“Agencies have all the power,” a publishing professional told TAI in a recent interview. “They’re the ones who discover authors and pitch them to us publishers. Without agents, we wouldn’t get anywhere.”

They’re not wrong. These days, literary agents serve as crucial middlemen between aspiring authors and publishing houses. They field manuscript pitches by the dozens; sift through mountains of ideas in search of hidden gems and brilliant, undiscovered authors; and help writers hone their ideas and polish their stories to smooth out the rough edges and ensure that their book will have market appeal. Finally—months or years of brutal, wonderful, exhausting, soul-filling work later—they pitch to publishing houses, making the case that their author is a genius whose book will sell like hotcakes.

Pick. Polish. Pitch.

Each of these pieces to the pre-publishing puzzle is complex, competitive, and high stakes. And at each step of the journey, feedback from target readers can empower literary agents to make better choices, build better books, and win more proposals.

Pick: Discerning Reader Interest to Help Choose Winners

When an aspiring author wants to publish that first novel, business strategy book, or inspirational memoir, their first step is to pitch their project to a literary agent. There are a lot of aspiring authors out there, which means that many agents have a lot of manuscripts crossing their desk.

When they can only represent so many authors and only champion so many books, how do they choose? How is a savvy agent supposed to decide which manuscript will be successful and which are better left to the wayside?

Many of these decisions come down to gut instincts: agents read a pitch, maybe thumb through a chapter or two, and go with the book idea that grabs their interest. There’s something to be said for this approach—over the years, talented literary agents learn how to gauge market demand and identify projects with potential. But going with your gut can only take you so far. Literary agents (like the rest of us) are limited by their singular perspective. They can tell if they
like a book or idea, but often choose to represent one author over another without knowing anything about whether target readers will like that book or idea.

A reader interest score can provide statistically significant data on the level to which a book blurb, synopses, or summary appeals to readers compared to that of other books in its genre, thus helping literary agents evaluate the comparative worth of potential projects before committing time and resources.

Polish: Making Books Better

As author and professor Sadie Hoagland describes in her fascinating article “The End of Editing,” these days publishing house editors largely expect the manuscripts that cross their desk to already be in a polished, near-perfect state. Gone are the days of editors partnering closely with
new writers to craft a masterpiece. Instead, when it comes to working with an author through detailed manuscript edits, literary agents have stepped into the gap.

Here too, literary agents’ hard-won expertise is extraordinarily valuable for helping authors polish their prose and get the book ready for a publisher. Yet, here too, both a literary agent and the author themselves may have blind spots, being simply too close to the project to identify areas that could prove problematic for readers.

Gathering in-depth, unbiased feedback from target readers can help fill in those blind spots and make a book better. In TAI’s Target Reader Manuscript Analysis, readers are given two weeks to read a manuscript in its entirety and fill out a detailed survey aimed at discovering specific insights on what works and doesn’t work.

Do readers resonate with the book’s core ideas? Are there places where they lose the thread of the plot? Does the structure and pace make sense? Do they like the writing style? Are there passages that could be perceived as offensive?

The end result is a report that identifies and breaks down patterns found in reader responses and recommends courses of action to hone the manuscript’s substance, structure, and sound, maximizing target audience appeal. In short, it’s an unbiased, data-infused tool that can help literary agents build better books.

Pitch: Harness the Power of Data to Build Your Case

Having picked the project they think has the most promise and polished that manuscript to perfection, it’s time for the literary agent to represent their author by pitching their manuscript to publishing houses. This is where all the pieces come together.

Equipped with real reader feedback from a specific target audience, the literary agent can use the data they have gathered to make their case. That Reader Interest Score that showed that people were excited about the book’s concept? Now it’s a key point in the agent’s case for landing a good deal for their author. That target audience feedback showing that 75% of readers found the story inspirational and the characters compelling? It’s pre-emptively answering
acquisition editors’ questions about market appeal.

Harnessing the power of data can set a book proposal apart, using facts and figures rather than just feelings to demonstrate consumer interest and argue that a client’s book is well worth publishing. Reader feedback, in other words, offers a comparative advantage: helping literary agents pick winners, polish masterpieces, and pitch killer proposals to land better deals for the authors they represent.