Skip to main content

5 Myths You Shouldn't Believe About Agents

Author-turned-agent Jennifer Lawler gives you the inside scoop on what agents really do and how knowing the truth could endear you to one. by Jennifer Lawler

Becoming an agent didn’t just teach me a few lessons about being a writer. It also cleared up some common misconceptions about agenting.

No. 1. An agent’s main job is to pitch her clients’ work to editors and schedule auctions. (How hard can it really be?)
It turns out pitching to editors is actually one of the least time-consuming parts of an agent’s job. Working with clients—finding them, recruiting them, helping them polish their projects, answering their questions, keeping them updated—requires the bulk of their time and resources, far more than I ever realized.

No. 2. I shouldn’t bother my agent with my questions; she’s busy.
I’ve been the writer who thought this. I should have seen it for what it was: a huge red flag that the author-agent relationship in question wasn’t going to work. As an agent, I want my clients to feel they can come to me with their questions. In fact, I’d rather know what’s on their minds than not. It does take time, yes, so try not to be too neurotic. But you shouldn’t be sending questions to random agent blogs because you’re afraid to approach your own agent with them.

No. 3. No response from an agent means the answer is no.
I understand that a lot of agents state this as their policy in trying to cut down on busywork, but it’s a mistake for writers to take it at face value. Now that I’m an agent, I’m amazed at the number of times my e-mails have gone missing. That’s why I’d never assume no answer means no. Follow-up is crucial. I once requested a manuscript from a writer at three different e-mail addresses and he never received any of my responses; if he hadn’t followed up, I would have assumed he was no longer interested in pursuing my representation.

No. 4. Agents owe it to writers to explain why they’re rejecting manuscripts they’ve requested.
I agree that a form rejection after a partial or full manuscript has been requested can feel like a slap in the face; I’ve felt that slap myself. But while I don’t use form letters in my rejections of partials and fulls, I also don’t spend a lot of time explaining why I’m rejecting them. Here’s why: This business is subjective; what I think is wrong with your novel may be what the next agent thinks is right with it. I’ve been on the receiving end of enough rejections to know that writers invest way more energy in interpreting what agents and editors say than agents and editors invest in saying it.

If I believe a book could be improved by revision, I’ll make suggestions and ask the writer to resubmit, or I’ll offer representation conditional on certain revisions being made. If I’m not willing to put my money where my mouth is, then I don’t think I have any business telling you where I think you’ve gone wrong.

No. 5. Agents’ inboxes are full of crap, which makes it impossible to spot the real gems.
My problem isn’t how much bad writing crosses my desk. That’s easy to recognize and reject. The problem is how much good writing I see. I have to figure out which of these good projects is most likely to sell, and which of those good authors is going to be best to work with. If you can convince me that I can sell your project and you’ll be a pleasure to have as a client, you’re halfway there.

Want More? Consider:
Learn how to make your project stand out from the crowd:

How Do Editors & Agents Decide?

Image placeholder title

Also:
Save 10% off this on-demand webinar by becoming a VIP today! You'll also get a 1-year pass to WritersMarket.com, a 1-year subscription to Writer's Digest magazine and save on all WritersDigestShop.com orders!


writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: 6 WDU Courses, an Upcoming Virtual Conference, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce six new WDU courses, a romance writing virtual conference, and more!

Going From Me to We: Collaborating on the Writing of a Novel

Going From Me to We: Collaborating on the Writing of a Novel

Past experiences taught bestselling author Alan Russell to tread lightly when it came to collaborating on projects. Here, he discusses how the right person and the right story helped him go from a “me” to a “we.”

From Script

Short Film Goals, Writing the Cinematic Experience on the Page and Sundance Film Festival 2022 (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, set your creative goals with a monthly guide to write and produce your short film, provided by Script contributor Rebecca Norris Resnick. Plus, an exclusive interview with Academy Award-winning screenwriter William Monahan, a Sundance Film Festival 2022 day one recap, and more!

Your Story Writing Prompts

94 Your Story Writing Prompts

Due to popular demand, we've assembled all the Your Story writing prompts on WritersDigest.com in one post. Click the link to find each prompt, the winners, and more.

How Inspiration and Research Shape a Novel

How Inspiration and Research Shape a Novel

Historical fiction relies on research to help a story’s authenticity—but it can also lead to developments in the story itself. Here, author Lora Davies discusses how inspiration and research helped shape her new novel, The Widow’s Last Secret.

Poetic Forms

Saraband: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the saraband, a septet (or seven-line) form based on a forbidden dance.

Karen Hamilton: On Cause and Effect

Karen Hamilton: On Cause and Effect

International bestselling author Karen Hamilton discusses the “then and now” format of her new domestic thriller, The Ex-Husband.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: The Ultimatum

Plot Twist Story Prompts: The Ultimatum

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character give or face an ultimatum.

6 Things Every Writer Should Know About Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company

6 Things Every Writer Should Know About Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company

Sylvia Beach was friend to many writers who wrote what we consider classics today. Here, author Kerri Maher shares six things everyone should know about her and Shakespeare and Company.