You’re fishing for a literary agent, casting query after query out into the world, and hoping for a nibble. And then—yes! An agent is interested, curious, inquiring. You want to reel the agent in, but you must move carefully—if you pull the line too slowly or too quickly, your prize catch will instead be the “one that got away.”
When you’ve got an agent who is about to “bite,” avoid making these amateur mistakes!
Requesting confirmation of receipt. Okay—this first mistake might not be a total deal breaker, but it can make an agent think twice. Most literary agents don’t want to sign for a package; the polite way to handle this is to get delivery confirmation without asking for a signature. And very few agents send automatic email confirmations; you’ll just need to sit tight for a while and have faith that your initial email went through. Don’t ask an agent to make a special exception to give you a confirmation of receipt; it suggests you’ll be a high-maintenance client.
A “talk to my assistant” attitude. Some writers leave all correspondence and communications to their personal assistant. But this isn’t a good strategy when you’re in the “talking” phase with a literary agent. Chemistry is important in agent-writer relationships; if the agent can’t communicate directly with you during this initial stage, the result could be no chemistry—and therefore no contract.
A barrage of old manuscripts. It’s understandable to be enthusiastic when a literary agent shows interest in a given manuscript. But that’s no reason to overwhelm the agent with every old manuscript you have on file. It’s okay to mention your prior or future books in conversation so you can both decide if those projects are mutually interesting. However, don’t make the mistake of assuming that your potential agent will want to “shop around” every manuscript you’ve written.
Annoying follow-ups. You know that person who calls your house to leave a voice mail, then calls your cell to leave another, then texts you to say they’ve left a voice mail, and then emails you with the not-very-urgent comment that all the hullabaloo is about? Don’t be that person when contacting an agent. Again, you don’t want to give the impression that you’ll be a needy or high-maintenance client. Here’s how to follow up with a literary agent the right way.
Finicky negotiations. If you get to the point where you’re reviewing a literary agency contract, you’ll want to be sure that you protect your rights. But at the same time, you also want to demonstrate a willingness to be a trusted and trusting partner. Pick your battles carefully and let the rest go. When in doubt, ask a lawyer to review your contract before you sign.
Bad-mouthing others. If you had a bad experience with another agent, or if you have a publishing history that’s less than stellar, be careful that you don’t appear to play the blame game. Speak factually about what happened, and leave the agent to draw conclusions about the failures of your former partners or teammates. You don’t want the agent thinking, “Wow, I would hate dealing with such a negative person!” It pays to be positive and nice.
If You Make A Faux Pas With A Literary Agent
If you feel that you’ve come across as a little pushy or high-maintenance, you can always adjust your style of communication. You can also apologize for any momentary lack of decorum and promise to be “less overly enthusiastic” in the future.
And if the big fish that’s been nibbling at your bait doesn’t ultimately bite, don’t worry about it! Remember, there are other fish in the sea! Stay positive and test new waters.
Photo by 24oranges.nl
QUESTION: Did you ever get a “nibble” from a literary agent? Tell us about it!
Some years ago, while hunting the lists of literary agents, I got a promising nibble from one (no names). I sent her my resume, and she asked for my current work. I sent her a novel I’d just finished, and she critiqued it and asked for a rewrite. I sent her the rewrite, and she pronounced it saleable. At that point she asked for money in advance. I didn’t have it. End of relationship.
I eventually found the book a publisher on my own, a small house that sold downloads first and left most of the promoting and advertising up to the author, and sales have been understandably slow. I still don’t have an agent.