Editor’s note: I am declaring November 2010 to be “Agent Guest Column Month,” and therefore, every weekday, I will be posting a guest column by a literary agent. Day 12: Today’s guest agent is Katharine Sands of Sarah Jane Freymann Literary.
To peeve or not to peeve …that is the question. For the savvy wordsmith, this means heeding agent peeves, the universally cited blights any writer would do well to avoid. And with the advent of technology new ones have been springing up and on to the agent peeve hit parade. For a new understanding of how to attract and how not to annoy, here are several querial killers, the mistakes writers make that we see and dislike on a daily basis, that you just might be tempted to do when you set out to woo, win and work with a literary agent.
1. CONFUSING REJECTION LETTER FEEDBACK FOR BLURB COPY
Here is a relatively new nettle: writers posting comments on a website from a letter of rejection to create the impression of a blurb. This is false advertising since, the agent is, in fact, declining to represent the work, not extolling it. This is fast becoming a big no-no, plus editors know these are probably from rejection letters, so it really does not serve a writer to claim a host of agents is championing their work, when they are merely being polite and encouraging. We appreciate writers need moxie and marketing savvy, but we send such letters out by the hundreds to many writers with interesting premises and atmospheric novels, these are general comments we make often and do not want to find on wannabeauthor.com.
2. A LACK OF PROFESSIONALISM
Red flags wave when a writer starts to huff and chuff for any reason. You want to always behave professionally and purposely and positively. Remember how you interact is important indicator of how you will work with your publisher. An agent is an author advocate, but functions a bit like an officer of the court. We do not swear oaths, but we are bound to represent to each side honestly. You want your agent to act like a tigress on the prowl? Not likely in today’s publishing climate. The martini-swilling dragon lady of your dreams who fights on your behalf for every deal point has been replaced by increasingly impersonal dealings with the corporate politics of a publishing imprint of a media behemoth. The new criteria: not how tough you are as opponents, but how effective you can all be as ambassadors for your writing.
3. MISPLACED LEGAL ADVICE FROM FRIENDS
Your attorney (a cousin in Florida who practices maritime law and has never seen a publishing contract) is unlikely to be a welcome part of the negotiation process. Agents—who only benefit from executed contracts and published clients—have a vested interest in your success and legal protections. It is not in your interest to obtain inaccurate legal advice, or to want the agent to address every issue that might arise for the Slovakian theme park rights from your 15th international bestseller (when you are really just starting out). And you might protect yourself right out of a potential agent.
4. SAYING “GOD TOLD ME TO WRITE THIS”
We see a lot of channeled and cosmic-inspired material. Hey, maybe your spirit guides did select the agency—(but how do I know my spirit guides are simpatico with yours?). All forms of faith are a matter between you and your god, not you and your agent. Connection with the divine is best left to the heavens and out of your pitch. Whether a writer intriguingly knows of the coming apocalypse, has an in with the Other Side, or can summon entities with unique insights, their material must still be evaluated on merit as a book. Presume agents do not want to be convinced or converted within minutes of a meeting or reading a query.
Katharine’s full article in a
previous edition of the
Guide to Literary Agents.
Buy the 2011 edition here online.