Recently I was invited to an online literary agents meeting. Other than talking about news within the publishing industry, it was mentioned a few times how the way authors are approaching agents for representation has changed. It is now becoming too informal, as well as unprofessional. Not only that but also, when an author gets turned down, the emails can get abusive. Some writers believe it is OK to informally approach an agent; in their minds, without them, agents wouldn’t be in business!
Yes, authors play a big part in an agent’s success, but this does not mean we should be approached in a manner that, at times, can be unpleasant, because there are still many serious creative writers who are seeking agents.
Here are some tips on how not to approach a literary agent, taken from some emails that not only I have received, but colleagues too. As a disclaimer, no names were mentioned, nor was the whole email quoted – just the part we were unhappy with.
1. ‘I have a great manuscript. I know you will love it, let’s arrange to talk.’ Unless an author is 100% certain to be a client, then agents don’t have the time to talk to authors who simply believe their manuscripts are great. Furthermore, since we talk regularly with editors we know what the publishers actually want. It is best to send a query letter with a synopsis and three sample chapters (for fiction), and a proposal with a sample chapter (for non-fiction). If an agent is interested, you will be contacted.
2. ‘Can you please read through my manuscript and let me know your opinion?’ This is not an unpleasant request but shows the author has not done their research. Unless you are a client, an agent will not read your manuscript. If you want your manuscript to be read, then you can hire an editor or a beta reader. They should not be members of your family or friends; they will give you an objective view of your book. Make sure it is constructive criticism that will enhance your manuscript and writing.
3. ‘I don’t understand why you said No. Have you read the chapters properly? I would ask you to reconsider.’ This is a common response that I and my colleagues receive when turning down an author. This can also come across as quite aggressive, and further confirms that I was right in my decision to say No. I want to work with my client as a team; together we will be successful. I do not want a client who gets aggressive or upset with me if, for example, a publisher doesn’t accept their manuscript. Not everyone is for you; sometimes you have to go through the process to get to the right person. Don’t take the No’s personally, just keep on moving to the next one, because the right person is there for you, and then you will be thankful for the previous No’s. Learn to handle what I call ‘redirection’ (instead of rejection) professionally because you know God will divinely connect you to the right agent and publisher for your manuscript.
4. ‘The manuscript is God-inspired, therefore you must take this manuscript.’ I read this statement a lot from Christian-based authors. Yes, your manuscript may be God-inspired, but the agent’s job is to sell manuscripts that the publishers want and are seeking. Just because an agent is a Christian, or may accept Christian-based manuscripts, doesn’t mean they will accept any manuscript that the authors think is God-inspired. Those working in the publishing industry don’t see it as a ministry but a business. The publishers want books that will sell.
5. ‘God sent me to you. Don’t look at policy, pray about it.’ To me, this is a forceful tactic. “God sent me to you, therefore you must take me on.” Just because an author believes that God ‘sent’ them to a particular agent, doesn’t mean that agent will believe it. As mentioned before, what is for you is for you; there will be no forcing the issue, especially when it comes from God.
There are many more statements but, for the purpose of this article, I chose the main ones that are received regularly. Remember when approaching an agent to stay professional; don’t get familiar; send a query letter with sample chapters, and if you get ‘redirected’, accept the decision gracefully and move on.
Vanessa Grossett can be contacted via email address firstname.lastname@example.org
Written by: Vanessa Grossett