Literary Agent Janet Reid Goes Undercover

Literary Agent Janet Reid Goes Undercover


I’m here undercover.

Lee Lofland thinks he invited me over to do a guest stint on his blog.  What I’m really doing is getting to know you, his readers, and worming my way into your good graces.  Why?  Cause I just sold a book about female police officers and when it comes out next year my author is going to be promoting it to police officers, former police officers and people interested in reading about them.

So why am I here a year early?  Those who know me might say cause it takes a year for anyone to think I’m charming or a year to not think I’m a sarcastic (um…Lee…can I say bitch on your blog??) but that’s only half the answer.

Blogging is just a new form of word of mouth, and building relationships for effective word of mouth, in the blogosphere as elsewhere, takes time. There are no shortcuts.  There aren’t lists of big time bloggers, with their email addresses, and the kinds of things they like to hear about.  Newp.  This is research one click at a time.  Blogroll after blogroll.  Thank god for bookmarks and RSS feeds to help keep track of things but it’s still tedious work.

Tedious, but essential.  I believe the day of the physical book tour is coming to an end.  With the high price of gas, authors spend even more money on what was largely building good will rather than one which sold a lot of books.  Fewer authors are willing to do that. Fewer publishers are willing to pay for it. That makes sense from their point of view of course, but it makes promotion and visibility all that much harder.

Word of mouth marketing online is going to do nothing but grow. It’s not going to grow through social networks like Facebook or MySpace either. Those are so sprawling, and devoid of useful content and so clearly self-serving that, as a marketing ploy, they are basically useless. Effective online marketing is through blogs like this.  Lee provides interesting content – content we come back to read daily or weekly.  When/if Lee finds a book he likes and wants to talk about, and mentions it on his blog, I’ll see it.  I’ll pay attention to it because Lee is someone I like, and read. He’s an effective advocate because I have the sense I know him by reading his blog.

If I see a book once on Lee’s blog, that will be nice.  But if I see the book again on three other blogs, then I’ll start to remember.  Market research tells us that consumers need to see something 12 times before the image “sticks.”

As an author, what that means is that you have to start early. Get to know bloggers in your area. Not geographical area (although that is another good place too) but in your area of writing.  If you’re writing about cops, you check out cop blogs. Like this one.  And you read it regularly. You offer a comment periodically so your email address or posting name gets known. You become part of a community essentially.

The trick is that it takes time.  You can’t just barrel in and announce you’re everyone’s friend and aren’t they lucky you have a book out now for everyone to buy.  Well, you could.  But I’m trying to be effective, not stupid. I get those emails a lot from people. I routinely delete them without reply. Every other blogger I talk to does the same thing.  I see those kinds of posts on listservs I belong to, and I skim right over it as the ineffective mention that it is.

The books I do mention on my blog, are by people I know, and like, and want to promote. The books I do notice on listservs are those talked about by actual readers as books they liked (or sometimes didn’t–I am always intrigued when people rant about a book.)

I firmly believe this is the marketing template of the future. And not just for authors at small publishers, for ALL authors.

And now, back to my clever surveillance plan.


*Janet Reid is a literary agent a literary agent with FinePrint Literary Management in New York City.  She specializes in crime fiction. You can vist her at

34 replies
  1. Janet Reid
    Janet Reid says:

    Michelle, I think it’s important to be an established member of several communities that are your target audience LONG before your book comes out. People buy books written by authors they “know” and like. It takes a year for my charm and wit to be persuasive. You can probably achieve more in less time, but I am telling all my authors to get cracking the MINUTE we sign the deal.

  2. Carolyn
    Carolyn says:

    It’s interesting to get a publishing professional’s take on blogging and the effectiveness of it. As an author, I haven’t warmly embraced this brave new world because of the time required. Of course I don’t embrace the book tour, either, though I do a bit of that. While I love talking to booksellers and readers, the driving is hard, and it’s difficult for me to be away from my small horse farm. So with your words ringing in my head, I’ve decided to get over my shyness and blog.

    I wish you good luck with your sales, your authors, and your blogs. And thanks, Lee, for hosting the conversation.

    Carolyn Haines

  3. Michelle
    Michelle says:

    Hi Janet-
    I agree with taking the time on various groups and blogs (time consuming though it is, it does seem to get your name out there.)
    But I’m curious…when would you recommend that your authors schedule a book blog tour? During their initial release, prior to it, or spread out throughout the year?
    Michelle Gagnon

  4. D. Swords
    D. Swords says:

    Thanks Janet.

    So I guess the answer to “do people want true to life crime novels?” is to write from a reality based perspective, but keep in mind that in the end, the reader wants certain things, for instance, justice.

  5. Janet Reid
    Janet Reid says:


    I’m off to make other lives miserable for awhile, then the Maltese Falcon event at the Merc tonight. I’ll check back in when I’m back later tonight.

    This was fun!!!

  6. lorillake
    lorillake says:

    Hey, Janet – I think you misunderstood my comment because I didn’t go into enough detail. What the women police officers were responding to concerning “shows or books contributing more to the distrust of police officers” didn’t have to do with “shooting an unarmed civilian or two.” I used the phrase “police brutality incident” and wasn’t referring to inept or inexcusable shootings.

    What the women officers were communicating to me is that in an effort to create plausible villains (not just antagonists – *villains*), many crime fiction writers have pushed the envelope waaaaay too far. Nowadays it’s typical in thrillers and in many mysteries not only to have the street cops on the take but also to have judges, police commanders, and various high-ranking officials deeply involved in complex webs of conspiracy that even Woodward & Bernstein couldn’t suss out. When the Dennis Quaid/Cher film “Suspect” came out in 1987, it was an amazing, unexpected plot twist to have the judge turn out to be the murderer. 20+ years later, this kind of complicated “twist” is no longer a big surprise and has instead become an overused fictional convention that almost never reflects reality.

    In addition, in the last 20 years we have seen in fiction the rise of the “Dirty Cop” – anti-heroes – who are not just using unconventional methods to try to bring about justice, but are actually subverting justice for their own purposes. Vic Mackey, in the FX network’s “The Shield,” is an excellent example. Not only is it unlikely that a cop who behaved like Mackey could ever function in the real world for long, but many law-abiding, rule-enforcing police officers are sickened by that TV show and what it communicates to the viewing public. (This was one show that the women police mentioned specifically as a detriment to their profession.) Another opposite, but typical, convention is where authors write their police heroes as though their sleuth/detective is one of the few sane, principled, lone cops out traveling the mean streets while the rest of the department is a nest of vipers all out for political power, money, and/or influence.

    So all I’m saying is that these kinds of negative characterizations may be hard to swallow for the nearly 19,000 police depts in the US and the 663,000 LEOs that work very hard to follow rules, respect suspects’ rights, and uphold the laws of their communities (Stats from:

    On the other hand, Lt. Gerard, in the movie “The Fugitive,” was a terrific antagonist who did his job chasing after Richard Kimball. He was a completely believable antagonist, not an over-the-top villain. So it’s clear that you CAN have police officers in opposition to one another without making them all out to be immoral or unethical.

    I think what the cops at the conference (and many of my officer friends) are saying is that too many civilians actually believe that Life imitates Art, when, in fact, fiction writers are seeking to entertain, and they use all sorts of techniques to do that — including ones that aren’t actually “true.” While the old saying that “Fiction tells the Truth better than Facts” may be accurate in general, if that fiction has a Real World affect that’s detrimental, people will complain. Plenty of people cannot separate “Pretend” from “Reality,” hence the “War of the Worlds” type of scenario illustrated by Orson Welles so many years ago. Many people believe today that if they read it in a book or see it on TV, it’s true – CGI notwithstanding!

    (Of course in 1980, my foster grandmother watched the replayed 1969 footage of Neil Armstrong on the moon and claimed it was all a hoax, so you’ve also got the other contingent!)

    Great discussion here. Thanks for this!
    ? Lori

  7. Janet Reid
    Janet Reid says:

    Re: do people want true to life crime novels.


    People don’t want to read about unsolved murders. I’m not sure what the statistic is but on The Wire, they’re lucky to get a clearance rate over 50%!

    People don’t want to read about people who shoot convenience store clerks, Chinese food delivery men or liquor store owners so they can rob the till for money to buy drugs.

    People don’t want to read about liquored up spouses who argue about who’s going to wash the dishes and end up shooting each other.

    I believe people read crime fiction because it isn’t real: crimes are solved, the reason they occured makes sense, and justice is served.

  8. clair dickson
    clair dickson says:

    Long time reader, first time poster.

    I like the idea of online touring. I’m much more pleasant, I mean, social when I’m online than in real life. But more than that, it provides a whole different frame work for selling than a bookstore. I’d never go to a bookstore signing to see an author. But I’ll go to there website.

    And I think that when it comes to writing, there’s no way to please everyone. Some people will complain no matter what you’re doing. I plan to write the story I want to tell and deal with reactions later. And I’m gonna give my readers SOME credit and conclude that they’d know that CSI is make-believe, even if some editors don’t. (Interpret that as you will! 😉

  9. kendraelliot
    kendraelliot says:

    Janet, thank you for saying what I’ve always felt about Facebook and MySpace. They remind me of one writer’s conference I went to where an aspiring novelist went around handing her business card to everyone she met. Not talking to them, simply shoving her card in their hand. Yeah, that made me want to get to know her better.

    Terry, I like the idea of my morning blog hopping as working! It’s true. I visit many writer blogs and comment. Sometimes I “run into” other writers in online classes that I’ve met through blogs, but the coolest is to put a face to someone at a conference when you’ve known them online for years.

    Jordan Dane did an extensive virtual blog tour for her debut book, an April release: NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM. I stumbled across Jordan online everywhere last month. I don’t know if she used a PR person to set it up or did it herself. I’d be interested to know if she feels it influenced her sales. I’ve got the book on my TBR pile.

  10. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Janet – You hit the nail on the head when you said…but it feels true! That’s the difference between a good story and a bad one to me. If what I’m reading doesn’t feel true I’ll toss the book and probbly won’t give that author’s work another glance. Lately, I’ve been tossing more than I’m reading, too.

  11. D. Swords
    D. Swords says:

    Lori, there is a lot to what you say.

    As a retired policeman, I don’t watch police shows (Andy Griffith being the one obvious exception, of course!)

    I have written a detective novel with a murder at the center of it, and the only reson I have recently started reading some mystery/crime novels is because I have told repeatedly by folks in the publishing business that I should read what is popular in the crime genre. But I have to admit, what is popular (at least what I’ve read) is not very true to life, as I see it.

    So this brings up a question I asked on this blog last week. Do people realy want “true to life” crime novels?

    As for me, Joseph Wambaugh has always been the master of police fiction. His novels are realistic and gritty. He has the ability to seamlessly mix humor and tragedy, which is what, in my opinion, makes his stories so real and so appealing, at least to other cops. Cops use gallows humor to deal with tragedy. It’s a defense mechanism. Wambaugh can put it on the page so well.

  12. Janet Reid
    Janet Reid says:


    What you describe happens all the time. It’s the “you can’t put that in the book, no one will believe it” followed by “but it really happened that way.”! Truth is stranger than fiction indeed.

    It’s sometimes true though that in fiction we can tell truths, or see truths in a way that isn’t revealed by actual factual recounting. It’s an old truism that we finally see the truth of things when we read (made up) novels about events.

    How else would we know what Anne Boleyn was thinking as she heads to her execution were it not for novels? Is it true? I don’t know…but it feels true!

    I like accuracy a lot, but I don’t confuse it with truth.

  13. Elena
    Elena says:

    Lori, you mirror my reaction to the idea of promoting a book about police women to LEOs. I have had many careers and always have never ever wanted to read fiction set in whatever my current career was.

    When I’m off duty, or done for the work day, I’m done. I need other activities to stay balanced. The worst happened when I taught in an a very rough inner city high school and received as well-meaning gifts ELEVEN copies of “Up The Down Staircase”!!! That was the last thing I wanted to read after a day in that intense environment.

    But, on the flip side – following Janet’s idea could be very useful, for even if the police met on blog’s in the next year don’t want to read the book, many are sure to know readers and would be happy to recommend a book that they trust to be honest and real.

  14. Janet Reid
    Janet Reid says:

    Hi Lori,

    That’s a really interesting point you make, and it’s in direct contradiction to the experiences I’ve had with cops who LOVE crime fiction, and read it devotedly. It was a cop in fact who introduced me to Michael Connelly’s work, and when I later met Michael Connelly and got his current book at an industry trade show, I had him inscribe it to the detectives at the squad where my friends worked cause I knew they they’d be thrilled (and they were.)

    I absolutely do not agree that television shows or books contribute more to the distrust of police officers than shooting an unarmed civilian or two. I think it’s much easier to blame popular media for bad things than acknowledge that police are human beings and make terrible terrible mistakes as we all do, and their mistakes cost lives. That’s a very hard truth to live with.

    The book that I sold is non-fiction so I’m hoping that it will appeal to people who might not like crime fiction, but are interested in real life stories, told in the officers own voices, on the record.

  15. Lee Lofland
    Lee Lofland says:

    Janet – Lori brings up a good point. What’s your experience with editors and the CSI effect? I understand that when authors do try and get their facts straight by contacting the experts, their editors reject that information saying that real-life action is not believable.

    A good example is the description I gave of what it’s like to actually shoot someone. People wrote in to say the way I described the event wasn’t the way their editors want it written. I’ve even had writers tell me it couldn’t happen that way. My own editor doubted my account of another real-life event. Excuse me, but I was there. Saw it with my own two little peepers.

  16. lorillake
    lorillake says:

    Hi, Janet (and Lee!),
    A couple of years ago I attended the yearly conference for the Minnesota Association of Women Police ( There were about 100 city and state cops there for their continuing ed credits. Ellen Hart and I were asked to come and talk about mysteries and mystery reading as part of a more light-hearted evening program.

    I discovered something absolutely amazing at that meeting: The vast majority of women police officers did NOT read crime fiction. At all. I’d put the number of mystery readers at perhaps 5 out of 100.

    Ellen and I spent quite a bit of time asking questions about that, and what came out were three major reasons for them not reading mysteries.
    1) They get enough crime and grime in their daily jobs and don’t want to read about it in their off-hours, so those who liked to read preferred other genres;
    2) They said almost no authors get the details (forensic, procedural, emotional) correct; and
    3) Too many of the novels impugn the integrity, commitment, and contributions of individual officers, supervisors, and the police command structure. One high-ranking woman officer from a big city went so far as to say that novels and cop shows are more responsible for the bad opinions and now deeply-entrenched anti-police attitudes that many citizens possess than any police brutality incident ever causes. (WHOA!)

    What do you think of that feedback? I was stunned, to say the least. It made me realize that marketing to the police might not be the most effective avenue for a police procedural which is not the thought I’d previously had.
    Lori Lake

  17. BeckyLevine
    BeckyLevine says:


    Good info, thanks, and very reassuring. I got into the kidlit and mystery blogs because I love those genres, and I found out I also loved blogging. As my kidlit mystery is out doing the agent hunt, I’m trying to expand my blog to do a bit more marketing, for authors–as you say, that I’ve read and like–and also to expand my reach out into the online world.

    Glad to hear someone say this is a practical way to go, not just fun!

  18. D. Swords
    D. Swords says:

    Janet, you said –

    Now, if Lee (someone I know and like) asked me, well, sure.

    You know Lee AND you like him? Come on, now – who is this, really?


    (Actually, I know and like Lee as well, but I could not pass up a chance to take a swipe at him. Hi, Lee!!)

  19. Janet Reid
    Janet Reid says:

    Re: Virtual Blog Touring

    I’ve had a couple people email me to ask if they can include my blog on their virtual blog tour. The problem was I was clueless about who they were. Maybe my blog readers knew them (they know a lot those guys!) but I wasn’t about ready to give space on my blog to a total stranger.

    Now, if Lee (someone I know and like) asked me, well, sure.

    It all comes down to “do I know you” which is why I’m emphasizing that you start early and get known BEFORE you ask the favor of a guest spot, or a book mention.

  20. D. Swords
    D. Swords says:

    Hi, Janet. Thank you for the advice and giving us all a new direction in which to think.

    The internet, and computers in general, have changed our world so rapidly in ways we could not have imagined twenty years ago. The possibilities seem endless.

    Last night, though, I read an article (online, of course) that the internet could someday be made obsolete by “the grid.”

    Anyone familiar with that?

  21. Kim Cristofoli
    Kim Cristofoli says:

    Appreciate the advice, Janet.

    Also, I agree – Lee’s Blog contains fantastic information. Lee chooses great topics, presents his information well, and often receives comments from experienced writers and experts. I’m certain that The Graveyard Shift already has a great following.

    Janet, congratulations on the female police officer book sale and best of luck with the release. Thanks for guest blogging!

  22. Terry
    Terry says:

    Thanks for the insight, Janet. With my first books appearing first as digital releases, I was plunged headfirst into cybermarketing. I’m looking forward to my December release with a print publisher, but all these lessons carry over from one medium to the next, I think.

    At the very least, you’ve given me justification for making the blog rounds over coffee every morning. I’m not goofing off, I’m forwarding my career! How cool is that?

  23. wbereswill
    wbereswill says:

    Thanks for the info, Janet, and of course, Lee.

    12 times, huh? I guess just clicking your heels and repeating your title over and over doesn’t work. Does it?

    I’ve been researching the world of “Virtual Blog Touring.” While I understand the concept, I was wondering if it was an effective marketing tool and if there was any way to measure its success.

    My first novel is due to be released in a couple of months and I’ve been tracking where my website hits have been coming from. I’m amazed at the number of hits that come from blog responses, like this one.

  24. Joyce Tremel
    Joyce Tremel says:

    Janet, I’m a sarcastic bitch, too, but Lee warned me to be nice after I told him you recently rejected my partial. So I’ll behave myself.

    I think you are 100% correct that blogging can be very effective for an author to sell her books. I love having other authors guest blog on Working Stiffs. It not only helps them get the word out about their books, it brings in new readers for the blog.

    Blogging and commenting is also a valuable tool for an author to use even before he has an agent or a book deal. I’ve lost count of all the great people I’ve met online.

  25. SweetieZ
    SweetieZ says:

    Good morning,

    As the fng here, do you have sites and or on line classes you would suggest or recommend ?

    Mr. Lofland, I really did not need yet another addiction. I am going on a week here.

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