ASK THE AGENT: How I Get Clients

“How do you get most of your clients?”

As you know, I’m in a “building” phase of this agenting gig, actively looking for clients. It’s been about three months and I’ve brought 16 writers into the agency. I thought you might find it interesting to know how I got each one.

Obviously a great deal of my time is spent culling through queries and searching for that one special book. But percentage-wise, only about a third of my business (so far) has come in over the transom. The rest came through referrals from people I know in the business.

Here’s a rundown so far:

Client #1: This is the first project I sold, a two-book deal on a women’s self-help project. She queried my colleague Greg Johnson and he passed it on to me. So it was over the transom.

Client #2: A novelist referred to Greg by another author we know.

Client #3: A non-fiction author and friend of mine. She wanted to make the transition to being a fiction writer and she decided I was the one to shepherd her through that process. She’s working on her first novel.

Client #4: A children’s Bible project, which I normally wouldn’t represent. But this came in over the transom and I really liked it.

Client #5: Someone my colleague Greg has been in touch with for quite awhile, but the time was never right for representation. His client list is full, so… lucky me! This is a series encompassing both fiction and non-fiction for teens.

Client #6: A doctor who was referred to Greg by a longstanding client of his.

Client #7: A novelist I met years ago. She queried me and I remembered her work.

Client #8: A query came in over the transom for this guy’s book and the title was so attention-grabbing as to be almost shocking. The proposal lived up to the title so I had to sign him.

Client #9: This lady queried me with a super unusual and attention-getting tagline in the “subject” line of the email. I was intrigued and called her. We hit it off and I think she has a good chance of selling her book.

Clients #10, #11 and #12: Novelists referred to me by friends of mine.

Client #13: A radio personality who queried Greg over the transom.

Client #14: A wonderful writer I’d seen in a magazine and thought was brilliant. I tracked her down, began reading her blog, an opened up communication with her. After about two months, I was convinced she has a good long-term potential as a book author so I signed her.

Clients #15 and #16, not signed yet but will be soon: People I’ve known for quite awhile and been familiar with their writing. Currently working to polish their proposals and manuscripts.

To tally it up…

(5) projects over the transom (31%)

(10) from referrals or other personal association (63%)

(1) that I pursued myself (6%)

So, what can we learn from this little exercise? Anyone?

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Bonnie Bruno on April 3, 2008 at 8:54 PM

    >What can we learn from this little exercise?
    Develop a unique slant. Craft an irresistible query. Airdrop chocolate over your back fence.

  2. David A. Todd on February 28, 2008 at 1:50 PM

    >Thanks for this post, Rachelle. I’ve never seen this type of information shared before. Guess I’ll just have to cough up a grand and head to the Ridgecrest conference to establish a few more relationships.

  3. Christa on February 26, 2008 at 5:52 PM

    >Just curious…What effect do you think the internet/email and its accessibility and pronto delivery have had on the number and quality of queries and writers’ expectations for speedy replies?

    And, since I’m also vertically-challenged, I’m with Katy…

  4. Tiffany Stuart on February 26, 2008 at 5:51 PM

    >Thanks for a wonderful brainstorming time today. I know your time is precious and our time together meant so much to me. Your wisdom and our friendship make my life brighter.

    I’m dancing with excitement! Thank you!

  5. Susan on February 26, 2008 at 4:40 PM

    >While I understand the difficulties of getting published and the statistics, I choose to learn my craft and write. Most of the “overnight successes” spent years in obscurity.

    Send out those queries and proposals. What’s impossible with man is possible with God.

  6. Rachel Starr Thomson on February 26, 2008 at 3:52 PM

    >Sounds like holing up in one’s room, cutting off all human contact for the sake of writing a novel, is not the best road to publication :). Networking (i.e. making friends) definitely plays a role in this business!

  7. Cathy West on February 26, 2008 at 2:56 PM

    >I still don’t know how you do it. I think I would go apoplectic just looking at your email inbox not to mention the stack of snail mail and paper manuscripts you have to go to. I don’t think you’ve mentioned this, but do you have a cut-off point in mind? I remember a couple of years ago when Kelly Mortimer started, it wasn’t very long before she stopped accepting queries. I would imagine at some point, you’re going to have to close the door, right? Of course, if Mel calls to recommend somebody I’m sure you’ll make an exception.
    And to anonymous – yes, it is extremely hard to get published. As you may have already discovered, most of the larger publishing houses no longer take unsolicited manuscripts, which means you need an agent. This can take a LONG time too…and, as my wonderful friends keep reminding me, getting an agent is not an automatic golden ticket to publication either. Ouch. It’s not? LOL. But don’t give up, work hard, study the craft and keep sending out those submissions!

  8. Katy McKenna on February 26, 2008 at 2:13 PM

    >I am a very short girl with a balance disorder and afraid of heights. I’d much rather have a friend refer me than take my chances on a stepladder.

  9. Richard Mabry on February 26, 2008 at 1:52 PM

    How big is your transom? And do you own a stepladder?

  10. Rachelle on February 26, 2008 at 1:39 PM

    >One thing I forgot to mention in the post (as if I need to rub it in)… those five clients I got “over the transom” were culled from more than 800 queries.

  11. Anonymous on February 26, 2008 at 1:29 PM

    >Funny, and this does make me laugh out loud, when I think of this. I had no idea how hard it would be to get published. I thought I would write my manuscripts and the first, well maybe not the first, agent/publisher I sent it to would be knocking on my door. I thought I would have to choose one that I thought was worthy. Reading your statistics verifies what I have come to realize, I must work hard to make my work worthy of publication. This is a very humbling experience but PRICELESS!


  12. Amy Storms on February 26, 2008 at 10:57 AM

    >But how many of your clients have had their works produced by Mel Gibson? 🙂 (Sorry. That one still makes me laugh.)

  13. Cyndi Lewis on February 26, 2008 at 9:26 AM

    >Write. Network. Submit!

  14. Rachelle on February 26, 2008 at 9:21 AM

    >Pam — yes, I think blogging is a form of networking. Agents and editors are human and like anyone, we appreciate it when people read our blogs. There’s also a name recognition factor. If I’ve been seeing your name in the comments of my blog for months, then your name appears in my inbox with a query, it’ll stand out. (Of course, I still judge each project on its own merits.)

    Anonymous — Outreach magazine.

  15. Anonymous on February 26, 2008 at 9:15 AM

    >I’m curious re: client #14, which magazine was it?

  16. Pam Halter on February 26, 2008 at 9:06 AM

    >10) from referrals or other personal association (63%)

    It looks like networking is the way to go. That means attending conferences/workshops and meeting people.

    Do you also think participating on blogs helps an agent/editor get to know a writer? I enjoy doing that, but mostly I read blogs like this for the learning aspect.

    Thanks for taking the time to help us out!

  17. Rachelle on February 26, 2008 at 9:02 AM

    >You guys… sometimes I write “LOL” but I rarely actually DO it. Today I did after reading your comments. Thanks!

  18. Anonymous on February 26, 2008 at 7:54 AM

    >I think we’re going to need a bigger transom!

  19. Anonymous on February 26, 2008 at 7:46 AM

    >I have a very small chance of being signed, lol.

  20. Matthew C Jones on February 25, 2008 at 11:35 PM

    >It’s time to have the Gardners over for dinner.