5 Myths about Literary Agents (And How I Got Mine)

Sunday, June 28th 2015 • Advice, Querying, Writing

Greetings, wonderful people! I am beyond thrilled to announce that I am now officially represented by literary agent Logan Garrison of The Gernert Company. I cannot wait to start on this next phase of my author career and get my new novel out there. This has been a long journey of querying, revising, crying, querying, revising, celebrating, crying, and more revising. For those of you unfamiliar with what I mean by querying, allow me to give you a brief window into the querying process and how one goes about getting a literary agent.

Step 1. Write and polish book.
Step 2. Research potential literary agents.
Step 3. Query these agents by sending them an e-mail or letter about your book.
Step 4. Wait for rejection or requests for more pages to come back.
Step 5. Wait some more.

After these first five steps, the process gets ever murkier. Some agents may send you notes after they read the full manuscript. If these notes resonate, you can make these changes. If they don’t, you keep querying. Finally, if someone loves your manuscript, they will e-mail or call you and offer to represent you. This is the part where you scream and dance and make your landlord run over to see if everything’s okay.

Now, before you jump into this process, there are some myths that I would like to dispel. Keep in mind that these are all based on my personal experience, and I’m sure that there are some agents out there that people would say these myths are absolutely true of. I can only speak for myself and my own querying experience.

Myth #1. Literary agents hate writers.

There is this vision of the literary agent as some kind of evil gatekeeper. They sit between you and Publishing Castle, glaring and throwing rotten fruit at writers that approach. Try to give them your manuscript and they will tear it apart and tell you that they wouldn’t dream of reading this kind of garbage. Or, worse yet, they will just ignore you and stand between you and Publishing Castle without any explanation. Poke them or nudge them, and they’ll stand resolute against you.

This vision is simply not true.

Now, maybe I got lucky because I only queried agents that I thought were good fits for me. I followed their blogs and Twitter pages to make sure they seemed like nice people. But in all my interactions with various literary agents, they were polite. Many were encouraging and kind. As writers, we need to understand that literary agents need to connect with us and our projects in order to represent us. If they don’t connect, then they don’t want to waste their time or the writer’s time. I appreciate this because I’m a big fan of not having my time wasted. However, this leads to myth #2.

Myth #2. Literary agents don’t read anything you send them. They even go so far as to ignore you or (gasp) send form rejections.

Remember, you are querying the agent so that they will represent you. And if you are so lucky to have an agent represent you, that agent should hopefully be focusing on their clients, right? If they have to take the time to write out feelings-sparing rejections to everyone who queries them, they won’t have as much time for their clients. As a result, many good agents follow a “no response means no” policy and don’t respond to queries that they’re not interested in. Or, some agents send form rejections that say something like “not for me.” Some agents jazz up their form rejections and write back: “Dear writer, I found that the story was not as fleshed out as I would have liked. As a result, I’m going to pass.” This kind of form can freak a writer out. Not fleshed out? But my critique partners said it was totally fleshed out!

You should use a website like Query Tracker to figure out if it is a form that you have received. Helpful writers will comment with the rejections that they received, and you can compare yours. If it’s a form rejection, accept that the agent isn’t a good fit and don’t take it personally. If it’s not a form rejection, though, keep the feedback in mind. It doesn’t mean that the agent is right, but if the same comment comes up again, look into it.

In both of these cases, though, the agent or the agent’s assistant did consider the work. In order to consider all of the work that comes in, though, they might rely on “no means no” or form rejections. It’s nothing personal.

Myth #3. A “revise and resubmit” request is a slow no.

I’ve seen a lot of writers lament the request to revise and resubmit. But here’s the thing: as previously established, agents are nice, but they don’t like wasting time. If they see something that they like or possibly even love in your manuscript, then they might request that you revise and resubmit. They wouldn’t take the time to give you those notes or feedback if they didn’t think it could turn into what they want. So take those revise and resubmit requests seriously! If they ring true to you, then use them to revise the manuscript.

A word of caution, though. Revising and resubmitting your manuscript does NOT mean you’re going to get an automatic offer of representation. In fact, it could very well turn out that you put your all into the revisions and the agent still doesn’t want to offer. That’s okay. It probably made the book better. However, a revise and resubmit could also show you that you and the agent work well together, and the revisions could be exactly what that agent is looking for. In fact, that’s what happened to me with Logan.

Myth #4. Your query letter should “sell” you and your book.

I’m being tricky here. Yes, your query letter should absolutely convince the agent that they want to represent you and this book. However, this is not the time to act like a used car salesman. Do not tell the agent that this is the “next bestseller” or that you’ve received offers of representation if you haven’t. Instead, tell the agent what’s important. To find out what is important, do your research about what they want in a query letter. Research their lists. Follow them on Twitter. Look for patterns on QueryTracker. Show them that you respect how busy they are and make your query worth their time.

Myth #5. Manners aren’t important.

Address your query to the agent. Send it to the right e-mail address. Make sure the agent’s name is spelled correctly. Make sure you keep your query to a page or less. Don’t attach files unless they say it’s okay to on their website. Follow their guidelines to nudge. Always thank them for taking the time to consider your work. Acknowledge that they’re busy.

And, above all else, NEVER send a rude or snarky or angry response to a rejection. If you think they’ve made a big mistake, tell your friends. Call your mom. Just don’t e-mail that to the agent.

In fact, the most important thing that I learned during my querying process is that literary agents are people. Hopefully, you will find the one person that gets what you’re trying to do with your book and that person will become your literary agent. I’m so excited to have found mine, and I wish all of you queriers out there the best of luck finding yours.



© 2013 Veronica Bane. All Rights Reserved.