The 4 Platform Elements That Most Impress a Literary Agent or Editor

how to get a literary agent

Right about now you’re probably elbow-deep in pie crust, realizing you forgot to get thyme at the store, and wondering if you’ll ever get all your cooking done before hangriness sets in. If you still need recipe ideas, a few free Thanksgiving printables, and a plan for cleaning the wasteland that surrounds you, take a look at last week’s post.

And if you’re ready to transition into slothing on the couch and sipping a cocktail, here’s what to read and drink this Thanksgiving.


The 4 Platform Elements That Catch an Editor’s Attention (Maria Ribas on Scroll down to read this article, or you can also click above to read the full post on Carly’s blog! Carly and I first met when I was an editor and I acquired The Wellness Kitchen from her, and now it’s fun for both of us to be on the agenting side. Her blog is a seriously fabulous resource for writers–get it on your bookmark bar, or even easier, sign up to receive posts in your inbox. I consider it a must-read!

10 of Our Favorite Literary TED Talks from 2015 (Nikki Steele for BookRiot): If you’re too stuffed with turkey to pick up a book, turn on one of these TED Talks and collapse up on the couch. They’ll make you think, even through the haze of tryptophan.


The Hardest Book Cover Quiz You’ll Ever Take (Daniel Dalton for Buzzfeed): If a game of Scrabble sets your parties into a tailspin of shouting, dictionary-thumping, and letter-throwing (ahem…), try this relaxing book cover quiz instead. Just kidding! This quiz is absurdly hard, and I definitely encourage pitting your family and friends against each other to see who gets them all right. Ultimate victory is what Thanksgiving is all about, right?

How One Man and His Twitter Army Stormed the Bestseller List (Charley Locke for “Social media for authors doesn’t have to be an additional duty of self-promotion. It can be a way to help people form a community based on investing in the success of a shared friend—a friend made through Twitter, Yo! MTV Raps cards, and the pages of a book.”

Hemingway, Mailer, PewDiePie? YouTube Stars Hit The Best-Seller Lists (Lynn Neary on NPR’s All Things Considered): PewDiePie has over 40 million YouTube subscribers–that’s more people than most print magazines and primetime TV shows reach nowadays, as Casey McIntyre, associate publisher for Razorbill notes. I love to see these reader-driven success stories, because it so upends the longstanding idea in the industry that only certain segments of the population are book buyers and readers. I think that idea has long held books back from being as popular a form of entertainment as movies, TV, and music. But the way I see it,  every single person has the potential to become a reader, if they can only find that book that appeals to them. As Judith Curr, the president of Atria (where I started my publishing career) says: “‘I was very keen on the idea that if all the kids and the millennials were on YouTube and in the digital space, then books needed to be in there,’ she says. ‘Because if books are gonna survive and still be part of a relevant cultural conversation they needed to be where the conversation is, and written by the people who are beginning the conversations and read by the people who are listening to them.'”


The 4 Platform Elements That Catch an Editor or Agent’s Attention:

Excerpted from

I started out in publishing as an editor. And about once a week, I would get rejected. Our acquisitions meetings were on Thursday afternoon, and I’d spend much of that morning preparing a pitch for why everyone should get excited about that book I was so excited about.

The meetings would go something like this:

Me: !!!!

Everyone Else: …..

Me: !!!!!!!

Everyone Else: ????

Me: !!!!?

Everyone Else: No.

Having your excitement be met with disinterest is terrible. I know it’s something writers struggle with every day, and it’s a thing agents and editors have to battle through, too. But after some comically sad flops, I finally started figuring out what I needed to say so that people’s ears would immediately perk up.

And what got the most ear “perkage” (that’s not a word, is it?) from acquisitions teams? A platform-savvy author.

Any great agent or editor will tell you that you don’t need a platform to get a book deal as a fiction writer—a wonderful book is all you need. But any great agent or editor will also tell you that you can only avoid these platform-building initiatives for so long. A wonderful book may get you in the door, but only a strong publicity and marketing campaign will get your book back out the door and into readers’ hands.

That’s exactly why coming into the publishing process with those skills and networks in place can make you extremely appealing as an author. I’ve sat in many strategy meetings where an author’s editor, publicist, marketing manager, and agent put all their expertise together to formulate a strong marketing and publicity campaign. Yet the author’s lack of familiarity with the online landscape, and most often, their discomfort with putting themselves out there, crippled their ability to execute the campaign. The worst part is that this makes for a miserable, lie-awake-at-night book launch, because the author is forced to battle the fears and anxieties of platform-building at a time when they can’t afford to stumble.

Don’t let that happen to you! I know I sound like a scare-mongering PSA, but I’ve seen too many incredible books be completely ignored because the author struggled with the foundational skills of publicity and marketing.

If you’re overwhelmed about where to start, here are the 4 platform elements that most stand out to agents, editors, and acquisitions teams:

1. Connections

It’s true that you don’t need to be well-connected to break out in publishing, but it’s even truer that having connections will help you. Editors and agents know how hard it is to get even an ounce of attention for a debut book, so working with an author who has access to the megaphones of tastemakers is a huge advantage.

But remember that this doesn’t mean you need to live in New York City, attend all the right writing programs, or rub elbows with the literati every day. This isn’t necessarily about knowing celebrities, bestselling authors, and high-profile journalists. It’s about forming real connections with the people who are right there with you in the trenches. Get out and meet writers in your neighborhood; join online communities; reach out to that writer you admire just to say hello. Remember that it takes a tribe to launch a book, and it’s a whole lot easier to make real friends when you’re not plying them with information about your book.

2. Press

Similar to connections, press mentions are a way to get attention for a book, and they’re the foundation of a publicity campaign. So when a book comes in to an editor or agent and the author already has press experience ? That’s a big, big plus. Publishers think of it as a two pronged advantage: 1. The author already has a relationship with gatekeepers in other media (reporters, producers, bloggers, etc.) and can call on those connections to get coverage for the book, and 2. The author has already proven that he/she is comfortable with being a public figure and understands that pitching and public speaking skills are essential to the successful promotion of a book. This shows editors that you know how to position yourself and your work in a way that receives favorable attention, and that is always a good thing.

3. Analytics

Ten years ago cold, hard numbers had no place in the acquisitions conversation for a debut author. Today, they can be the #1 reason why an author and agent hears a “yes” rather than a “no” from an editor, particularly in the practical nonfiction world. Again, this is something that’s make-or-break for nonfiction, but still a big plus for fiction writers, too. These numbers are a concrete way of showing editors that you already have a readership—that you’ve spent years building relationships across different online channels, and that those people think what you have to say is worthwhile.

Analytics can be anything from traffic on a website or blog to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media followers.

4. Email List

Yes, you could put this under analytics. But I’m breaking it out for a reason—it’s a breakout number. That means that even if your social media numbers are middling, having a significant email list can get an agent’s or editor’s attention. This is because sending an email is the most direct way to reach potential readers, and it’s also the only way you can (nearly) guarantee that the recipient will see an important announcement. With so many changes to social media algorithms lately, it’s hard to guarantee that important updates (like a launch announcement!) will actually make it to the people who want to know about it. That’s why I preach the gospel of the email list to all my authors—it’s the best thing they can focus on building, because it’s the only channel they can themselves own.

I know platform-building can be overwhelming, fraught with emotional pitfalls, and overall more pleasant to ignore than to face head-on. But the business of publishing, in any genre, always hinges around sales, and the sooner authors can build marketing and publicity skills, the sooner they’ll find their readership. And the less often that their exclamation points will be met with a cold, hard “No.”

Click here to read this article on Carly’s site!


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What to Drink This Week:

Turning things over to Jarrett to tell you about a new cocktail we’ve dubbed “Peak Fall”:

Apple Cider and Rum Cocktail Recipe 2

Fall is my favorite season of the year. First, I love the dramatic weather patterns and the colors on the trees. Second, fall is the first signal that the holidays are on the horizon (I mean, who doesn’t love that one-two-three punch of Halloween-Thanksgiving-Christmas?). Third, some of the best hunting is to be had in the fall (and winter)–you can get everything from deer to pheasants to squirrels. Fourth, it’s college football season. And fifth and finally, fall means apple cider.

But that last point is also the trickiest. As my friends and poor Maria know all too well, the only cider that I tolerate is unpasteurized apple cider. It’s almost impossible to find unpasteurized cider in stores, and pasteurized cider has a cloying sweetness to it that makes it much more like vomit apple juice than real cider.

Translation: This product has not been pasteurized and, therefore, definitely contains bursts of delicious apple flavor that can cause serious euphoria and happiness in people of all ages.
Translation: This product has not been pasteurized and, therefore, definitely contains bursts of delicious apple flavor that can cause serious euphoria and happiness in people of all ages.

Since we’ve moved to Northern Virginia, I’ve spent most of my fall weekends trying to figure out how to find unpasteurized cider (again, poor Maria, I know). Finally, this past weekend there was a breakthrough: the Alexandria farmers’ market! Farmers’ markets are one of the few places where you can find unpasteurized cider, but not all of them carry it. So get huntin’!

Once you have unpasteurized cider in your hands, you should first drink a lot of it straight from the carton, preferably accompanied by a dozen (give or take) apple cider donuts. Then, you should make this outrageous cocktail with the rest.

The Peak Fall

Apple Cider and Rum Cocktail Recipe

Makes 2 drinks

  • 3-4 oz. dark rum (infused with cinnamon and orange peel, as described below)
  • 3 oz. apple cider syrup (again, described below)
  • 1.5 oz. lemon juice
  • An orange slice
  • Orange peel for garnish

Infusions tend to scare people away, I think, because they sound difficult and time-consuming. But as the good folks who wrote Shake often suggest, you can do quick-infusions that literally take under a minute if you’re in a rush. For the rum in this recipe, buy a dark rum from the store and drop a few orange peels in it and some cinnamon (ground or a stick). Then you can either let it sit overnight to infuse, or you can quick-infuse it by shaking it vigorously in a shaker for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Whatever infusion method you use, just strain out the cinnamon and orange peel by filtering the rum through a coffee filter or paper towel.

Another thing you can do ahead of time with this recipe is make the apple cider syrup. This just requires putting about 4 cups of unpasteurized cider in a pot with a cinnamon stick and some more orange peels (and a tablespoon of whole cloves if you have them). Then boil the mixture over medium-high heat on the stove until it reduces to about half (roughly 2 cups of liquid). Finally, strain out the spices/orange peel, let the liquid cool, and bam–you have apple cider syrup!

After that, you just combine the infused-rum, apple cider syrup, and lemon juice (and I like to squeeze the juice from one small orange slice in as well) into a shaker. Fill the shaker with ice, and shake for about 15-20 seconds. Then strain it into an old-fashioned glass (or other short glass) filled with ice.

In the end, the double-infusion (both the rum and the infused apple cider syrup) make this cocktail burst with the flavors of fall. We served these drinks at a dinner party for friends a few weekends ago, and they got rave reviews!

Recipe adapted from several different recipes in Shake.

Happy Thanksgiving to all, and a very special thank you to my readers, who’ve helped this little corner of the Internet have the best year yet. Wishing you happy reading, eating, and drinking this week! 

3 thoughts on “The 4 Platform Elements That Most Impress a Literary Agent or Editor

  1. Where are the four tips to impress a literary agent? I followed a pinterest link, but this article only has the title and photo, but the article has nothing to do with platforms or agents! 🙁 Very disapointed…

    1. Nevermind, I found it… It was one of the linked posts listed up top, not actually this post! 🙂 heehee… guess I need to update those pins and get the right one circulating around!

      1. Hi Mirica! I’m so sorry about that–I hadn’t thought about how that link would be a little tricky to find if someone’s clicking through from Pinterest. I went in and added a chunk of the text of that article right into this post (with a link to the original on fellow agent Carly Watters’s site), as well as added more specific instructions at the top. Hopefully that will help orient any visitors so they can find what they’re looking for. And I hope you did find it helpful after all! 🙂

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