Tag Archives: agent manners

from the mixed up files of Agent Manners – conference etiquette

Dear Agent Manners:

I hear that going to conferences is a great way to meet agents and other authors, but I’m a little confused about how I should approach an agent. Should I tap dance my way to them and declare myself the new Stephen King of J.K. Rowling material, dazzle them with slideshows from my laptop, throw queries and synopses in their faces, babble while pretending to be timid and sweaty?


Befuddled Arkansan (with no shoes or shirt, obviously)

Dear Befuddled:

Agent Manners’ first suggestion is to relax. Most agents of my acquaintance seem to be more comfortable with those attendees that act naturally. Instead of treating the agent as a target to be acquired and launching into a pitch, have an opening that will begin a conversation. Perhaps you might read Mary Robinette Kowal’s excellent advice on that very topic: Schmoozing 101.

I suspect if you asked Agent Janet, she’d suggest that you offer to buy the agent a drink. That could work on Agent Manners too. But choose your moment carefully. Agents are often heavily-scheduled at conferences, so respect their commitments and offer to get together at their convenience — if their schedule has an opening. If it doesn’t, keep the moment graceful and wait for a different opportunity.

Keep it casual. Keep it low-key. Let the agent steer. Most of them will appreciate a few moments of low pressure in the hailstorm of workshops, pitches, and meetings.

letters from the query wars with Agent Manners response

# of queries read this week: 163
# of partials/manuscripts requested: 2
genres of partials/manuscripts requested: mystery (1), fantasy (1)


This came in for Agent Manners but seemed appropriate to answer in a query wars post (since it isn’t really an etiquette question, per se):

Dear Agent Manners,
A delicate question, here–just how many truly painful manuscripts do you have to slog through before you find one worth requesting? I see your weekly tally and wonder; and I don’t mean manuscripts that don’t fit your particular market or need a bit of tweaking, I’m talking about full on disasters. 50%? 70%? 90%?
Just how big IS the competition out there for every publishing slot?
Most Sincerely,
The Boggled Bogwitch (who is neither a witch nor does she live in a bog, even if she is somewhat flummoxed.)

Dear Boggled:
Once upon a time, good manners included the saying: “if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” So, one hesitates to speak ill of the quality of queries, particularly since any writer reading this may take it very much to heart. However, I would direct your attention once more to the timeless Slushkiller post, particularly section 3, in which famous (or infamous) editor Theresa Nielsen-Hayden details the context of rejection. Her rendition seems painfully accurate, specifically her endnote:

“Aspiring writers are forever asking what the odds are that they’ll wind up in category #14 [buy this book - for those that didn't click through to read the details]. That’s the wrong question. If you’ve written a book that surprises, amuses, and delights the readers, and gives them a strong incentive to read all the pages in order, your chances are very good indeed. If not, your chances are poor.”

Based on the current statistics that have been posted on this blog this year, 1% of the queries submitted have resulted in a submission request.

I have not broken down the other 99% into specific categories, and given the amount of time that would require, am unlikely to do so. But, to be desperately, perhaps brutally, honest, I would venture a guess that at least 50% fall into the category you term “painful” above. Of those remaining many fall into (a) completely wrong for the agent in question (e.g. poetry, children’s picture books, other things I don’t handle), (b) Theresa’s category #4 (Author is on bad terms with the Muse of Language), (c) with an idea that is overly familiar, or (d) some combination of a, b, and c.

To make another educated guess, based largely on instinct from reading queries over the years, probably only 10% of the queries received make it into the “second pass” pile for further consideration. While these numbers make it patently obvious that the query process is flawed and inefficient, it remains, nevertheless, a necessary evil, simply due to the volume of inquiries most agents and editors receive.

Please do keep in mind that your mileage may vary from agent to agent on the overall statistics. And remember that the ultimate test is in the writing, so if you are sending me a query, include those first five sample pages (not chapter 34 as someone did this week). Hopefully this question was as delicately answered as it was tendered.

Good night, and good luck.

from the mixed up files of Agent Manners – multiple submissions

Dear Miss Manners,

I’ve been invited to submit to some agents. Is it rude to submit to others as well as the ones I met?

Baffled in Buffalo

Dear Baffled:

Unless any agent has requested and been granted an exclusive, Agent Manners feels that there is no etiquette precluding multiple submissions. However, it is polite to inform the agents that others are also reviewing the materials. (Note: This is for requested partials and manuscripts; any agent who doesn’t assume these days that queries are going out far and wide is living under a rock.)

Though it isn’t spelled out in the question, Agent Manners presumes that the agents met were at a conference and the other agents would be approached via the query method, which resulted in requests for materials to be submitted. By all means, make the submissions. Just deal with everyone honestly and openly.

from the mixed up files of Agent Manners – schmoozing at conferences

Dear Agent Manners,

To piggy-back on some of the Writer’s Conference questions.

I would like to attend a my first Writer’s Conference this summer. My two concerns are 1) I won’t know anyone, and 2) I feel somewhat uncomfortable talking about myself. I am neither shy nor gregarious and I’ve always enjoyed attending conferences but I worry it will be a lot of writers there with their buddies, and agents schmoozing with each other.

Are Writer’s Conferences like sororities (fraternities)? Or, can the serious, unpublished writer benefit from such an event as a social outcast?

Any suggestions on how to maneuver through one’s very first conference would be appreciated.

Thanks for your time,

Trying to Make it Work in the PNW

Dear Trying in PNW:

Conveniently, Agent Manners can point you to this excellent post from Mary Robinette Kowal about Schmoozing 101 in which she gives some great advice. In particular, per your point #2, Kowal recommends the art of schmoozing through the device of “the other person is more interesting than you are.”

Conferences can be a great experience, and an informative one, as well as a way to spend time with other writers who may understand more about all the challenges of the writing life than your family pet (no matter how good a listener Spot or Mittens might be). Agent Manners also reminds you that everyone was new at one point – even agents have their first conference where they don’t know anyone. Agent Manners also advocates volunteering to help out – the convention organizers will appreciate you and introduce you to people, and you may get an opportunity to escort an agent or editor or author guest.

Since you are in the PNW, Agent Manners recommends the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference. Agent Manners has attended this one in the past and it’s a great conference with much to offer, and has a very good reputation among agents.

from the mixed up files of Agent Manners – the dreaded synopsis

Dear Agent Manners,

I’m preparing to send out my novel, which is complete, and I also have a query letter I’m pleased with. My problem, however, is the summary. I’m having difficulty writing a summary I’m happy with that is both contained on one page and also includes all of the pertinant information.

I’m wondering how crucial the summary is when an agent is considering a project. How much weight does it carry? Should I spend a lot of time on it and delay sending out the project? Or should I go with what I have or skip it altogether?

Thanks so much for your time.

Stuck on the Summary

Dear Stuck:

Agent Manners sympathizes. The synopsis has seemed to generate an incomparable amount of dread among submitters. But Agent Manners fears it may be a necessary evil because it can also be a helpful tool. While many agents (including this one) may read sample pages or partials first, turning to the synopsis gives an opportunity for the author to communicate the balance of the story in a situation where the entire manuscript may not yet have been requested. Still, it seems that many find this laborious task of summarizing their novel even more difficult than finishing the manuscript to begin with. Step back and remember what the synopsis is supposed to accomplish. It should tell the conflict points of the story and relevant details about the characters and setting in such a way as to augment the pitch in a query letter and/or the hook of the sample pages.

Perhaps it might help to think of the synopsis as similar to the cover copy that compels the reader in the bookstore to take a further interest in the book rather than just taking a quick glimpse at the first few pages and putting it back on the shelf. Except for the fact that a synopsis should include all the spoilers. And definitely the ending. (A synopsis that ends with — “but to find out what happens, you’ll have to read the manuscript” — is bad form.)

Agent Manners advocates against “skip[ping] it all together” — it is one more lens with which to view your work and may give the agent valuable information in deciding whether they will request a submission. Give it your best effort and view it as one more piece of leverage in having your book stand out from the many.