The Three Cs That Agents Look For

Three overlapping Cs

Image: Qunity

Last month, I attended the Faith and Culture Writers Writers Conference. This was my third writing conference, and one of the highlights for me was D.C. Jacobsen agent Jenni Burke’s “What Agents Want” workshop. She gave a clear and informative talk and encouraged the attendees to ask lots of questions. The centerpiece of her presentation was a set of three things that all agents look for. As an aid to help remember them, she called them “The Three Cs.”

  1. Concept. What’s the idea for your book?
  2. Craft. How good is your writing?
  3. Crowd. What is your potential audience. (Otherwise known as platform.)

She said that agents look for writers that have two of the three Cs down. As long as a writer has two of them covered, the third can be worked on.

So for example . . .

  • Concept and craft. Someone who has a great idea and has learned to write well, but is largely unknown beyond a small circle. This is where a lot of aspiring authors fit, myself included.
  • Craft and crowd. Someone who has a record of good writing and a built-in audience, but who’s looking for the next topic. Maybe an already published author or a well-known essayist, journalist, or blogger.
  • Concept and crowd. Someone who has a great idea and an audience, but little or no experience writing. Perhaps a church pastor with a compelling message but no writing experience besides sermons, or a celebrity with an interesting life-story, or a well-known figure in the news. Agents will often pair this person with a co-writer or ghost writer to complete a book.

In each of these cases, an agent can help with the one C that is a work-in-progress.

When I heard that, I felt better. I have stressed for so long about platform. It’s so hard to build much of an audience in just a few years when you’ve never written before and you’re starting from scratch. But after hearing her presentation, I realized I was headed where I wanted to go and I had taken the steps in numerical order.

I started with the concept. Without this initial idea, I never would have attempted to write a book or become a writer in the first place.

I got the idea for this book shortly after we moved. I awoke around three in the morning and couldn’t get back to sleep . . . That’s when it hit me. This story of hers, of ours, was a story that needed to be told, and I was the one who would tell it. Laying there in the dark it all came to me, from the day Julia told me we were expecting up to the present moment; Anna’s cleft, her surgery, her recovery, us leaving Grace, starting the bear drive, trying to have a second child, our dawning realization of her apraxia, her diagnosis, and her speech therapy. Throw in the twist where our income gets cut in half, and it’s a pretty good story.

A Smile for Anna, Chapter 38.

The next step was to learn the craft of writing .

I spent a lot of time that summer waiting for inspiration. I hadn’t learned yet that inspiration doesn’t always come when you need it, and sometimes you’ve got to write and write until something good comes out. I was learning slowly and thus writing slowly, but words were coming little by little. I started in April and had a first draft of the first seven chapters finished by August. I had a long way to go, and I had no idea how the story was going to end, but I was on my way. I was beginning to feel like a writer.

A Smile for Anna, Chapter 38.

I learned to write by writing. I took workshops and seminars. I read writing books, and well-written books, and a few not-so-well written books. I joined a critique group and a writers’ group. I wrote essays submitted them, and got rejected, and wrote more essays, submitted them, and got published. Over time, I developed my craft through practice.

So I had first C right from the start, and I worked on the second C as I wrote the book. The third C—the crowd—is a work-in-progress. But that’s okay. I’ve got a book. I’m still writing. I’m getting there step by step.

I have many steps to go, but it was good to know how far I had come and that I am in a place now where agents will take me seriously. They may pass on my book because it isn’t the right project for them, but they won’t pass because I’m not ready for representation.


One thought on “The Three Cs That Agents Look For

  1. This is a great list, and it reminds me that the idea for the story is only part of the equation. Sometimes I spend so much time worrying about the concept and the craft part of it, that I forget that people will actually read the book.

    Maybe the crowd is actually the most important piece, but I don’t mean it in the “write what is popular” or “write what makes your readers happy” way. I just mean it that creating a product (book) isn’t relevant until you have customers (readers) buy it.

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