpful. There are so many: SCBWI for children’s books, WFWA for women’s fiction etc.
  • Knowledge about how the industry works. This is my top book on the business: INSIDE BOOK PUBLISHING. This will provide you with more than you need to know.
  • Know what you want from an agent (other than the basics): publicity division, film/tv specialists etc.

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

32 thoughts on “How Writers Can Show Agents They’re Career Authors

  1. Doesn’t this rather exclude those of us who start writing late in life after other careers, in my case in the law? How do you view the writer who says I don’t want to be tied to writing a book every year? I’ve done deadlines and pressure for over thirty years. I love writing but I don’t want to be compelled to write. I do want my writing to be at as high a standard as possible and I want to produce a book that is properly edited, but I fear my age is against me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. writing later in life is no problem for me or any agent I know. Age is definitely not an issue.

      I don’t necessarily need writers to write a book a year, especially if it’s research intensive. But a book every 2 years is ideal. A book every 3 years is do-able depending on the genre.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. The latest issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine has an article about authors who wrote blockbuster novels later in life: Bram Stoker and Ian Fleming are just two of the ones mentioned.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Carly – some of the best advice I’ve seen from an agent in ages. I’m sharing this with my readers. I can fully understand in this world where so many writers are clamoring to make a living, agents are doing the same, so they need to cherry pick the ones who are the most diligent and serious. Spot on.


  3. As always, brilliant advice! I’ve written three manuscripts now, and they vary in genre. Do you think it’s better to come off as focused on one genre, but less work to show for it, or come off as hard-working but perhaps harder to market?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If they are say: YA romance and adult romance that’s okay. But if you’re thinking children’s picture books and adult thrillers those are pretty different.

      Eventually you’ll have to pick one or use pen names.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great advice, thank you for sharing this. I’m still in the very early stages of getting to the point of being ready to look for agents and love coming across advice to start keeping in mind as I do approach that point.


  5. Great advice, Carly. It’s nice to see an agent say they have to sell themselves to the author. In today’s day and age, writers don’t always see that aspect. They are too focused on selling themselves to realize agents are doing the same thing.

    Are pen names still a big issue? I noticed you said;
    “But if you’re thinking children’s picture books and adult thrillers those are pretty different. Eventually you’ll have to pick one or use pen names.” I’m in exactly that boat and am not willing to give up either. I’m guessing a pen name is in order?


    1. Yes, we need to sell ourselves too!

      And yes, you need a pen name. The problem is that once you have an author listing on Amazon it will pull up all your books and will confuse your fans about what you’re doing.


  6. I’m bookmarking this post. As usual, many mercis for great advice.

    ps – WD mentioned you again in their feature on agents! Congrats!


      1. People love your blog! I know I do, and obviously WD does, too. Before Christmas, my goal is to be one of those queries in your inbox. Happy reading!


  7. Good tips. I guess I take it for granted that agents I’ve queried & exchanged emails with know that an MFA and writing credits means I’m a career, professional writer… but maybe it is good to mention that I am working on the second novel! I sometimes find advice a person reads online backfires. I don’t want to overwhelm an agent or inundate them with like a ‘look at me, I’m writing!’ tone. LOL. That’s probably the voice in my head. What I’m saying is can’t an agent quickly surmise & read between the lines this fact based upon my like MFA from UCLA and writing byline credits? Or do you recommend saying it explicitly? Thx! (PS I’ve put this post in Pocket!)


    1. Yes, always say you’re working on your next novel. You can keep it short and to the point. You don’t need to say WHAT it is at this stage. Just add that extra line into your author bio. XX is from New York and currently working on her second novel.


  8. This is advice I never would have thought about before. While it makes sense that an agent wants to know that the writer will hopefully have future projects planned out, I never thought about mentioning that to agents in the query letter.


  9. Love it! It’s a business like any other, in the end. I attended a Writer’s conference and the coordinator said: it isn’t all about writing. Probably half or more of the work is dedicated entirely to creating a solid base. What sometimes causes a slight discomfort for me is having to “balance” a social network life between engineering and writing. Linkedin, for example, only allows for one current job. Thanks a lot for these great tips!


  10. Thanks for this post. I’m wondering where self-published writers fit into this picture, if at all. I enjoy self-publishing my paranormal romance books – I’m working with great professionals at Girl Friday Productions to provide editing and design, but I have writing projects that will keep my busy for the next decade and some of them will have to be under a pen name, because the genre is different. Can writers go back and forth between self-publishing and agent representation?


  11. Fantastic and useful tips for those of us seeking representation and help in the wide and, often, bewildering world of publishing. I shall take these to heart and have another look at my Bio, Query letters, synopsis, etc. Thank You Ever So :)


  12. This is such helpful advice. Thank you! It makes sense for an agent to look at an author’s long term career and these points will help me with my future bios and plans!


  13. I am binge reading your posts this afternoon, and I have to say this one was exactly what I needed to hear. I would never have thought to mention that I’m working on another project in a query, because I was afraid it would make it seem like I wasn’t wholeheartedly invested in the book I’m querying about. Now I know better! :)

    Liked by 1 person

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