Saturday, October 8, 2011

What I’ve learned about literary agents

From my sporadic querying experience over the last few years, I’ve learned a few things about literary agents that I’d like to share with you:

1. Literary agents are intimidatingly well-read.

2. They are very busy people.

3. You’re lucky to get any sort of response from them at all.

4. In order to save time, before reading your query they have to assume that what you have just sent them sucks.

5. U.S. agents want email submissions. Any letters sent will be immediately tossed.

6. U.K. agents want paper submissions. Any emails sent will be immediately deleted.

7. There are four literary agents here in New Zealand. And two of them will represent only sheep.

8. Literary agents tend to have rather boring names: Jenny Brown, Mary Evans, Greg Johnson.

9. They have excellent punctuation.

10. They generally don’t give out much information about themselves. Especially their astrological sign.

11. To find out about an agent’s literary preferences, you usually have to look at the titles they’ve helped publish.

12. Some agents have very poor taste.

13. The agents who would really be the best matches for you are now accepting submissions by referral only.

14. An agent’s ability to recognize a bestseller from a short submission is about as good as the average person’s ability to recognize from a sip of a latte that the coffee beans it’s made from are Jamaican Blue Mountain.

15. A surprising number of literary agents ask that your query letter include market research into your intended audience. To them I say, I write. What do you do?


  1. In one response from an agent, he wrapped up very succinctly what it seems all agents use as criteria in reviewing your query.

    1. Are you famous? If yes, let's talk. If no, go to the next question.
    2. Are you outstanding in the field in which you are writing? If yes, still willing to talk. If no, on to the last question.
    3. Are you previously successfully published, meaning a best seller? If yes, maybe we'll talk. If no, three strikes, you're out.

    Query filed under G for garbage. No response.

    Michael Drakich
    Grave Is The Day

  2. Hi Michael, how insightful (and depressing!). I have my fingers crossed that I'll somehow hap upon an agent who just so happened to be looking for an usual Italian memoir from a fresh new author...or maybe I would have better luck just playing the lottery? In the meantime, I have to keep hoping that the breeze will bring a little luck my way, and that quality in the end will prevail.

    All the continued best with your writing - it's thrilling to have a published author stop by!

  3. OH, my goodness you make me laugh! Esp. #7,9,and 12. The other ones make me cry along with you. I'm hoping for my first agent query this next month. (THIS IS SUCH A SLOW PROCESS!) Yes, I'm nervous!

    I took an idea from your blog a few posts ago and for today's post I talked a little about search criteria that people have used to find my blog. What a bizarre and interesting insight into humanity that always is!!!

  4. Hi Gretchen, that's so cool about your borrowing that blog post idea because I actually borrowed it from one of the Italian blogs I read - and it was hilarious! Yours is wonderful: I especially love "babysitters on Orcas Island"...I mean, if you live there, don't you already know who the babysitters are? Love how many matrioshka you've been able to collect all over the world: Horosho!

    Good luck next month with the querying. I emphathize with you on the 'slow' part of the whole process, especially when you have young children! My only advice would be to query to several agents at a time, to save you time; otherwise, you'll be hanging out for one response every three months...frustrating!

  5. thanks, Heddi! Yes, it's a great topic and one that could be returned to...varying as it is!!

    Yes, I know what you mean about contacting more than one at a time…I think for this first one,
    I’m not going to do that for one reason – I am getting a recommendation from someone that the agency already represents (they’ll only take new people via current-client’s recommendation), and so I’m going to give that a try and if that fails, then I’m sure I’ll query more than one at a time after that.

  6. Ooooh, lucky you! I will keep my fingers extra crossed for you, Gretchen!