Twitter & Literary Agents: Looking Below the Social Media Surface

As an agent who uses Twitter a lot in my day-to-day, talking about books I’m reading, projects by my authors, posting pictures of my corgi… I get a lot of queries that specifically bring up my Twitter account.

Most of the time, these mentions are great. They discuss things I’ve tweeted regarding what I’m looking for, like something on my manuscript wish list. Which is exactly what I like to see. But every now and again, I get a query saying that based on my Twitter account, I’m the person they want to work with.

This happened a lot in my first few months of agenting, and it still happens now. Comments about me being funny or what have you, and I feel like this is something worth discussing.

Because social media shouldn’t be the only gauge you use when it comes to wanting to work with someone.

I love social media. If it wasn’t for blogging and being active on Twitter, I wouldn’t have gotten my start in publishing. But it’s important to remember that not everything you see on these public accounts can tell you everything about working with an agent.

For the most part, it’s all victories. Sugar and icing. And while that stuff is delicious, there’s a lot more substance to a cupcake.

Am I calling myself a cupcake? Sure. Why not.

The sales. The new clients. The screaming over cover reveals. The excited public celebrations when a book gets picked up and reviews start happening. Sharing photos at conferences. You see the playful jokes between industry people, authors, and bookish friends. The playing along in pitch contests and bookish hashtags.

But that’s all on the surface, my friends.

You don’t always see just how many books an agent has sold. You don’t see how happy all of their clients are. You don’t always get to hear about the failures or the frustrations or really get a grasp on how many connections someone might have. Followers don’t necessarily mean connections. What are they like professionally?

Don’t be fooled into thinking someone might be perfect for you, just because they’re funny on social media. Personality matters, absolutely. Publishing is totally a deeply personal business, and I believe it’s important to connect to your agent personally. But there’s that word in there. Business. The business side of things matters a great deal, and so does everything beneath the surface of the online persona that is put out there for the public.

Here’s what you should look for, when checking out a potential agent’s Twitter account:

Wishlists: Thanks to fun tools like Manuscript Wishlist and the #MSWL hashtag, it’s easy to see what agents are looking for. Try searching that agent’s handle with that hashtag, and see what they’ve been pining for.

And there are several editors and agents I can think of who use inspiration boards, posting their favorite books on Pinterest or Tumblr. Watch for these links when they pop up. Maybe your book shares similar themes as some of their favorites.

These are absolutely reasons to pitch someone based on their Twitter presence. Actively discussing projects they’d like to see.

Actual Sales: So many agents who are active on social media will talk about their sales, and have lists of recent projects. Click on those links in their Twitter bio. See what they’ve worked on.

Does that agent not have any sales? Are you having a hard time spotting anything? That’s not a reason to avoid pitching them. They could be a new agent. Maybe they’ve been interning a while or were an assistant who got promoted. Maybe they moved from the publishing side of things to the agency side. New agents are hungry for new clients.

Social media gives the chance to do this kind of easy research.

Agency Affiliations: Who does this agent even work for? What’s the name of the agency? What’s their track record like, who are the authors they work with? Generally, you’ll see an agent’s agency in their Twitter profile, a link to their website. Don’t stop at just reading up on the agent. Visit their mothership.

What They’re Reading Now: Who on bookish Twitter doesn’t actively tweet about what they are currently reading? Check out their stream, see what’s been keeping their attention lately. Maybe you have similar tastes, or your book is a solid comparative title for what they are loving lately.

Contributing to the Community: Okay, so not every agent (or editor or author for that matter) is going to use Twitter as a place to share tips and advice. But see how the agent you’re thinking of pitching interacts with your community. See what they give back. Do they blog? Do they dish out advice or go to conferences? These are good signs, in my opinion, though again, not everyone does these things.

And what about the things you shouldn’t care about? I mean, I already brought up how much of what we tweet ends up being very surface-level. What about the things that aren’t?

First, if an agent doesn’t have Twitter… relax. Don’t do that thing where you scoff and roll your eyes because they aren’t on social media. It’s not necessary. At all. I know this statement is going to come as a massive shock… but people who don’t have Twitter actually exist. You can look at an agent’s sales on their respective websites and get to know their tastes that way.

And if they are on Twitter, remember, not everyone is super active on social media. It isn’t for everyone. So please don’t judge an agent based on their following. One, because while some connections can be made on Twitter, the business happens in email, on the phone, and in-person. Not over 140 character tweets.

And two, because social media doesn’t really sell books. Your agent has a bunch of followers, awesome! Them tweeting about your book isn’t going to get you sales or get your book sold. Careful pitching and research, that’ll sell your book to a publisher. Publicity, marketing, events… that’s what sells your book at the bookstore, when you’re getting published.

It’s great to have an ally on Twitter to signal boost you, sure. But that’s not where all the work happens.

And as for activity on social media… if the agent is inactive, that shouldn’t be a deal breaker for you. Hasn’t tweeted in a few weeks? It’s fine. People take breaks. You know it. That acquaintance of yours from high school announces their social media break on Facebook every other month in long, unnecessary posts.

See how busy they’ve been off social media. The sales. The projects. That’s what’s important.

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2 Responses to Twitter & Literary Agents: Looking Below the Social Media Surface

  1. Cyn Vannoy Jul 12 2017 at 12:51 pm #

    Very solid advice, Eric! Thank you for putting it out there. You were the very first agent to whom I ever submitted a query (I know….awwww…), and I was already following (most) of this advice very carefully!
    I found you on the pages of Writer’s Digest magazine, so I like to think I had a solid upbringing in the world of writing and publishing.
    One question though; how DOES one go about looking into agents’ sales? Somehow I thought that was hush-hush…aside from seeing the excited posts about new titles, that is.

    • Eric
      Eric Jul 12 2017 at 12:53 pm #

      Hi Cyn! Most agents will have some kind of website where they talk about recent sales and/or list their clients. If it’s not their personal site, it’s the agency site.

      If you can’t find any of that, sometimes agents will have a public Publisher’s Marketplace member page that you can check out.

      Sales aren’t hush hush. Agents want people to know about their projects. 🙂

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