Ten Surefire Ways to Turn Off a Prospective Agent

An author myself, I know how confounding and stressful the agent hunt can be. The etiquette is not always clear. Can you ask for an update after a few weeks? Can you address the agent by first name?  Is it okay to submit new work after a your first manuscript gets a no? For me, the answer to all these questions is yes!I’m a pretty informal guy, but a few common author gaffs really drive me banana sandwich. Some of these are just a little annoying, others have me breathing into a paper bag. If you’re already guilty of one or (god help you) all of these, don’t panic; there’s always time to change your ways. But from now on, no more excuses. You’ve been warned!

  1. Calling with questions, like whether we have a website.
    No, I can’t hold on while you look for a pen. Same goes for feedback. Email, if you must, and I’ll try my best to respond.
  2. Sending a snide response to a rejection.
    Getting rejected is part of the job, as is receiving a form rejection. We’d like to respond personally to every query, we just don’t have the time. If you can’t be a professional about rejection, quit. Sending an agent an angry email more or less guarantees they will never work with you. And remember, we talk to each other. I know it’s frustrating, but take it out on your stress-ball. You can put my picture on there, if it helps.
  3. Failing to follow submission guidelines.
    Thanks for your sample pages about serial killers on mars, but we do kids’ books.
  4. Citing “market testing,” especially when your test group is your kids, spouse, or students. They’re obligated to love you. Don’t trust them.
  5. Opening your query with rhetorical questions.
    “Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a flying hippo?” Nope.
  6. Talking about your “real-life” inspirations.
    I’m glad your protagonist is based on your adorable daughter who has the same name— we all draw inspiration from those around us. But what if an editor thinks Little Mindy should die of Typhus at the end? Would you be willing to discuss the personality flaws and physical shortcomings of Jillian, who’s based on your wife? A healthy separation of reality and fiction is a prerequisite for discharge from psychiatric wards, and for writing fiction.
  7. “Selling” the Book.
    Don’t tell me you know your book will sell a million copies, or that you’re the next Stephen King. I love the confidence, but let the work speak for itself.
  8. Playing the Field.
    Telling me you’ve queried seventy other agents doesn’t exactly make me feel like the prettiest girl at the ball. I’m far less likely to request a full manuscript if the odds are high a competitor is going to scoop you before I finish chapter one.
  9. Billing yourself as “The next____.”
    Again, confidence is baller, but I’m not sure I believe it, and I hope you don’t either. Few successful authors are “the next” anyone. They’re just themselves.
  10. Citing grammatical errors on our website—and being wrong.

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