Literary agents and publishers regularly receive hundreds to thousands of unsolicited queries and book proposals per year. That can mean 10 or more each week.
They often rely on manuscript readers to skim requests and to vet authors. They also turn to professionals with a track record of recognizing talent to find the types of projects they're specifically looking for.
We look at your website and social media accounts to see how active and engaged you are with your audience. If yours is a nonfiction project, we see how often you're speaking about your topic and to whom, writing about it on more than just your blog, and how you stack up to your peers.
We're looking for clues about how ambitious and committed you are, how confident and flexible you are, how others see and react to you, and how you handle both pressure and opportunity.
I love actor Bill Oberst Jr.'s mindset: "I see myself as a commodity." (1)
That mindset will help you craft your brand and develop the professional skills necessary to climb higher and be more visible while you do so because actors, comedians, writers, and public speakers are entertainers in one way or another.
Regardless of what we do at other times, when we step into those roles, we are there to serve our audience. Period. And it is then and only then that we can be an asset to a literary agent or publisher (and ultimately to our readers).
I just finished phase 1 of a scouting assignment for a paying publisher. I only reached out to a handful of the scores of people I looked at. Five of the five I recommended after interviewing them are getting callbacks to move to phase 2. Their writing samples will determine what happens from here.
What I want to impress on aspiring authors whether fiction or nonfiction is that the people I reached out to didn't get the opportunity because of what they promised they'd do if someone offered them an opportunity. They got it because of what they've already done and what they continue to do.
Pick the staircase you want to climb. Show up every day in the appropriate gear and with the appropriate mindset, and take it one step at a time. Hold onto and pull yourself up by the railing when you need to, but don't stop. The higher you go, the fewer people there will be, so you'll move faster and be more visible.