The short answer is yes. My fingers shudder as I type this because I adore agents. I’ve written about them extensively on this blog. They make my life worth living. They make my mouth water, they are able to get me to read work that I might not have read had the author sent it.
But there is a side to this business that sends me running for the beagle’s chocolate martinis, and that is the tough-to-work-with agent. I know; it sounds harsh to call an agent tough to work with because the idea is to make things smooth. But I have high standards of anyone who represents an author’s literary career, and I expect them to know how to whet my or any other editor’s appetite.
Query letter: Understandably, I have high expectations of agents’ query letters and proposals. They should be bullet proof and contain all the elements to expose the plot and make me care about the characters. I don’t care what anyone says, agents are sales people, and it’s their job to make you, their client, look like the best thing since the pasta maker. Yet, any number of times I see queries that are filled with high praise for the writing quality and fabo plot, and a “hey, the author’s mom really dug this book.” WTH? This is an agent who may make it to my ignore list – even though they may be respected agents with good sales.
If I’m unfamiliar with the agent, I look them up to see their client list and sales history. I had one agent tell me, upon asking why her sales history and client list was missing from her site, that it was proprietary information. Um…between you and me, I’ve never known an agent to be coy about her sales. Ever. This is their business card that screams, “heck yeah, I rock.”
If I continually have to ask for further information about a story’s plot, I get cranky. If I see that this particular agent always pulls this sort of thing, I put them on my ignore list. They’re simply not worth my time. Either learn how to write an informative query, or bite me. These agents make it to my ignore list.
A query should include:
- Word count
- Pitch – this must include the plot. I’m talking personal conflict, as in what choice must the MC make? What consequences of those choices bother him/her? I want to know what is going to happen because of the decisions they made. I want to know why I should care about the MC.
- Bio – I want to know a little bit about the author; why they wrote the book, what makes them the best person to have written their book, and any qualities that add to their marketability – for example, the doctor who writes medical fiction, the detective who writes thrillers.
If your agent’s query letter doesn’t include these things, have a heart-to-heart talk with them about improving the quality. You do not want to be overlooked because your agent didn’t include the most pertinent information. I don’t get gooey over an agent telling me their client’s work is a work of art. They gotta show me; prove it to me.
Proposals: Since I specialize in nonfiction, I expect the agent to have an available proposal upon request. If they don’t, then I wonder why. Is it due to laziness? Proposals are an accepted tool in the query process, but they’re a bitch to write. I had an agent tell me proposals are boring and insisted that I read the manuscript instead because the writing was “riveting.”
First off, reading the proposal offers me far more vital information than I’ll glean from the manuscript. If the proposal doesn’t have the elements we’re looking for, then I’ve saved myself some valuable time. Telling an editor they can’t have what they want and suggest they take what is being offered is a good way to get on an ignore list. Editors are the agents’ customers, and we all know what they say about the customer, yes? They’re always right.
Mother Hen: I understand the mother hen issue because I’m a rabid bear when it comes to my authors. But there is a line agents don’t cross – and that’s browbeating. Any agent who calls me up to bust my chops is begging for a visit from the beagle’s hit team.
I had an agent email me a rude missive that took me to task for the length of time the editing was taking on her client’s book. Mind you, she had never inserted herself in the production process before this, and all she needed to do is simply pick up the phone and ask me how things were going. Instead, she told me that had she known the editing would have taken “this long” she would have never allowed her client to sign the contract. Oh please. There were massive rewrites involved, and those don’t fall from the air in two weeks. This was the same agent who needed to be walked through the royalty statement because she couldn’t figure it out. Our statements are so easy the beagle can figure them out. Drunk.
Agents who behave as though they’re expecting a fight are cutting their and their author’s throats because there is simply no need for it. All they need do is ask. Not that this agent would ever query me again, but if she did, I wouldn’t even look at it because she’s on my ignore list.
Scary: I covered this topic already, but it bears repeating. Agents do not waste time on those who rejected their client’s work. They pitch elsewhere. They don’t send updates to the editor telling them how they missed out on a great book and talk about all the other editors who lurve the book. I don’t care because I already rejected it. Agents who do this are on my ignore list. I also have the beagle on whacko watch.
Clueless: Oboy, nothing worse than an agent who needs a map to find their left hand. These are the ones who haven’t prepared their clients for the rigors of publishing. Inadequacy is the author’s worst enemy because they are basically flying without a working parachute. They’ll yank on the ripcord only to hear, “Oh, was that part important?” Makes me want to drink Draino. I don’t have time to educate a new author because I’m busy with the production and marketing process. I expect the agent to fully prep their author so they understand what’s expected of them.
I had an author years ago who was shocked that she needed to be available for promotion, even though it’s clearly marked in the contract. “Well,” the agent said, “you didn’t stipulate exactly what that promotion meant.” Huh? Just what planet are people like this from? Any agent knows exactly what promotion is, and they prepare their authors for it. Crikey, at that, maybe I should have stipulated in the contract that the agent must have a working brain. Brains are not just pretty faces; they must fire up on occasion. The agent did her client (our author) no favors with her stupidity, and we ended up having to cancel the project. This agent is on my ignore list. So is the author, for that matter.
Snobbery: I’m not a fan of snobs because they’re trying to intimidate me into making a decision. The proverbial, “Of course you want this manuscript! Do you know WHO I AM?” Now, this may work on some editors, but they leave me reaching for a beer.
Just because I’m a small fry doesn’t mean I’m impressed by a blowhard. I’m lucky to work with some fairly big names, and they are delightful.
Authors are often thrilled to have captured some Big Agent, but I’ve heard enough stories about how that Big Agent did squat all for them because they were too busy working for their Big Paying Well-Established Author. It’s the snob factor. Either take the author on because you believe you can sell their work, or quit wasting your and the author’s time. But if these folks act like they’re doing me a favor by gracing me with their presence and I’m a bovine for not seeing that, they go directly to my ignore list. Respect is a two-way street, no matter how big or small you are.
Gossips: Yah, ok, this is a hard one to avoid because this community is small, and everyone knows who farted and how big a hole it blew into the ozone layer. But if I see an agent who is peaches and cream to my or a fellow editor’s face and I see disparaging comments in their blog, or in an inadvertent email that I or my editor bud was accidentally cc’d on, then that agent goes on my ignore list. Who needs a back biter?
The good news is that very few agents are actually on my ignore list, and that’s just the way I like it. There are many great people in this biz, and I’m happy that the fartbags are few and far between. Just make sure the fartbags aren’t repping your work. Ask around; visit the writer’s boards. “What have you heard” is powerful medicine that can keep indigestion at bay.