Agent Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior

Welcome to this week’s column hosted by Agent Manners. Today, readers can submit questions regarding etiquette when dealing with agents, whether it be the query process or meeting them face to face at a conference. In the spirit of it, they should be submitted in letter form beginning with “Dear Agent Manners” and signed with such things as “Confused in Alabama.”

Only one letter per person, please. They should be posted in comments and may be submitted up until 10pm tonight EST. I will attempt to answer as many as my schedule allows (perhaps over the course of several days) but I reserve the right to pick and choose. I do not promise to be as pithy as the original Miss Manners (see below). Sense of humor required.

Dear Miss Manners:
Last night I ran into a classmate of mine whom I haven’t seen in ten years. I know he’s a writer now, but I didn’t feel I could say anything about his new book because I haven’t read it and he would be sure to find that out if I tried to talk about it. And yet I feel I should have said something, if only because he didn’t mention what he was doing and seemed to be waiting for me to acknowledge that I knew, if you know what I mean. What is the right thing to say to an author when you honestly can’t say “I loved your book” ?

Gentle Reader:
Few people, and no writers, have such high standards about compliments as to accept only those that will pass a rigourous test for veracity. Miss Manners experience is that an author will accept with joy any remark except “How many have you sold?” or “Did you know it’s being remaindered now?” or “I’d love to read it–please send me a copy.”

From Miss Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior by Judith Martin (Warner Books Trade Paper edition, p. 616)

11 responses to “Agent Manners Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior

  1. Dear Agent Manners,
    Dear Agent Manners,
    An agent requested a partial manuscript via email on May 31, which I sent immediately. Now, she sent the request twelve days after I sent the original query via snail mail, yet I have heard nothing in the last 3 1/2 months. Should I give it up for lost…send a reminder…keep waiting…? And, is it appropriate to continue sending out queries to other agencies while someone else has the partial?
    Thank you for your help!
    Biding Time in California

  2. Acknowledging an agent who almost accepted you
    Dear Agent Manners:
    I’ve recently acquired an agent with whom I am happy. This agent was not my first choice but is working hard to sell my book. My first choice agent came very close to accepting my manuscript and was very complimentary to my work but ultimately decided to pass.
    My question is this: I’m planning to attend a conference where this “first choice” agent will be attending. I’d like to thank the agent for the very encouraging words and support offered to me at the time I was searching for an agent. Do I go up to that agent and say “Hi, don’t know if you remember me but you were very encouraging about my manuscript and I just wanted to thank you in person for your kind words.” Or do I leave it? Since I’m no longer looking for an agent – and the agent will be busy enough at the conference, I’m sure – is it better for me not to acknowledge that brief ‘close but no cigar offer’ at all?
    Wanting to do the right thing

  3. In the Wings
    Dear Miss Manners:
    Several months ago I met an agent at a conference who requested a partial and I sent it several weeks later. However, a writer sitting with a manuscript is like Forrest Gump holding a box of chocolates. We open it, taste it, and then decide the fictional life within might not have been right. We then decide to re-write. Again. I haven’t heard back from the agent (it’s been around a month and a half). So, if I go into another draft to tweak minor things that won’t affect the synopsis sent, is it okay to have a delay in sending the agent the full manuscript if one is requested? Simply, if the whole is requested, how long a delay in sending such whole is considered bad manners? Should the agent be notified of a delay over a certain time frame?
    Troubled in Tennessee

  4. Conference pitches
    Dear Agent Manners:
    I have my first in-person agent pitch coming up soon. If the agent doesn’t seem to be interested in the project I’m pitching, is it appropriate to pitch a different one?
    Thank you,
    Clueless Writer

  5. Dear Agent Manners,
    When one finds an agency that has multiple agents that look like good possibilities for a manuscript, what is the proper procedure for querying there? One agent at a time and wait for the rejections before querying another, or can one submit to multiple agents at the same agency at the same time? Is it possible that if one agent doesn’t like it they might walk it over to their coworker because the coworker might? In a related question, what about submitting to multiple freelance editors for the same house (like Tor?)
    Curious in California

  6. Limited Bio
    Dear Agent Manners:
    I know that agents prefer a writer with a long list of publications in their biography. So many of us don’t have that. What is the best way to present this? Some writers-help pieces say, “If you’ve nothing to list, skip this part.” Others say, acknowledge it straight away, “I’ve nothing to list here of significance but I have written this, this and this and am in the submission process.” And one site, whose advice I most certainly will not be following said, “Make something up. Everybody does.” I prefer to think that is untrue.
    What is it that an agent really wants to see in that bio line or seperate biography, if a writer doesn’t have a list of publications or awards? I know we all have to start somewhere. So how do I communicate that I’m a serious writer, as committed to selling the books as I am to writing them?
    Thanks for any advice you can give.

  7. Dear Agent Manners,
    If I query Agent A, who says “no thanks”, but then gives me the email address of another agent in the same agency with a “tell him I sent you”, what is the protocol if Agent B’s submission guidelines state he doesn’t accept email queries? Does getting the email address as part of a referral from an agency colleague trump the guidelines? Is it acceptable to send a “Letter of Introduction” to Agent B via email, or should I honor the guidelines and query by snail mail?
    Potential Protocol Violator Who Has Yet to Hear Back From Agent B

  8. Dear Agent Manners,
    If I have granted a (short) exclusive to agent A to read my full manuscript, and Agent B requests to see the manuscript, I know that B must wait until A is finished or the exclusive expires.
    If A offers representation, how do I then handle B? Would I simply inform B that I have now found an agent, or should I be offering B the chance to read while keeping A waiting?
    Keeping A waiting feels like a recipe for disaster, but I would hate to burn bridges with B.
    Naturally, I have researched both A and B and am confident that either would be an excellent agent for me.
    Way Ahead of Myself in Toronto

  9. The waiting question, version 15,678.
    Dear Agent Manners,
    Yes, I’m a neurotic worrier, as many writers seem to be – and I’m happy to get that out of the way up front. I embrace it. My question is a variant of the ever-popular “How long do I wait?” question.
    In this case, I had my TOP pick agent (out of a well-researched list of over 30 who handle work similar to mine) request a partial, based on a query. Based on the partial, he requested the full manuscript. After some months of hearing nothing, I emailed and he said the manuscript had had several readings, and the consensus was positive — and he requested a bit more time. I gladly gave it. After several more months, he gave me very detailed feedback of what he felt the novel needed in order to be saleable. He said he’d be glad to have another look at it once I’d made the changes. I took a few months to make the changes (and his advice was, by the way, fantastic — the novel is much stronger for it) and posted the revised manuscript to him. Now, he started out as my top pick — and his feedback convinced me even further that he’s the sort of agent I’ve always hoped for. So now I wait. It’s been two months since I resubmitted it. I’m patient. Really, really patient. I swear.
    The question: is it better for me to continue the patient waiting game, or to ping him and check on the status?
    Thank you for any advice~
    Patiently Neurotic in Massachusetts.

  10. Dear Agent Manner,
    My first choice agent nibbled on my manuscript, but when I sent the partial, she decided to pass on the project. Her reasoning was that she wasn’t engaged with the characters. I realize this is one agent’s perspective, but is it possible to revise a manuscript and then resubmit it?
    Also, any advice about how to hook a reader (especially agent) with a character on page 1?
    Thanks so much!

  11. Dear Agent Manners–
    I’m an aspiring writer with several successful author friends who have been published and gained an excellent agent. I would like to ask them for a recommendation to that agent, but they have not had the opportunity to see the writing I’d ask them to recommend. They are very busy people and I hate to impose upon them, especially when I’m sure many other people would and do barge right on up and demand a recommendation. I value the friendships, the relationships are fairly casual, and I’m leery of asking unless the recommendation is freely offered when the book comes up in casual conversation.
    Am I too shy and polite in this circumstance? While I have no qualms about doing what’s needed to be done in other settings to market my work, I’m hesitant to trespass upon a friendship I’m still building. I hate to be pushy in this particular setting, especially since I went ahead and submitted a proposal to the agent anyway.

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