Author’s note: I’m not repped by a literary agent. Yet. This list is just as much for me as it is for you, dear reader.
Getting an agent is one step toward the literary dream. Getting an agent can be a milestone–a sign that your writing is improving, that your time is coming ’round at last. So when it comes time to seek literary representation, you want to be sharp, professional, and basically NOT act like a goober. If you want agents to take you seriously, please don’t do any of the following:
1) Call them. There’s a reason agents want query letters. They want to see if you can write. They want to see how you engage someone with the written word. Even if you can sound charismatic and intelligent on the phone (and that’s doubtful), it’s no indication that you can actually write. Besides–think of all of the telemarketer calls that you’ve gotten at some point in your life. You know that face you make when someone cold calls you and tries to get you to buy a vacuum cleaner? That’s the same face an agent makes when you call him or her.
2) Be creepy. It’s easy to find out stuff about agents you target. Many of them use social media. (if for nothing more than to keep an eye on some of their more *ahem* interesting clients.) I follow about 10 agents on Twitter–some of whom I’ll be querying very soon. While you should tailor your query to the agent, perhaps you shouldn’t tell them that you took a picture of their office building the last time you were in New York. “Are you still in the corner office on the 10th floor?” doesn’t impress them–it terrifies them, stalker.
3) Be an asshole. So Jane Doe of Jane Doe Literary rejected you. Here’s a newsflash: A lot of people are going to reject you. And in point of fact, Jane Doe did not reject YOU. She rejected your work. Yes, you put a lot into that manuscript about an 18th century feline assassin sent forward into the 29th century to kill Dog, the Hydrant-Pee-er. It’s hard not to take rejection personally. But here’s a tip: Don’t respond to a rejection. Not even with a “Thanks anyway.” Just move on. And even if you’re angry because you’ve suffered 125 rejections in a row, and Jane Doe was your last great hope, DO NOT send the email you just composed. You know, the one that says “FUCK YOU you would reject fuckin’ Shakespeare, you dimwit!” Yeah, that one. Don’t do it. Even if you want to. Being professional means you have to take some shit on occasion and still do your job. In the publishing world, rejection is that first layer of shit.
4) Send gifts with your query. You want to give an agent a gift? Be sane. Be professional. There are enough insane wannabe clients out there that they’ll appreciate the professional ones. Still want to give them something tangible? Wait until he/she has agreed to represent you, and then wait a little more. Wait until your agent has sold your book. Then send him/her a nice bottle of wine. Or whiskey. Or Godiva chocolates. And a nice note. THAT is when giving a gift to your agent is acceptable.
5) Send them a first draft. Okay, I’ll ‘fess up here. I’ve DONE this one before. My writing is usually pretty clean, and once I’ve finished the first draft, I consider the book done. That’s not the case, and that’s heartbreaking to admit. I’ve written before about my need to revise/rewrite. I think if I’d been more willing to revise earlier on in my writing career, I’d already be agented (and possibly published) by now. A first draft may be good. It may be better than good, in fact. But the odds are against it. An agent only has your work to go by–why take the chance on making a bad impression when you can revise and make a GREAT impression? Come on, son.
6) Lie. Everybody lies, right? You know, little white lies–“I’ve been published here, here, and here“–in your query letter. Don’t do that. Really, don’t. Because you know they’ll check, right? Publishing is a VERY small industry, and getting smaller and smaller all the time. (Thanks a lot, Random House & Penguin.) Your supposed credits are easy to check, and if they don’t pan out, an agent isn’t going to offer you representation, no matter how good your manuscript is. Nobody wants to be in a business (or any other kind of) relationship with someone they can’t trust.
For those of you who would prefer the TL;DR version of this article: When you’re looking for a literary agent, be polite and professional. Try not to act like a moron, even if you are.
Up next, targeting my top five agents, and why.