from the mixed up files of Agent Manners

Dear Agent Manners,

What should one do if they aren’t clear on the submission guidelines? I know that too much communication is annoying to agents who receive so much on a daily basis. I’m especially confused when people ask for a synopsis, but don’t specify length – or if it should be brief or detailed. There seems to be quite a range of what’s acceptable. I don’t want to send the wrong thing to any of these agents, but also don’t want to commite query-cide by asking too many questions.

Yours truly,
Paralyzed in Seattle


Dear Paralyzed:

You’re right. There does seem to be a proliferation of preferences among agents. And sometimes it can be difficult to tell how to proceed. In the case where the agent’s website (and that is the final authority, not one of the myriad sites around the web that lists agents) is not clear, Agent Manners always advises courtesy and common sense (or uncommonly good sense as has been her wont to call it). Extra communication, while individually brief, may very well add up to slowing an agent down when taken as a whole. Therefore, Agent Manners recommends applying a reasonable perspective to such things as a synopsis. In her ever-so-exalted opinion, anything from 5 to 10 pages is certainly not taxing. The important thing here is not length, however, but content. If the synopsis includes relevant points of character, plot and setting and the sample pages are polished, let the words do the talking. In that case, even one or two pages may be enough. Trust the agent to assess what they are given and if they are interested, they will, indeed, ask for more.

3 responses to “from the mixed up files of Agent Manners

  1. I think writers get hung up on the belief that agents are looking for reasons to reject them. Such as your staples post, which prompted Seattle’s question.
    I remember hearing Ellen Datlow talk about submissions she received and how one writer got miffed at her for requesting paperclips. The writer thought Ellen was just trying to save on office supplies and sent her an envelope filled with them to express her frustration. Which is what prompted my quip about sending a box of staples. 🙂
    I’m probably showing my age (or my upbringing) but I marvel at how fragile people are in this world nowadays. I tell my girls that it never hurts to ask someone a question. If you’re confused by what someone tells you, ask them for clarification. If an agent rejects you for doing something as simple as that, they’re not the right agent. Common courtesy — professionalism — is what you’re hoping to offer and receive in kind.
    Thanks for your posts and responses.

  2. Thank you, from Seattle
    Thank you, thank you for your response! I’m feeling much better about my 8 page synopsis, now. 🙂 And you confirmed my belief that it’s better to make an educated guess than ask the agent about something like this.
    Feeling better in Seattle

  3. Sometimes yur advice about agents sounds like my advice to my students about colleges: you want one that’s enthusiastic about you in particular, rather than just a big name. A college that rejects someone for a first quarter grade in sophomore year isn’t the right college for that student. An agent who rejects someone for sending a summary that’s a page too long or too short (when summary length isn’t specified in submission guidelines) isn’t the right agent for that author.

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