Top Ten Sins Committed By Literary Agents

As a writer seeking representation, I have paid much attention to agents’ advice as to how I should conduct myself.

I am well aware of the heinous sins that the aspiring author must not commit. Thou shalt not, for example, submit sample chapters from the beginning, middle and end of your novel, typed in illegible, flouncy font, with a covering letter introducing your book as the next best thing since Fifty Shades, all wrapped in pink ribbon with a Ferrero Rocher bouquet thrown in for good measure.

Oh yes, there are many horror stories with which the raconteur agent may entertain us.

But, you know what? It isn’t all one-way traffic. There are some things agents do that also gall and frustrate. At the risk of biting the hand that feeds me, here are my top ten commandments for agents.

  1. Thou shalt not demand exclusive submissions.
  2. Thou shalt not ask for a synopsis that is significantly longer, or shorter, than the standard one page.
  3. Thou shalt not require me to ‘flatter’ thee in my covering letter.
  4. Thou shalt not insist the covering letter be the most important part of the submission.
  5. Thou shalt not promise a response time that thou simply canst not  honour.
  6. Thou shalt not spend all thy time on Twitter instead of reading my manuscript.
  7. Thou shalt not positively ask me to chase thee if I haven’t heard for a while and yet still fall silent.
  8. Thou shalt not send out a rejection letter that has grammatical and punctuation errors.
  9. Thou shalt not ask to see the full manuscript just before giving up being an agent.
  10. Thou shalt not attend a pitch-to-agent event only to pitch to the audience thine existing clients’ publications.

So there.

Disclaimer: most agents are passionate, dedicated people whose work is a labour of love. They appreciate that, no matter what they might think of the writing, a professionally presented submission deserves their respect and courtesy. Those pesky manuscripts festering on the slush pile, are, after all, an agent’s bread and butter.

Now then. Where did I put the chocolates…

 

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12 Responses to Top Ten Sins Committed By Literary Agents

  1. Helena says:

    Gave me a chuckle, C. Have a Green & Blacks mini-bar on me. One of the hard to get cherry ones, since it’s virtual 😉

  2. I do wonder about 6 sometimes. I really wouldn’t care about 8. 9 would drive me wild. On your disclaimer – as far as I can gather, they say the slush pile is actually a minor source of new signings, so it’s not wholly their ‘bread and butter’. I’ve seen several say they stopped taking unsolicited queries because upon analysis they found they were getting more stuff from other sources (festivals, referrals etc).

    • claudia says:

      Hi Matthew. There are still books being published to great acclaim which began life on the slush pile so I think perhaps it’s a bit rash for agents to ignore it altogether. However, I do agree that if you can get a referral, or get yourself face to face with an agent somewhere, it’s probably more productive. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Linda says:

    Absolutely spot on! Well done, Claudia. Was it that misplaced comma that got you going?

  4. claudia says:

    Yes, Linda, that was the one!

  5. Cathy says:

    Oh Claudia! Feeling your pain. Pass those chocolates over…

  6. Oh, this process. This agonizing, wretched, dreadful process. And not to mention the many agents who have “slush pile” readers, so who’s to know if your manuscript is ever even seen by the person you have so carefully researched and queried? But slush pile signings DO happen. Still crossing all my toes and fingers for you.

  7. Andy Wilson says:

    Have I got this all wrong but isn’t it basic human decency to reply to someone who sends you something (especially when the act of looking at that ‘something’ happens to be part of your job description) ? In my other life – the one that earns me a living – I take on working volunteers who in return for helping with tasks at my nursery gain valuable knowledge and skills. Basically, free training in return for labour. But places are limited and also very popular: I turn down forty-nine of every fifty applicants.

    However, one thing I pride myself on is that I always reply to applicants within a few days, even to those who were too lazy to properly read the work experience criteria and therefore hadn’t actually grasped they didn’t meet the minimum requirements (kind of the equivalent of the writer who submits a manuscript written in some arcane and undecipherable font, sends the economy size Ferrero Rocher and includes in the package an excruciatingly long covering letter that would cause all reasonable people to lose the will to live).

    I mean seriously, just how hard is it to acknowledge:

    “Dear Ms or Mr Writer,

    Thank you for your manuscript. You are currently 13th in a queue. I will give you an update in two weeks”

    And so on. All this stuff about agents being so busy they don’t have time, what’s that about? Busy at what? Isn’t it their job to look at manuscripts? Seems like some agents have this idea they are the literary equivalent of St Peter guarding the Pearly Gates.

    • claudia says:

      I agree Andy. Basic human decency. And, yes, of course they’re busy, but so what? It’s part of the job, albeit a boring, tedious part. It’s particularly galling when you’ve been to an event and heard an agent talk so delightfully about how keen they are to discover fresh talent and how they absolutely undertake to read and respond to everything and how you have the right to expect this, blah blah blah. And the very same agent sits on your manuscript for months without uttering a word.

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