Agent naughtyisms – Irritable vowel syndrome

There are times when editors are given to the same frustrations as everyone else and their vowels can become obstructed. Naturally, the trick is to breathe deeply, count to ten, take a quick swig of a margarita – and hopefully the urge to chop someone’s liver into tiny pieces passes without incident. It usually works – and is one of the main reasons I keep the beagle around.

But there are times when biting my tongue and counting to ten usually don’t work – and that’s when I encounter stupidity from those who should know better – agents. Then my vowels become as irritable as ever.

For the most part, j’adore agents because they serve as my filter – and sometimes my bright beacon of light. The manuscripts are usually a cut above and the agents are consummate professionals. I love this. When I ask for a book proposal, they know it means including title comps and promo plan. There’s no guess work because we speak the same language without using hand signals or an interpreter.

But there is a whole subset of agents who have been cleaved from the Rock of Stupid. Let’s take the one I received the other day. It began ominously enough and went downhill from there…”Dear Acquisitions Editor…”


I could see this happening if my name was nowhere to be found. But that is far from the case. So when I’m addressed as basically, “Hey You,” it gets my hackles up. Am I overly sensitive? Not in the classic sense, for certain. I’m an editor and a mother – that has to make me the most callous bundle of DNA around. But it bothers me because it’s rude. If you don’t know someone, then you introduce yourself. I’ve received all kinds of lovely queries from agents who take a quick moment to introduce themselves and say how they enjoyed our lineup and hoped their client’s book fit the bill.

This is the polite thing to do. Even if the project isn’t right for me, my esteem for the agent goes up several notches. I know they weren’t born in a barn, and I’ll remember them in a good way.

The other thing this “Dear Editor” salutation tells me is that the agent-cleaved-from-the-Rock of Stupid didn’t bother to look up our submission guidelines. She probably didn’t even check out our website. And more importantly for you, the author, is that she more than likely has no idea what our company is about. She knows squat about us. Personally, that gives me a case of the willies.

Why? Well, let’s carry the scenario a bit further. Let’s say an editor wants to sign the work agent rock-for-brains sent to her – and let’s say that publisher is a POD. At some point (hopefully) the agent will figure out she’s dealing with a POD publisher and realize she’s wasted all kinds of time for nothing. Now she has to squirrel the deal and go back to square one. How does that “oops” make her look in your eyes? I’d say flipping incompetent.

It goes the other way as well. I dealt with a agent who hadn’t done her homework and assumed our advances ranged into mid-five figures. When she discovered that wasn’t the case, she sent back a rather haughty “thanks, but no thanks” email. It was rude and quite unnecessary. She could have saved us all the trouble had she done one simple thing – and do some research on us. I’ll see to it that our paths don’t cross again.

Another thing that irritates my vowels is the agent who sends a crappy query. Heckfireandsugarplums, any author can whip together a crappy query letter – they hardly need the help of an agent. Isn’t that why authors get an agent? Not only do they have the inroads to contact editors, but they know how to write a crakin’ query letter. Right?


I’m amazed when I see an agent’s query letter that’s filled with generalized description and only gives the thinnest of plots. At least not enough to hang my hat on. This forces me to write her back for further explanations. Is this work complete? Word count? The biggest question is will I bother to write back, or will I just reject it?

On the surface, simple rejection is easy for me. Crappy query = rejection. But every time I do this, I take into account the author who has pinned her faith and hope in her agent to get a sale.  It makes me cranky. Why would an agent be so cavalier in the writing of their client’s query letter? Does she want to make the sale or not? And the worst part of all this is that the author will never know. At some point, if the manuscript doesn’t sell, the agent will more than likely drop the author, saying they did their best.

But did they?

So that’s why I bleat on about knowing whom you query. Research agents and make sure they are controversy-free. They make good sales and have stellar reputations. If you don’t have the Water Cooler bookmarked, then do it right spanking now. There are all kinds of solid posters there who know the score and offer up great information.

And since my vowels are already irritated, may I raise my Pepto bottle to the Einstein who wanted me to sign a nondisclosure statement before he’d send me the real query letter? Dude, I’m afraid you’ll have to change the world with your new idea without me. I don’t trust myself enough with your work and fear giving into temptation to write your book idea all over the bathroom walls in Barstow.

Have you ever worried about your agent’s abilities to do the very best job for your book?

17 Responses to Agent naughtyisms – Irritable vowel syndrome

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    …nondisclosure agreement?

  2. Yes…I kid you not. Funnily enough, that’s not the first time I’ve been told I needed to sign a nondisclosure statement.

  3. Lauren says:

    . . . may I raise my Pepto bottle to the Einstein who wanted me to sign a nondisclosure statement before he’d send me the real query letter?


  4. Kelley says:

    Have you ever worried about your agent’s abilities to do the very best job for your book?

    Yep. My mistake was I should have worried more, tho. Turns out even the “best” (as in highly reputable, top-selling) agent can do their clients wrong.

    Have you read It “don’t work out for me” twice, either.

    The problem is it’s not talked about openly. But I found when you asked around, really asked, it all came out. Too bad it was after the fact.

  5. Kelley, thanks for the link. Lev is a dear and always speaketh the truth. And thank you for bringing this up. I’ve seen a number of cases where authors got their dream agent – that Mr. Big in NY that Everyone Knows. The potential problem is that since the agent is so big and has such high profile clients, the unknown author is sort of shoved under the doormat.

    It sucks stale Twinkie cream, but logic will tell you that Mr. BigPants will drop everything for Ms. Well-Known Author – who will bring in a verra verra nice payday – and leave you floundering.

    I’m not saying this always happens, but it does happen.

  6. Becky Mushko says:

    Could you post a few of the dreadful queries (removing names, titles, and identifying info, of course)—or maybe just some of the worst openings from queries? Or has the beagle already shredded them?

  7. Becky, I’m pretty quick and manage to keep the bad ‘uns out of the beagle’s chompers. From time to time I do showcase a particularly horrendous query letter in order to point out the “do not do” elements. But I don’t make a habit of it because I don’t want authors thinking their queries may end up on the blog.

  8. Lev Raphael says:

    The irony for me is that I have almost always done better without agents than with one. But agents are a dying breed thanks to epublishing. If authors like Konrath and Barry Eisler go that route, many will follow.

  9. Lev, you’re achingly brilliant and people are INSANE if they don’t rush out to buy your books.

    But the main concern I have with the Konraths and Eislers is that they already have an established readership. Those who epublish themselves have a much tougher time swimming to the top of the heap.

    For the few who have no previous platform – hello Amanda Hocking – they worked achingly hard. These are the Cinderella stories. For most, this isn’t the case.

    But I remain utterly loyal to your books, and I hope you sell millions.

  10. Digital Dame says:

    Konrath details his struggles on his blog. It took him a long time and a whole lotta rejections. I, for one, have no desire to try that route. I’m all about tradition (promise not to break into song here), and would dearly love to go the traditional route.

  11. Lev Raphael says:

    @Digital Dame: It takes almost every author a whole lotta rejections however they start out. I went five years between publishing my first and second short stories. Every route has its hassles. But after 19 books with publishers large and small, I want the control you can’t have otherwise.

    @Lynn: Absolutely, I wasn’t encouraging everyone to start with ebooks, but it does make sense if you have a platform of some kind, even a small one, or just a soapbox. I should have been clearer about that. I guess I was too busy aching with brilliance (that can take a lot out of a guy). 🙂

  12. Lev…LOL…indeed, brilliance can be exhausting. You have my sympathies.

  13. Esther Reese says:

    Thank you! I’m so glad Writer Beware brought this blog to my attention. I am subscribing by email, and am looking forward the the wit and information I’m going to find in your archive. (Judging them all by this one post, of course. 🙂

    My best to the Beagle.

  14. Oh, thanks so much, Esther. Look forward to having you on board. The beagle…phht..worthless flea bag. If only she didn’t make such grand margaritas.

  15. Lev Raphael says:

    Lynn, you’re lucky your dog can tend bar. I won’t let our Westies near the single malt.

  16. Rik says:

    Would it be nasty of me to suggest that the beagle starts pasting the author’s email address into the cc space on the rejection email? with the original email attached? An easy mistake, I’m sure …

  17. Lev, dear, don’t you know that Westies have a low tolerance to the devil’s drink?

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