Top Six Agent Pet Peeves

Have you tried to hook an agent but keep coming up empty-handed? Have you had good responses to your query and even your partial or full manuscript, yet you still can’t land an agent? The problem might not be your story. It might be… *gasp* YOU. Hard to hear, I know. But, if you could fix whatever it is you’re doing wrong when approaching agents, wouldn’t you want to? Check out the list below and see if you’ve been guilty of any of these offenses.

When asked, agents have said they HATE the following:

1. Queries and questions that show the author hasn’t done his homework: This can be as simple as writing “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Agent” on the query letter, or addressing a handful of agents in the same letter rather than personalize it. This can also mean you’re sending a horror novel to an agent who only represents children’s fiction. But this comment goes further than that. When you’re speaking to the agent be it by phone or in person at a pitch appointment, she expects you to know a few things about her. So, if you ask what genre she represents, or if she’s ever sold to a NY publisher, she’ll realize you haven’t researched her, which might make her believe you’re after any agent, not her in particular. Agents want a good fit between themselves and their client. If you can tell her why you think you’d make a good team, based off research you’ve done on this agent, she’ll be a lot more open to working with you.

2. Lazy writers: This covers quite a bit. It could mean a writer shows a lack of commitment by not wanting to write a synopsis or isn’t willing to promote her book. A lazy writer is also someone who submits unpolished work. NEVER submit a manuscript, partial, or query letter to an agent if it’s not your BEST work. If you can’t afford a freelance editor, at least have another writer or someone who’s good with grammar look it over for spelling, punctuation, and grammar mistakes. If an agent sees mistakes in your submission, she’ll assume the manuscript will be full of errors, which will make her job a lot harder. More and more agents are rejecting unpolished manuscripts, regardless of how much she may have liked the story.

3. Writers with unrealistic expectations: If a writer hasn’t learned about the publishing industry, she can make wrong assumptions. That’s okay, as long as she’s willing to accept that she was wrong and move on. The problem here is when an author believes she should earn a crazy big advance, when that amount is rarely given out anymore, especially not to newly published authors. Or, the author might expect to have her book picked up by a NY publisher within the first week of submissions. Granted, this can happen, but that’s not the norm. Another off-putting assumption is that once a publisher has accepted the novel, it’ll be published within months. Honey, you’ll be LUCKY if it’s released that same year. Most publishers, especially the big wigs, have a full list 1-3 years in advance. Knowing more about the publishing industry will help you better understand what to expect and how long you’ll have to wait.

4. Impatient authors: There’s a fine line here between an impatient author and an agent who isn’t communicating as often as she should. The agent should either send a report or forward e-mails as they come in during the submission process. If you don’t hear anything from the agent over a month’s time, you wouldn’t be impatient if you contacted her, asking for an update on your submission. However, you shouldn’t be e-mailing or calling your agent daily for such an update. Some publishers take months to respond to the agent, and that might still be a rejection. Longer doesn’t necessarily mean better. It probably means the person in charge of reading the submission is really busy. If your agent has been in the business for a while, she should be able to tell you which publishers will take longer to respond, so you’ll know what to expect.

5. Writers who aren’t team players: These writers don’t trust their agent’s advice, which makes me wonder why they went with this particular agent in the first place. *shrug* Most agents know their stuff. If you’ve done your research, you should know whether or not your agent is on the ball. If she is, great, trust what she tells you. If not, don’t sign with her. If you receive two offers from publishers, and one is for a much smaller advance, but your agent tells you that publisher is a lot easier to work with, consider her opinion. Ask her for a better explanation as to why the bigger publisher might not be the right choice for you. Another part of being a team player is taking constructive criticism from your agent and making the necessary changes to your query, synopsis, and manuscript. While it’s possible that not every single change will resonate with you—and that’s okay—for the most part, you should be willing to work with your agent and figure out how to make your submission package the best it can be.

6. Authors who omit the project’s history: If you’ve already submitted your novel, or if another agent has, to pretty much all the publishers out there, you MUST tell a potential agent, because she can’t submit something that has already done the circuit. However, if you tell the agent that so-and-so rejected it, the agent might be able to pinpoint why the story didn’t sell and help you revise the story, then sell it.

Hopefully, you didn’t see yourself in that list, but if you did, you should know what might have been causing you to receive rejections. Of course, it could boil down to a poorly written query or bad timing.

If you’re struggling with your query letter or synopsis, or if you’d like a professional editor to take a look at either or both, I can help. Check out my query letter and synopsis critique packages.

Lynnette Labelle

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