Pub Rants

How Not To Land An Agent

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STATUS: TGIF and I’m leaving the office before 6 p.m. Almost unheard of. But you guessed it, I’m still behind so plan to work this weekend.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NOBODY DOES IT BETTER by Carly Simon

Today was crazy. The phone was ringing off the hook. Sara & I were trying to finish up letters to authors whose fulls we had read. We were trying to organize the author dinner at RWA and just generally running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

So when the buzzer rang, and while Sara was on the phone, I just popped over there to hit the door open button thinking it was Fedex or UPS or whoever.

No, it’s this woman who has come to drop off a package. The dog is barking (as it’s the highlight of her day—after her morning walk that is) and Sara is telling me the agency lawyer is on the phone and do I want to take it, so without thinking, I just say “is this a delivery for me.” The woman smiles and says “yes” so I take it, set it down, and dash back to the phone (as my lawyer and I have been playing phone tag for a couple days).

I don’t think anything more about it until an hour later when I remember the package so I go over to check it out.

I had just closed a deal for a client recently and often clients will send thank you gifts for a first time sale (which isn’t necessary but we never say no!) so I just assumed that was what it was (and from a local Denver place and hence the hand delivery). One of my favorite gifts was designer cupcakes from a local Denver Bakery that a client in Oklahoma had sent us. Yum!

Guess what? It wasn’t. It was an author delivering a personal query letter, a copy of her book, and a lovely package—which we can’t accept.

So Monday, Sara is going to have to ring her up and ask her to come and retrieve it as it’s just not appropriate. As an agent, I have a lot of integrity and I don’t want to be “bribed” to review a project (however nice the gesture is on her part). This is not how you land an agent.

And we really don’t want to accept the gift. Had I been less frantic at the moment, I would have asked her the nature of the delivery and would have refused it there and then but alas, there was just too much going on.

So don’t do this folks. We do read all our queries and every author we have taken as a client sold us on their project via a query letter and then their sample pages. No bribe needed.

18 Responses

  1. Marian said:

    I think under certain circumstances that kind of pro-active, extra mile, get your foot in the door approach can work. But in other situations (manuscript submission being one of those), it’s a bad idea – and whoever tries it needs to be aware of this.

    That, and I wouldn’t be too quick to open mysterious packages unless I knew who they were from.

  2. Kimber An said:

    Are you sure it was a ‘bribe?’ Yanno, aspiring authors receive a myriad of conflicting advice. Maybe she’s a newbie who was led to believe this is the way things are done. If so, she probably feels completely humiliated. I feel sorry for her and hope she doesn’t give up trying to find her path through this confusing business.

  3. Anonymous said:

    Thanks for the tip. Glad to not make the trip to Denver or NYC from Los Angeles only to get a personal reject. Eeesh. Not at today’s gas prices.

  4. Julie Weathers said:

    Wish I had known about that bakery when I was staying in Denver.

    The southern girl in me wants to reply to rejections with a polite thank you, but I am getting trained. Nice gestures too often only further detain agents.

    I used to send a care package every now and then to my bachelor guy agents. They always seemed very excited when they called, but now I wonder if they were going, “Ugh, more cookies and pralined pecans.”

  5. Gabrielle said:

    Alas! Poor well-meaning author.

    I will warn you, though: I have seen this semi-recommended in different “getting published” guides. Does this mean I can’t believe all I read? Darn it…

  6. Amy Gallow said:

    Poor Authors!

    Not only must they learn how to write publishable prose, navigate their way through the changes in technology, decipher conflicting advice and wait eons for responses–often negative–they must learn self-promotion and survive the demise of publishers and the pecadillos of editors.

    Having done so, they now find themselves faced with a new set of challenges from Agents–all for an hourly rate that would raise howls of outrage from do-gooders and industrial advocates.

    Its a good thing we are all angst-driven and slightly mad at the beginning–it prepares us for the future.


  7. karen wester newton said:

    The best advice I ever got was to treat a query letter and/or submission like a not-in-person job interview—keep it polite and professional, no matter how it ends.

  8. Anonymous said:

    We’ve all done stupid things. There’s a lot to learn in this business and some take to the learning curve more quickly than others.

    Bet he/she won’t do it again, to any agent. Lesson learned.

  9. Anonymous said:

    Geez! I don’t think it was meant as a bribe. I’m sure she’s just inexperienced in how to approach an agent. I feel sorry for her because if she reads this, she’s going to feel awful. I feel awful for her.

  10. Janny said:

    This reminds me of the gut reaction I had when I listened to a newly-published author (at that time) tell a group how he got his agent. Long story short, he sent out “promotional” cards with A hokey photo of himself (!) and some hype about his book that just made me cringe to listen to it. I’m sitting there (I was on a panel with him) thinking, “For God’s sake, people, don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this, you’ll look like the worst kind of amateur!”

    However, the interesting thing was…his ploy worked. Probably because it was a) outrageous enough that it probably made agents laugh when they got it, and b) very few people, if any, had tried that kind of tactic before, and so it was just fresh and novel enough to be intriguing. He apparently had a good enough book to back up the hype, in at least a couple dozen of the cases: he got monster response from agents, had numbers of them to choose from, signed with one of the few he really wanted, got a six-figure contract, and all out of doing something to get attention that I would never have tried in a million years…and would have told people NOT TO DO in no uncertain terms.

    I didn’t know whether to tear my hair out or wonder whether all that time, I’d been given–and giving–bad advice!

    The bottom line of this experience is, the man’s considered a quirky genius for this approach…he’s well thought of in writing circles…and yet he did something that many people probably cringed at, just like I did.

    Your newbie may well have been told in some “how to get an agent” article to try this personal touch. I know I’ve heard this kind of thing being suggested in more than one writers’ group. I always try to be the “voice of reason” in those instances…but then there’s always the one, like the author above, who does something you swear is going to brand him forever as an idiot–and it does exactly the opposite.

    So there you go. I think that just proves the fallacy of “never do this” prohibitions in a creative endeavor. That being said, though, I still think it’s a really bad idea to personally drop a package like this anywhere. The woman was lucky you didn’t have your offices in one of those maximum-security guarded edifices where she would have been strip searched and her package X-rayed!

    If there happen to be any agents out there who would LIKE some home-baked goodies with a manuscript, however, just let me know…



  11. Pam Halter said:

    I thought you were going to say that she was still there an hour later when you went to check on the package! HA!

    It’s hard when you hear stories like the one Janny told us. So many authors are desperate to get their stuff in print that they’ll try anything. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

    Still, I’d rather err on the side of caution and courtasy.