Picking The Brains Of Editors And Agents

At the Chicago Writer’s Conference, there were agent and editor panels held where we were able to pick their brains about what they like, don’t like, expect from us, expect from themselves, the changing industry, etc.

As far as the boom in electronic books go, publishing houses are now beginning their own online publishing lines where they can publish a much wider range of books. Since bookstores are hesitant to put out print books unless the author is a heavy hitter, the publishers now don’t have to worry so much about whether or not the bookstores will sell the books of new authors,  thereby making them more willing to take risks on different genres and more authors. That’s great for us newbies out there who don’t want to go the self-publishing route. Is it cheaper for them to sell our books as e-books? Not really. They still have to pay the editor, copy editor, publicist, software engineers, legal team, cover artist, and whatever else in there I forgot.  

Agents see themselves as business partners with the authors. They’re not “salespeople” nor are they your friend. They are contract negotiators and liaisons between you and the publisher. They make sure you get paid if the publisher “forgets.” They push your manuscript when the editor falls behind. They take care of foreign rights and whatever else rights you have. They do a heck of a lot more but for the life of me I can’t remember everything right now.

Editors go over your book and help you make the book better. However, they’re not there to rewrite the book for you. If they want you to change something, usually it’s wise to listen to them. More often than not, they know what they’re talking about. They know what sells. They know what will make the book better, so listen to them.

Okay, now on to the things that irk them.

1. When you send out a mass email querying a ton of agents and/or editors addressed to Dear Sir/Madam. Yeah, they hate that. It shows laziness on your part and no one wants to work with a lazy author. Remember, this is a partnership between you, your agent and your editor. Be professional. Your query letter is the first impression of how professional you are, so don’t screw it up. If that means you have to send out 100 individual emails addressed to 100 individual agents/editors, then do so. Otherwise, you risk them hitting the delete button in disgust without reading your query.  I mean, really, if you’re not going to take the time to address it to them, why should they take the time to read it?  

 2. Addressing it to the wrong agent/editor. Yes, people do this. Sometimes the agent it’s addressed to isn’t even in that office. Make sure you double-check and triple check that the agent you’re sending your query to is also the same agent you addressed in your query. Otherwise, again, it’ll get deleted without ever being read.

3. Querying them for a genre they don’t represent. Considering that agents receive hundreds of queries a week and only have a very short amount of time to scan over each query (maybe 15-30 seconds) only to discover that your query is for a western when they represent fantasy (now if it’s a western fantasy, then that might be different); well, that ticks them off. This goes back to doing your homework. Make sure you’re sending your queries to the right agents.

4. Querying agents who aren’t accepting submissions. Just because they are an agent and their name is listed in the agent roster doesn’t mean they’re accepting unsolicited submissions. Most agents only take on a limited number of authors a year. If they’re full and not taking on anymore, don’t query them.

5. Confusing agents and editors. Agents are not editors nor are editors agents. Know what each does. Don’t confuse them. That irks them, a lot.

6. Not spell-checking or using proper grammar and punctuation. Your query letter is a representation of how well you write. If your letter is full of mistakes, the agent or editor will focus more on the mistakes rather than the content of the letter. Spell check and have someone else look over it for you. A rule of thumb: Spend about 1-2 months working on the query letter. Again, that letter is what will get your foot in the door, so make sure it shines!

7. Not having the book done. This is a major peeve amongst agents. When you query an agent, they expect the book to be ready NOW, not in a couple of months. If they like your idea, they’re already thinking of an editor to pitch it to. The last thing they want to hear from you is “Um, it’s not ready yet. I’m only on chapter 3.”  Editors, however, are a little more lax on this simply because it’s going to take them about three months just to get to your manuscript. The longer you wait to give it to them, the longer it’s going to take for them to look at it. If it’s something they requested, try to get it to them in a timely manner. They’ll still look at it even if it’s six months to a year later, but you run the risk of it not being what they want at that time because they wanted it six months to a year ago.

8.  Not sending in your manuscript when it’s been requested. Amazingly, this happens a lot. The agents said they only receive about 30% of what they request. It could be because the writer wasn’t finished with the manuscript or chickened out or ended up sending it to a different agent or whatever, but that number was shocking.

9. Being unprofessional. Nobody wants to work with the author from Hell.

10. Expecting more than what they can give. There’s only so much an agent and editor can do for you. You’re not “just a writer.” You’re a lot more and have to wear many hats if you want to make a career as an author.

11. Not following instructions. If you’re one of the lucky few who gets a request for a partial or a full, make sure you read the submission guidelines! First, jump up and down, scream, run around the house, then calm down. Read those guidelines at least 5 times and make sure you fully understand them. Get everything together, read off the guidelines again and be sure you have what you need. Then send it in or email it. Every publishing house and agent have different requirements, so be sure you familiarize yourself with what they want and get it right the first time.  How embarrassing would it be to get an email that says, “Please send in _____ because we didn’t receive it the first time.” Or, worse yet lose your chance with that agent or editor because you didn’t follow directions.

12. Just to throw out the numbers, agents receive anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 queries a year. How many new authors do agents take on per year? Between 1-5. Now, a lot of those queries fall into numbers 1-6 above, are poorly written,  or don’t interest the agent.  But still, only 1-5  new authors a year out of the thousands of queries? Wow.

I’m sure there’s more that I’m missing. If you think of anything else, add it to the comments.  In the meantime, good luck!


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. philosophermouseofthehedge
    May 23, 2012 @ 17:38:06

    Excellent advice and observations. It is enough of a challenge if you do everything right – best to not make it harder on yourself.


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