Guest Post by Kelly James-Enger

Recently, I (J.lynn Sheridan) attended a writer’s night at our local library conducted by Kelly James-Enger. Kelly has an impressive bio.

She’s “a successful self-employed author, speaker, ghostwriter, and coauthor since 1997, and has written twelve published books and 700+ articles in more than 60 national magazines. Her book, Writer for Hire: 101 Secrets to Freelance Success was published by Writer’s Digest. Kelly is also an attorney with a rapid-fire delivery.

I couldn’t take notes fast enough.

Nor could I wait to shoot her an email asking her to guest post for us.

She was quick to accept.

When I asked the WAG for a list of burning questions for Kelly, they responded in typical inquisitive WAG fashion: 

“How’d Ya Do It? Get an agent? Self-publish? Platform in place? Journals and magazines first then the book? Tell us about the years of toil before the glory of published author-hood.”

And boy, did Kelly answer. Take notes, WSS’ers. You’re about to be schooled. 
The podium is all yours, Kelly. (and thank you.)


Someone in your Corner: How to Find a Literary Agent
by Kelly James-Enger


Written a novel or a nonfiction book proposal that you want to sell to a publisher? For most writers, the next step is getting an agent.

No, you don’t have to have an agent to sell your book—you can approach editors on your own. But an agent is likely to know much more about the world of publishing (as in what editors are buying, and for how much) than you do. She’s up on trends, has a feel for what editors are looking for, and has experience negotiating and working with book editors as well.

I was a magazine freelancer before I started writing books. When I decided I wanted to enter the world of book publishing, I realized I needed an agent. Sure, I could try to sell a book on my own. Big publishers may request agented-only material, but small publishing houses are always willing to work directly with authors, and there are thousands of them to choose from.

But I wanted an agent. I was serious about writing books, even if I hadn’t written one yet, and I felt (rightly so) that having an agent would increase my chance of selling my book. I also wanted to spend my time writing, not marketing my book to publishers, and I was willing to share the proceeds of a book contract with someone who could make that happen. I had a good idea and believed that it would sell. Now, I just needed to find an agent who also believed in it.

I started with Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents, which is updated annually, and made a master list of possibilities, keeping the following factors in mind:

• Did the agent represent the type of book I was writing? My book idea was about how to sustain long-distance romantic relationships, so I looked for agents who represented other relationship, popular psychology, and self-help titles.

• How long had the agent been in business? I didn’t want an inexperienced agent, so I looked for ones who had been agents for at least ten years.

• Was the agent located in New York? No, an agent doesn’t have to live in New York, but it’s a plus when it comes to face-to-face meetings and keeping tabs on the publishing industry.

• Was the agent a member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives (“AAR”)? Members of AAR are expected to adhere to its Canon of Ethics, which provides, among other things, that agents will not charge reading fees for potential clients. (Many writers have been duped by less than reputable “agents” who agree to evaluate and/or market a manuscript—for a fee of hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.)

• How many clients did the agent represent? I didn’t want an agent who only had a handful of clients, but I didn’t want a huge agency either. I thought between twenty and fifty would be a good number.

• What was the agent’s philosophy toward his or her business? Did the agent sound like someone I’d like to work with?

• Had I heard anything else about this agent? I’d seen several agents present at conferences, for example, and knew a few book authors who had agents. Several seemed like they might be the kind of person I’d like to work with; others didn’t sound like a good fit, at least not for me.

Considering these factors, I made a list of about 40 agents. Then I headed to the bookstore, where I checked out the relationship/self-help books. I’d looked at the current titles before, when I was working on the competition analysis section of my book proposal. Now, I checked the Acknowledgments sections of books similar to mine—authors almost always thank their agents, and book editors, by name.

After my bookstore search, I added a few names to my master list, then went through it and selected my top eight choices. I sent letters out to this group. Three agents asked to see the proposal, and one offered me representation right away. She became my first agent, and we worked together for more than a decade.

I think an agent gives an author, especially a new author, a huge leg up in terms of selling her book. So let’s talk about how you can get your own agent.

I suggest you start with a market guide like Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents 2013 or Writer’s Market 2013, and create a master list of possible agents who represent your type of book. Consider how long the agent has been in business, the size of his agency, and the authors he represents. There are a number of websites that provide information about agents, including the following:



Agents also have their own websites, where they post their submission guidelines, authors they represent, and information about their agencies. You may meet agents at writers’ conferences, or receive recommendations from other writers you know.  

In addition, I recommend visiting the bookstore to look for books that are similar in topic or approach to your own. That way you can look up the name of the agent in the “Acknowledgments” section. Add those agents to your list. After you’ve researched the possibilities and narrowed the field down to your top choices, send query letters out to your top picks. Any agent who wants to see more will ask for your proposal or the first few chapters and a synopsis of your novel or memoir.

If you’ve done your homework to choose agents who represent your type of book, and your writing is strong, you’re well on your way to becoming an agented author. Hopefully the next step after that is getting a book deal—and becoming a published author!


**This post was drawn from Six-Figure Freelancing: The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money, Second Edition. Kelly James-Enger has been a fulltime freelancer for 16+ years, writing nearly 1,000 articles for more than 60 national magazines. She’s a freelancing expert and the owner of Improvise Press, a niche publishing company. Her books on freelancing include Dollars and Deadlines: Make Money Writing Articles for Print and Online Markets. She blogs about making more money in less time as a writer at Check out for more about her books; use the discount code IMPROVISEPRESS (all caps, no breaks) for 20 percent off of your order.  

Dont forget to LIKE her page on Facebook.

Kelly James-Enger

7 comments for “Guest Post by Kelly James-Enger

  1. Becca
    November 4, 2013 at 7:31 am

    This is fantastic advice! I’m taking notes and will certainly keep all these tips in mind when I’m ready to find an agent.
    Thanks, Kelly!!

  2. November 4, 2013 at 8:23 am

    Good advice! Special thanks for the links; I’m familiar with Agent Query, but the other resources are new to me. I’ll certainly check them out!

  3. November 4, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Thanks so much, Kelly. You’ve offered some great advice and resources here that I haven’t seen elsewhere. We really appreciate you visiting Wordsmith Studio!

  4. November 4, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    Great resources, thanks for the links!

  5. November 4, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks for laying out the research behind securing the right agent!

  6. November 4, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    Fantastic interview – just started to read out of politeness will return to devour out of desire ! THANKS 🙂

  7. November 5, 2013 at 1:19 am

    Great interview! I have been using Agent Query, but didn’t know about the other resources. Thanks for the good advice.

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