Pub Rants

Agents, Agents, Agents!

 29 Comments |  Share This:    

STATUS: Rainy days and Mondays. Kind of sums it up.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BIG LOG by Robert Plant

Kind of reads like Girls, Girls, Girls! on an Adult entertainment site billboard.

But seriously, if you want to attend a conference with a serious agent list, take a look at this line up for Backspace’s Agent-Author Conference on Nov. 6 & 7 in New York City.

There are a couple of mighty fine editors thrown in there for good measure but Agents, Agents, Agents! just sounded better.

I’m just sorry I won’t be there. I imagine you could ask about any question your heart desires at this conference and then you wouldn’t need to read my blog anymore. Look at this program!

Speaking of reading my blog, boy did I cause some consternation on Friday.

And y’all are so smart. You figured out right away it wasn’t about me since I only do submissions electronically (and can you tell that to all those folks who keep snail mailing me stuff). Next year we are going to have to stop responding. It’s eating up to much letterhead and time. I hate to just recycle without replying but desperate measures may call for desperate action.

But back to Friday’s post.

The problem was not with the request to email it. Some agents might not be fine with that but then they’ll simply tell you so and then you can choose whether to snail mail it or not.

The problem was not in letting this agent know that the full manuscript was out with other agents. To me, that’s just professional.

The problem was in detailing that 30 other agents (or pick some other high number) had already requested the full by email.

Why? Because of the subtext of what is implied. Look at me agent. My manuscript is hot. You’d better get on board and let me email it to you because so many other agents have asked to see it right away and I’ve emailed it to them. (By the way, this author could be lying. It’s happened before…)

Yuck. I’m not sure I care how good this manuscript might be and the reason why I shared this story is that many of the agents I knew felt the same.

Unreasonable? Maybe. I don’t know. I’m just telling it like it is and if it’s helpful, great. If not, it’s not.

29 Responses

  1. bran fan said:

    Oh, I get it. It’s like when your new boyfriend asks how many other men you’ve slept with. No matter the number, the proper answer is always “three.”

    But seriously, thank you for clearing that up. So what you’re saying is that the author should have politely asked if it would be possible to e-mail, but if not that’s okay too, just wanted to try e-mail because other agents are currently reading the full manuscript.

    Would that have gone over better?

  2. Anonymous said:

    There are definitely writers who are annoyed by this, as well. I am, for example. It irks me when I hear other writers talking about how they send out a ton of queries and then let their top few choices know how many other agents are reading — hoping, of course, to spur the agents on. But then, I also don’t like it when I hear of writers who will get an offer from agents they’re not that fond of — and use that to get the attention of agents elsewhere (the agents are probably unaware of this, but writers will blog about this kind of thing here and there)…I don’t know. That part of the business is difficult. I want to be courteous to all the agents, but it’s always bugged me to think that I need an offer from one agent to get another to read the ms. I’d almost rather just withdraw the thing….

  3. Anonymous said:

    Am I lost in some college application nightmare? Are there “dream” agents and “safety” agents?

    This is absurd!
    Why would you need to hook an agent to get the agent “you really want?” First off, if the agent takes you on for that reason, they are shallow, and only into the immediate sale. This sort of relationship is bound to end badly. They will not hesitate to dump you if you don’t pan out.

    As for any writer who would do this, how shallow are you? What a low opinion you must have of your own work!

    You waste several agents’ time, time which could be spent reading other writers’ manuscripts? How would you like to work and not get paid for doing your job? How would you like your “dream” agent to be tied up like this? Your not-quite-so-dream agent is someone else’s perfect fit.

    Not professional. Not good karma.

    Based on Kristin’s posts and some of the comments, I’m beginning to understand why agents take so long to get back to anyone. They’re all reading bogus submissions!

  4. Anonymous said:


    Yes, you are lost in some college application nightmare because you are clearly not making any sense.

    And you are misusing terms.

    Hooking is when you snag an agents interest. Something an author needs to do, so an agent requests more material.

    Bogus means counterfeit or fake. So those bogus submissions you mention are in fact real manuscripts looking for representation.

    Poor dear.

  5. Anonymous said:

    I dunno…I’m getting the distinct impression that the real answer is:

    No matter what you do, you did it wrong.

  6. Anonymous said:

    Agreeing a bit here with Anon 9:49 – not to mention several agents HAVE come out and stated directly on their blogs/FAQ/Interview pages that if you have an offer on the table, they’d like to know about it up front because it WILL result in a quicker read of your ms. Bottom line, this is all a business. If you write a good enough ms to get offered representation by your ‘second choice’ agent, but know your ‘first choice’ agent will probably take months and months to get back to you, how is it a bad plan to use that to your advantage?

    I just don’t get why that’s seen as such a negative thing. It’s not like you’re tricking an agent into offering representation – you still have to write a good enough ms in the first place to warrant that offer. It’s no different than writers doing something called ‘branding themselves’ these days, or using some ‘background story hook’ to capture the readers attention (i.e….”the story came to me in a dream)… You have to use whatever advantages you can, and as long as it’s done in good taste, I see no reason why you shouldn’t use the offer of one agent to simply speed up the reading time of another agent. In the end, your ‘first choice’ could still reject you after all…

  7. Caitlin said:

    Kristin, I can see where you are coming from but how does this square with the advice to let you know when you are about to sign with an agent? Couldn’t that also be taken as a “hurry up, I’m so hot!” kinda thing to say.

  8. sandy said:

    Different agents work differently for different writers. My first agent was found through a friend’s recommendation (she was her agent.) She did well for my friend, and they’re still together. Not so much for me, and I left to find someone who was a better fit.
    Still looking. There are no guarantees. You can know as much as possible from the outside, but until you’re in a relationship you never know how it will work.
    The worst part for me is the looking. I’d like nothing better than just to write. This part is not fun.

  9. Anonymous said:

    I’m with Anon 10:26! “No matter what you did, you did it wrong!”

    Too funny, and so true.

    There is such a huge disconnect between how the agent’s brain and a writer’s brain works it’s shocking. A writer thinks they are being curteous by saying, “By the way I’ve got the full of this with other agents.” The agent thinks, “How dare that stupid writer tell me her manuscript is interesting. What, is she trying to threaten me into reading her work in four days, instead of six months!”

    But, if the writer failed to mention it,and a week later said to the same agent, “I’ve got an offer on that ms, where are you with it?” The agent would say, “How dare that writer not tell me she’s got this book out with 3 other agents…”

    My, my… what a tangled web we weave.

    Bottom line, if an agent is going to be that offended that you are only trying to keep them in the loop with where else your manuscript is, then you do not want that agent. At some point shouldn’t agents just give writer’s the benefit of the doubt?

    We’re querying you because we LIKE you. Yes, we also can’t read your mind. Ease up.

  10. Precie said:

    I’m pretty sure that having other agents requesting a full isn’t quite in the same ballpark as having other agent offers on the table.

    If a writer has an agent offer on the table (or more than one), then it’s professional courtesy to alert other agents who’ve requested material.

    If a writer has multiple requests for fulls/partials, then it’s professional courtesy to alert other agents who’ve requested material that “other agents are currently reading the full manuscript as well.”

    We’re writers. We should recognize the nuances between professional courtesy and bombast.

    And, no, my nose isn’t brown.

  11. Precie said:

    “By the way I’ve got the full of this with other agents.”

    is not the same as

    “You should be aware that 10 other agents have already requested a full manuscript. I’d be happy to e-mail it to you {even though you prefer snailmail}.”

  12. Anonymous said:

    Very good response, Precie. Being polite is a good thing.

    What I’ve taken away from this discussion is that agents don’t want to feel manipulated, while writers want a fair shot, without having to wait six months to hear “no.” In my head, this is the definition of professional.
    Agents probably recognize most offender-behavior in advance after it happens to them a couple of time, and there will always be people looking to jump the line.
    I’ve also heard some nightmare stories about so-called top agents, and how they take forever and sometimes don’t respond at all.
    Mutal respect would have us valuing each other’s time. If an agent doesn’t want to be bothered, just say so and close to submissions. If a writer isn’t really interested in an agent, don’t submit. There are a lot of agents.

  13. Anonymous said:

    To Anon 9:28–

    You clearly haven’t been seeking an agent for any length of time and that’s okay. Once you acclimate yourself to this process you’ll realize nothing about the publishing industry makes much sense. Agents don’t need you to stick up for them, really.

    You query your ms widely, to many different agents: your “dream agent,” some that might be a great fit, and others because you liked a book they represented or you heard them speak at a writer’s conference, and so on. Most of these agents will send you a form letter rejection anyway. But maybe, if your book is outstanding, maybe one of those agents will say, “heck, yes, I want this, I’m offering representation. Can we schedual a phone call?”

    Then you’ll email the agents you’ve yet to hear from and say you’ve got an offer. This moves your book up out of their “to be read” pile and into their hands. Your book gets read in a few days rather than the 5 months it would’ve taken.

    You want a few agents interested because you then get to SPEAK to them on the phone. All agents are not created equal. Some of them are stupid. During phone calls you can weed out the ones that you would not be compatible with. Perhaps their edit ideas are bizarre. Pehaps they put you on hold for twenty minutes, leaving you hanging in mid-sentence. Perhaps they call all your characters by the wrong names and you question whether they read your book at all.

    Talking to them tells you a lot. Otherwise, if there is no competition for your book, you’re only talking to one measly agent and you sign with them and regret it a year later because you did not QUERY WIDELY.

  14. Anonymous said:

    It’s expected for agents to play one editor off against another. Done really well, it’s called an auction.

  15. Anonymous said:

    anonymous 7:42
    You make some good points, and I definitely agree about querying widely. But in the real world most authors don’t get to make that decision. They’re lucky to get one full read request, let alone one offer, even if they send to many agents.
    For new writers, your take might be a bit unrealistic.

  16. Celeste said:

    Some good points here, but some: WOW! Really? You want writing to be your job, but when you’re applying for a job, don’t you fill out the application to the letter? Even though some places seem to want five forms of ID, every job you ever held, your first born child, and a full sheet of references? If you don’t do what they want, they don’t usually call for an interview, right?

    Although it’s true that an agent/client relationship isn’t employer/employee, he or she IS going to help you find work. Seems to me that this is a sort of interview process, and I’d better just follow the directions.

    If I were lucky enough to have 30 requests for a full (thirty 3rd interviews?), I think I’d probably still send it to the 31st (snailmail, because it’s her preference; resumes at this stage are asked for in triplicate sometimes, we just send them, don’t we?) with a note in my cover letter stating that I’ve had *some* full requests which I’m very excited about, I really hope she likes reading my story, and I’ll keep her posted if anyone offers representation. The snailmail/email thing is so individual. I personally hate reading books on the computer. I’d much rather curl up with paper on the couch with my kitty at my feet. But some folks love ebooks. To each his own, I say.

    Just my ten cents…

  17. bran fan said:

    I haven’t seen this many anonymous comments in a long time. This issue is clearly hot but few want to own up to their responses. I’m enjoying reading all the comments because lively debate is good and makes us all a bit smarter.

    And I agree, you DO have first-choice agents and back-up agents. You rank them not only according to how many books they sold this year, but also according to which books they sold. Have they sold any like yours? Therefore, everyone will rank differently, but there are ranks.

    Personally, I had my very first choice agent offer representation along with two back-ups. I ended up signing with a back-up.

    You never know.

  18. Anonymous said:

    Wow – excellent point about the auction 7:49 anon. Kristin is saying here that she doesn’t like the writer implying their ms is hot, but isn’t that what an agent does to editors at an auction?? (“This ms is so hot you’re going to have to bid aginst 30 other houses wanting it…”) Maybe agents don’t like being told by writers that our ms’s are ‘hot’ until they’ve had a chance to read them and agree??

  19. Anonymous said:

    Bran fan, since you placed your name on the blog -that is your name right- does that mean you are owning up to your response?

    Is it not obvious why people are commenting anonymously? Agents and editors google you if they are really interested in your work.

    Do you think its smart to place a name and a comment that doesn’t reap praise to the handlers of the publishing industry?

    Sometimes the industry needs to see things from the other side of the query. Just as authors need to see things from the agents point of view.

    But, just because people are commenting anonymously doesn’t mean valid points aren’t being made.

    Oh, and the ones who are, as you say, owning up to their responses are the ones who either have their blog account blocked or have nicely sugar coating their response.

    So the ones who are owning up to their comments are clearly aware of who is reading this.

  20. bran fan said:

    Anon 1:10, you are exactly right. We are all commenting without attribution for good reason. I’m glad that we can, because not all blogs allow anonymous comments. I’d rather hear the truth from a nameless comment than not hear it at all.

    Even with the anons, nobody is trolling, here. We’re all adding to the discussion and I think we all benefit.

  21. Allison Brennan said:

    FWIW, when I was unpublished I had two agents request the full the same day. I had already “pre-qualified” my list, meaning that every agent I queried I was seriously interested in. (I had 12 on the list.) Not that I would sign with the first offer, but that I knew based on my research that we’d probably be a good match and if they were interested in my writing, I definitely wanted to talk to them about representation.

    I told both agents in the cover letter (one via snail mail, the other via email–how each requested the material) that another agent was currently reading the full. Then a week or so later, I had another request for full. She asked for an exclusive. I told her I couldn’t grant it because two other agents were reading the manuscript. She had me send it anyway.

    The key in all this is honesty. Tell people what’s going on up front. It’s not a game. You don’t want an agent who doesn’t love, love, love your work. Even if you have an offer on the table, you want someone who really supports you. Because when the going gets tough, or you want to do something a little different, or you’re having problems with your house, or if your next project doesn’t sell right away, or any host of things, if the agent doesn’t love your work, it’s a huge problem. If an agent believes in you, they will ride out the storms.

  22. Anonymous said:

    I agree with Allison that the key is to be honest, but wasn’t that what the original person was doing? Being honest about the status of his submissions elsewhere?

    I can’t help but think that his email to the agent must have been written very snottily because otherwise, I can’t imagine this being such a big deal. If the issue is that he used the number “30” I find that really disconcerting. Where’s the line?

    In the end, this comes back to my frustration with the query process. My friends made fun of me for being so stressed and anal, but you read these agent blogs that intimate “one wrong move and you’re toast — I don’t even care about the writing (oh, and you’re blog fodder too!)”

    I concur with the earlier posters: give the author the benefit of the doubt.

  23. Anonymous said:

    I agree that communication of information is important, and if you’ve had offers that’s definitely something you should tell any other agents involved. It doesn’t enhance your credibility to be snotty, or come across as self-important.
    One thing I would wonder if I were the agent is how difficult a client might you be if you are this obnoxious now?

  24. Anonymous said:

    Thanks for posting the info on the Backspace conference. I’m taking a leap and going for it; got my plane tickets and hotel booked and I’m hoping to learn a lot.

    Anyone else here going?


  25. Anonymous said:

    “One thing I would wonder if I were the agent is how difficult a client might you be if you are this obnoxious now?”

    Which was clearly Kristin’s point. The author turned off the agent (not Kristin) with a nasty attitude, which you don’t wanna do until you have a bona fide offer of representation.

    30 offers to read doesn’t always translate into 30 offers of publication… or even 1. Some of us master the query letter before the novel.