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What agents look for in authors, from Jim Levine interview

Meet Jim Levine, founder and co-Principal of the Levine Greenberg Literary Agency, with offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York.

Jim is also the author of seven books and hundreds of articles. He has appeared on countless nationally televised programs including Today, Good Morning America, and Oprah.

In this interview, Jim described how he conducts his business and the ingredients for a successful agent and author relationship. Any writer who has ever wondered how to acquire an agent, what agents look for, or how to effectively interact with an agent will find this interview invaluable.

Background

Prior to founding his agency in 1989, he was a Vice President at Bank Street College of Education, where he served as agent to publishers on a variety of book, magazine, and software products. He was instrumental in developing the content of the products he represented, rather than acting exclusively in a sales role.

He brought this approach to his literary agency. He and has 13 agents work closely with writers to finely craft a book--from the early proposal stage to the marketing of the end product.

Case study

Dan Ariely, the highly successful author of Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Affect Our Decisions is one Jim's clients and serves as a case study of how Jim Levine works with an author developing a book.

(Published & Profitable members may listen to Mr. Ariely's interview on this website for a detailed discussion of his involvement with the Levine Greenberg Agency).

What Jim Levine looks for in authors

Jim Levine, who represents both first-time authors and established experts, explains that he looks for three important characteristics in every book proposal: a fresh idea, a distinctive voice, and a platform--or the potential to develop a platform--to sell the book.

A fresh idea is of paramount importance to the potential success of a book.

An example, he described the proliferation of books on China that flooded the marketplace in recent years.

While such a proposal might have inherent merit, such books struggle to communicate fresh ideas. These are the types of judgments that agents must make on a daily basis.

Often an agent will be impressed with a fresh idea for a book but, there is a great deal of work to be done to fine-tune the proposal. One of the stories Jim Levine describes concerns one of the inventors of the original personal data assistants.

Obviously an expert in his field and a man of great intelligence, the inventor came to the agency with an idea for a book about how the brain works.

However, books are conversations--not collection of notes. Great scientists and great thinkers might not possess the skills--or, in many cases, the time--to write a book in a conversational tone. This is where the right agent can make the difference between a dream and a published book.

"We will do whatever it takes to get the best product," says Mr. Levine. The agency will work with an author who has a strong foundation for a proposal and act as a "book doctor" to create and develop a product that will enjoy a high level of success.

Author platforms

Jim and his agents have to be selective when choosing their clients. In part, this is due to the current climate in the publishing industry.

"Publishers want safer bets and they want an already established platform for a book," says Mr. Levine.

A platform is, as he explains it, is the ability to sell a book. For example, celebrity status in a field is clearly an excellent platform, but occasionally a book itself serves as an excellent platform for an unknown author.

He described a story about Geoffrey Moore, author of Crossing the Chasm. The book became a success partly due to the author's ability to network throughout the HP Corporation. "The persistent harvesting of the fields," as Mr. Levine calls it, contributed to the book's success in the marketplace.

Conclusion

The interview with Jim Levine presents an inside look at what agents want and the format they want it in. He described "red flags" to avoid and a great deal of pragmatic advice. Published & Profitable members can access the full, 1-hour recorded interview.

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