Columns > Published on October 15th, 2012

Ask The Agent: Guerrilla Marketing And What You Should Expect From An Agent

Navigating the rough terrain of today’s publishing industry shouldn’t be a solo event. This week in Ask the Agent, I’ll explore and dissect two of the industry’s mysteries, straight from the shoulder.


Question from Reilly

How important is guerrilla marketing for an aspiring author AND for a recently published author?

I’m the type of person in general (not just agent) who thinks that guerrilla marketing is very important in any business venture.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with guerrilla marketing (GM), it is a form of marketing or advertising/promotion that utilizes low-cost, unconventional means to promote a product or an idea. GM relies on one’s time and imagination rather than money. GM is perfect for newly published authors because, well, frankly they are usually broke.

Until you have a product to market, you really don’t need to worry about it. Don’t spend too much time on GM if you’re still writing your manuscript. You have nothing to promote at that point. But if you have just released or are coming up on a release date for your novel, start brainstorming GM ideas, because they will be very helpful.

GM tends to be very unique and interactive. Take a Flash Mob for instance. One minute you’re walking around Union Square, the next minute the random 17 year old girl next to you starts singing, then the old man in the wheelchair starts dancing and then you are dead in the middle of a full blown performance. These are often used to promote plays and other artistic ventures, and they are the perfect example of GM.

Now obviously you are not going to start a Flash Mob for your novel (although serious props if you do), but you get the idea. You want to think of something incredibly creative, unique, different, loud, attention getting, and cheap in order to promote your novel.

It’s important for two reasons: 1.) Publishers will only be able to devote a certain amount of money and time to your novel. You may or may not get a publicist. Your publicist may or may not be awful, etc., and 2.) Regardless of whether or not you have great promotion from your publisher, you’re going to want to make your novel stand out further than anyone else’s novel. And you do this by finding unique GM ways to promote.

Remember Kony 2012? That campaign was full of GM.

Pro tip: I own/love the book, Guerrilla Marketing for Writers; it gives so many useful ideas.

Question from Cameron

I am currently querying my manuscript and it hit me the other day that if I am offered representation, I won’t know what to expect in terms of what an agent should do for me, what their ethics should be like, should they have sales; I wouldn’t know a good agent from a bad agent. Any advice?

This is such a smart question and I think a lot of querying writers don’t know what to expect when they are offered representation. It always reminds my of that JOKER quote from THE DARK KNIGHT when he says, “Do I really look like a guy with a plan? You know what I am? I'm a dog chasing cars. I wouldn't know what to do with one if I caught it.”

Unfortunately, a lot of writers are just so excited to finally catch that agent; they don’t know what to do after they get to that crucial point in their career. 

An agent should always:

1. Talk to you on the phone before signing you as their client. Be very wary of an agent who will not discuss business with you either in person, via Skype, or on the phone. You may never meet your agent face to face… But you should always have a phone call with them before you sign. As a journalist, we were always discouraged from conducting interviews over email. People can very carefully craft what they want to say over email, and a lot of information gets lost in translation. On the phone, you can have very candid conversations with an agent about their thoughts on your manuscript and their plans for your career.

2. Be head over heels in love with your writing. I say writing because they shouldn’t JUST love the one project that you have pitched to them. Be sure that they love your voice. There may be some disagreement in the future regarding specific plot lines, but as long as they love your voice and the quality of your writing, you will be able to suss out those problems.

3. Champion your project until the horse it deader than dead. Some agents will pitch your project to roughly 14 editors and if it doesn’t sell by that point, drop the project. You want to find the agent who is willing to go to bat for your manuscript over and over again, until there is absolutely no appropriate editor left to pitch your project to. You’ve done a tremendous amount of work, and if you truly love your manuscript, you’ll want to see that it gets the respect it deserves.

4. Be forthright about their experience and sales. If an agent acts like it’s none of your business how many sales they have made… RUN! Not because they may have no sales… that’s okay. Everyone has to start somewhere, including agents and editors, but because they should never hide anything from you. A quality you will absolutely want in an agent is honesty and full disclosure.

An agent should never:

1. CHARGE YOU FOR THEIR SERVICES! I cannot, CANNOT, stress this point enough. An agent should never charge for any type of service. Agents work on commission. We take (the standard, though sometimes it varies) 15% of your print royalties. If we cannot sell your manuscript, we do not make money. Never sign with an agent who is charging. This might manifest in different ways: they may charge for editorial services, marketing, mock book covers, PR, etc. Do not be fooled by that. Again, AGENTS SHOULD NOT CHARGE FOR ANY SERVICE. We do these services for our clients on the faith that they will be published and will make us money in the future (based on royalties).

2. Have multiple negative remarks on Web sites like AbsoluteWrite and the like. It’s normal that an agent will have the occasional disgruntled ex-client that takes to those sites and says a few mean things… but if the agent’s page on those sites is littered with negative reviews from both former clients and querying writers, you will definitely want to think twice.

Pro tip: Always ask your prospective agent how often they plan to touch base with you, what their plan for your manuscript is, and if they feel your manuscript needs editorial work before you sign with them.

Thank your for all the wonderful questions this week. "Be well, do good work, and keep in touch" -Garrison Keillor


Have a question about the publishing industry? I would love to discuss the specifics of researching and querying agents, finding the right agent, proper publishing etiquette, how to go from idea to completed manuscript, marketing yourself, social media for writers, and anything else you can think of! I am now taking questions for Issue 9 of Ask the Agent. Issue 9 answers will be posted Monday, October 29th.

About the author

Bree Ogden is a literary agent at Red Sofa Literary and a comics/TV columnist and reviewer at Bloody Disgusting.

When she's not agenting, compulsively watching horror films, reading comics, hiding out at her local science center, or killing off her bee colonies, she serves as the managing editor of the macabre children's magazine Underneath the Juniper Tree, which she co-founded in 2011 with artist Rebekah Joy Plett.

Bree teaches query craft and graphic novel scripting at LitReactor as well as serves as the Assistant Class Director. Unless you are an exciting new piece of taxidermy, she'll probably never let you in her room. You can find her at agentbree.wordpress.com.

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