Thursday, February 26, 2009

For Agents: Some Dos and Don’ts
A Guest Post by Hope Vestergaard...

This is the second of two guest posts by author Hope Vestergaard. In yesterday's post, Hope offered a list of Dos and Dont's for Editors. Today she directs her advice to agents.

  • Do have a website, however minimal. If you don’t have one, we will be forced to google you and glean information from random sources. Critical info: what genres you represent, any you hate; selected projects you represented; submission directions; timelines for a response; how editorial an approach you take.
  • Do stick to the same submission policies mentioned below for editors: be timely, be clear, be honest. If you offer editorial input, please distinguish between big picture and close-up feedback. If you employ first readers and assistants, let us know that. Sharing manuscripts is a relatively intimate endeavor. Imagine going to your personal physician, donning your gown and having three interns join the exam, unannounced. It is comforting to know who will be in the room, whether for a physical exam or a manuscript evaluation.
  • If you blog, do so with tact. Are you promoting yourself or your clients? Are you promoting your clients equally? Include a FAQ to which you can direct newbie questions, thereby resisting the urge for snarky remarks.
  • Don’t leave your clients hanging. There’s probably a good reason you haven’t gotten back to us, but we can’t read your mind. Acknowledge receipt of manuscripts with a brief note and a ballpark of when we should hear from you again. Respond to regular questions within a day or two, even if just to say, “I will look into this and get back to you ____.” Call us occasionally just to touch base and remind us that we are on your horizon even if we don’t currently have anything “hot.”
  • Do tell us if you just aren’t excited about something we submit to you. Don’t hope we’ll forget about it. Say it’s not your favorite and steer us in the direction of something you think we’ll be more effective with.
  • Don’t tell tales out of school. When you give a speech and mention that obnoxious client who did this annoying thing that one time, we will figure out who it was. When you gossip with us about other clients, we may enjoy that “chosen one” sensation in the moment, but later on, we’ll wonder what you’re saying about us to others.
  • Do help us know where to put our marketing efforts. Help us make the decision whether or not to hire a publicist. Put in a good word with conference planners if you know we’re a good speaker. Let the PR people you talk to know how energetic and personable we are. Likewise, if you know that public speaking is not our strength, help us be okay with that.
  • Do let us know what we’re doing well. If you think we’re really strong in one genre, let us know. If you appreciate our professionalism or patience, let us know. If you think we have a really good humorous YA novel in our future, let us know. We are like dogs: loyal, attentive, and eager to please. Throw us a bone!
Careful readers will note that I make no pleas for editors and agents to give writers more/more detailed feedback in rejections. They simply don’t have time to do this for writers with whom they don’t have an existing relationship. Editor and author Mark McVeigh tells conferees that it’s not an editor’s job to teach writers how to write. This is a critical point many aspiring writers miss. The slush pile is not a classroom. The slush pile is merely a long line for entrance into the publishing arena. If you stand in that long line with nothing but a crappy manuscript and entitled attitude, you have surely earned the disappointment you’ll feel when you are inevitably turned away at the door.


I imagine that some editors and agents may be spluttering, right about now, that I obviously don’t know how bad you have it, or how awful some of the slush is, or what it’s like to be inundated with inappropriate submissions. Sadly, I have an idea! The nincompoops who fire off typo-ridden, poorly thought-out queries to umpteen editors and agents at once also target writers. Attempts to reach these folks with sarcastic, condescending feedback are misguided. The people who need to hear those things don’t recognize their own blunders and don’t seek information about improving their craft and professionalism.

On the other hand, the well-intentioned people who make innocent newbie mistakes learn very quickly when they find good advice on respectful, professional blogs such as this one, or Editorial Anonymous, or Nathan Bransford’s blog, just to name a few.

Dear industry insiders: please don’t pander to the lowest common denominator. True writers are ready to learn! We want to succeed. We are happy to treat you with the professional courtesy you deserve. We’re not asking for much – just mutual respect.


Michael Bourret said...

Thanks, Hope! As an agent, I'm sure I've broken some of these rules -- as hard as I try not to. It's good to be reminded of them.

With all the rules for authors that abound on the web, it's nice to see the tables turned. I think mutual respect and empathy on both ends goes a long way.
- Michael Bourret

MommyTime said...

I have to say that these two posts are really informative for authors, too, in the sense of giving us clear ideas about how to figure out what our own expectations might reasonably be. Many thanks!

Unknown said...

Well said. Two things you wrote really struck a chord with me:
That the slush pile is not a classroom. Too often, writers think they can send along their first print-out and are entitled to equal consideration to another who spent as much time revising.

And that agents shouldn't pander to lowest common denomiator (true in life, too). Many very fine writers happen to be looking for representation.
Kudos to you for summarizing so well.

Sheila Deeth said...

I really enjoyed these two posts. Nice to get a rational idea of what we can and can't expect.

Vodka Mom said...

Alice- I am really loving your posts! They are very invaluable.


Tara Maya said...

Aw, c'mon, the Slushpile is definitely a classroom -- in the School of Hard Knocks. ;)

Unknown said...

I love the way 'writers" such as Joe The Plumber get an enormous book deal after having 15 minutes of fame during a Presidential campaign. Joe sold 5 books at his first book signing earlier this week. He packed the book signing with a total of 11 people.

When I think of slush pile I think of Mark Twain, Ernest Hemmingway, Ezra Pound, Rudyard Kipling, Henry David Thoreau, Upton Sinclair, Virginia Wolfe, Edgar Allen Poe, W.E.B. DuBois, Alexander Dumas, J.K. Rowling and many other notable writers too numerous to list, but not forgotten.

As LITERARY AGENTS seek out JOE WURLZEBACHER aka "joe-the-plumber") coloring books, and FORMULAIC FICTION, I am reminded of the rejected writers who came before me.

Angela Ackerman said...

Both of these posts were fabulous! Thank you so much for saying things that needed to be said in such an up front and respectful way.

Laura D said...

When you are about to publish a manuscript, you can expect and hope that many will see it and help bring it into the world. Think of it as giving birth and having as many hands on deck needed for a safe delivery. There's no room for the bashful in the literary world.

Suzanne Young said...

I think this was great and very realistic.

Unknown said...

I have thoroughly enjoyed the comments and links on this blog.

Alice has done the blogosphere a great service.