How NOT TO Scare Away Publishers & Agents

Publishers and Agents are like deer. If approached quietly and with respect, they will stick around and may even let you ‘feed’ them. But move too suddenly or too fast and you are likely to send them fleeing.

I’ve been submitting to publishers and agents for longer than I care to remember – and I’ve learned a lot along the way.

Since I’ve adopted this acquired wisdom, I’m happy to say that my number of acceptances seems to be increasing every year.

But where do you go for advice about author/publisher/agent etiquette? There are so many unwritten rules. Being a writer, I thought it was time someone wrote them down.

My writerly friends at KWD agreed, and they have generously chipped in and given me their tips as well. (Thanks everyone at KWD).

THE LIST OF PREVIOUSLY UNWRITTEN RULES

1.            NUMBER OF MANUSCRIPTS COMPLETED

Never admit to having 80 manuscripts in your filing cabinets  (like I did). I’m not sure whether it makes publishers and agents think you’re a little unhinged or perhaps it’s the thought of taking on an author who has a complete slush pile of her own. (I never said they had to read them all, lol).

Now I’m going to admit something to you here (but don’t tell on me)…my pile is actually closer to 90 now. See I can’t stop writing…even if I try…characters keep bursting into my head and begging me to tell their story.

Of course many of these manuscripts aren’t publishable. I look on the earlier ones as my ‘training wheels’ – they are the ones I wrote when I was ‘learning to write’ – the ones I never sent out.  I’m still learning, but I had a lot more to learn back then.

So if you’re a high volume writer, it’s definitely best to keep some of your manuscripts a secret…at first.

2.            BEHAVIOUR AT CONFERENCES

The following are definitely out:

  • Getting drunk and whispering sentimentally to a publisher or agent that they remind you of your mother.
  • Following publishers/agents everywhere and offering to buy them drinks.
  • Following them to the bathroom and talking to them through the cubicle wall.
  • Following them full stop.
  • Pitching to them in a social environment – if a publisher has just consumed a large and sumptuous main, there’s nothing that will cause them reflux more than an author pitching their 200,000 word sci fi, thriller, mystery romance over dessert.

I never tell a publisher or agent what I am working on unless they ask. If they ask, that means want to know. It means they will listen to my pitch rather than smiling through gritted teeth as they try to disguise what they are really thinking (I wish this pesky author would leave me in peace).

Before the conference I always think about what piece of work I might want to pitch (if requested). Then I write out a 25 to 30 word spiel, which I memorise. This stops me rambling with nerves till the publishers/agent’s eyes glaze over and it soon becomes clear that they are sorry they asked.

  • NEVER abuse your friendship or relationship with another writer. If they want to introduce you to their agent or publisher, that’s their choice. But it’s really bad form to march up to a well-known author’s agent or publisher and ‘drop their name’; making out you are their ‘bestie’, and that by association, this makes your writing irresistible.

3.            THE ‘QUERY’

Advising a publisher/agent that they are missing the opportunity of a lifetime if they don’t take you/your manuscript on is enough to cause them reflux all over again.

Don’t think you can con an agent into believing that they requested your manuscript. Most of them keep very good records, and if you’re not on their list of ‘requests’, you have the potential to make them dislike you before they’ve even read a word of your query.

Telling a publisher or agent that your manuscript is a ‘fiction novel’ is a dead giveaway that you are a newbie. ALL novels are fiction…that’s what a novel is…a work of fiction.

Glitter and stickers on envelopes are also things that may induce nausea in publishers/agents.

4.            ONLINE BEHAVIOUR

Many agents now have blogs, chat forums and a presence on twitter. It’s fine to keep up with what they are doing and gratefully receive their tips BUT ‘interesting person’ is okay, ‘stalker’ is not. Harassing anyone won’t ‘endear’ you to them.

5.            OTHER ‘UNWRITTEN RULES’

  • If the answer to your query is “No”, don’t write back and ask for specific feedback on your manuscript. Frustrating I know…as writers, we are desperate to know why we are being ‘rejected’ BUT if publishers/agents responded in depth to EVERY query, then they might never have got around to reading yours in the first place. Publishers/agents may give feedback if your manuscript nearly made it over the line.
  • NEVER tell them that your kids/grandkids, local school children/neighbour’s dog etc LOVE your manuscript. Publishers/agents make up their own minds and trying to influence them in this way, might invite the obvious response.

If your kids/grandkids, local school children/neighbour’s dog etc LOVE your manuscript, perhaps they should be the ones publishing it.

  • Telling publishers/agents that you have self-published already and everyone you know has bought a copy is something else that WON’T persuade them to take you/your masterpiece on.

Recently, my writerly friends and I were discussing this very topic and we realized that something we have to accept is that publishers/agents and authors work within different urgency scales.

Writers are URGENT PEOPLE; ‘desperate’ for an answer on will my book be published? When will it be published etc?

But publishers/agents would succumb to a nervous breakdowns if they felt this same level of urgency towards ALL their authors. They are involved in a business where what they do has to form part of a plan; where they have to prioritise.

The writers’ solution: A virtual waiting room where we meet to pass the time. We repaint walls, hide in cupboards, tear our hair out (virtually of course), and talk about how much patience you need to be a writer. We do what it takes to keep us motivated and put out of our mind the fact that we are waiting for someone else to make a decision that’s going to have such a huge impact on our lives.

You’re welcome to come and wait with us if you like:-)

I hope you found this post useful.

Thanks to all my writerly friends at  KWD for their contributions to this post, and for being such good company in ‘the waiting room’.

Dee:-)

P.S. If you’re a publisher, agent or author with a tip we haven’t covered, please feel free to add it to the comments section of this post.

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59 thoughts on “How NOT TO Scare Away Publishers & Agents

  1. Thank you for a very good article. This is what draws me back to the internet: the strong sense of community among writers. We help each other and it is a beautiful thing.

  2. Thanks very much Tina, and thanks for the link…I really enjoyed it. I must admit, dropping in on publishers/agents unannounced, wearing sunglasses is not one I’d thought of:-)

    Dee:-)

  3. Glad you got a giggle out of it, Katrina. Despite the waiting and rejections, and being financially challenged at times, I still think an author’s life is easier than being a publisher/agent.

    Dee:-)

  4. Thanks Lynne. I agree. One of the things I love most about being a writer (apart form writing of course) is being part of such a wonderful community. What other industry celebrates the successes of their competitors?:-)

    Dee:-)

  5. Glad you enjoyed the post, Diane. Conventions can be good places to be an interested observer can’t they? Being an author myself, I can understand author frustrations with waiting etc, but I accepted a long time ago that it’s all part of being in this business. I can also see it from a publishers and agent’s POV. I would not enjoy being harassed. And sometimes I think authors really don’t know what is acceptable and what’s not because nobody tells them. That’s one of the reasons I decided to do this post.

    Dee:-)

  6. Hi Dee, thank you for sharing your wisdom. It certainly is a minefield out there. Maintaining ones integrity at all times is a challenge – we are desperate people! I’m really enjoying your blog. Keep up the good work. Warm regards, Neridah

  7. Great stuff Dee. Funny but true. It is sometimes hard to remember just how busy most people are and that our agendas may not line up, particularly with regards to response times.

    Many people making these mistakes, are making first or early approaches to editors/publishers/agents. They may not understand that for the editor/pub/agent, this is the 30/100/1000th query of the kind for the day/month/career.

  8. Hey Dee

    Your do’s and don’t are just so so true.

    Being on the organisational side of the CYA Conference, I have seen editors cringe from someone with stalker behaviour, and even if they had potential, the editor will not take a chance and work with them – it really isn’t good.

    And like writers, editors also have their own network and they chatter, so not only does bad conference behaviour blow it with one editor, it has a bad knock on effect for chances with a heap of other publishing houses.

    After all, wouldn’t you warn your friends about someone a little cuckoo?

    Thanks for another great post Dee!

    Bye 4 now
    Tina

  9. Thanks Neridah, I think that a minefield is a good description. For new writers entering the ‘marketplace’, it must be like sending Crocodile Dundee for afternoon tea with the Queen. How do you know what’s appropriate if nobody tells you?

    Dee:-)

  10. Thanks Claire,

    I agree. I think when we are focussed on our own ‘book baby’, it can be hard for us sometimes to look beyond that. Just as well I have writerly friends like you to wait with me in the waiting room:-) Congrats on your gorgeous new ‘book baby’ by the way. Can’t wait to get my copy of There Was an Old Sailor signed.

    Dee:-)

  11. Hi Tina.

    Thanks for dropping in. I bet you have seen a few things at the CYA Conference.

    Glad you enjoyed the post. See you in the waiting room. The kettle is on:-)

    Dee:-)

    P.S. Can’t wait to catch up with you “in person” when I come to Brisbane for my May Gibbs Fellowship in March.

  12. Hi Michael, glad you enjoyed the post. It took me a while to realise that not every writer has such a bulging filing cabinet lol. But many do:-) Like I said…my early manuscripts were like my training wheels. I think that when I first wrote them I thought they were masterpieces, but some kind publishers and colleagues helped me to realise that that they weren’t:-) There are only about a third that are worth doing anything with…and I am slowly working my way through them. (But I keep getting interrupted by new ideas).

    Dee:-)

  13. Great advice, Dee. I suppose the trick is to make ourselves SOOO irresistible that publishers and agents start stalking US, lol.

  14. Hi Sally,

    Thanks for the giggle. BTW, if you discover the formula, I’ll buy it from you lol. Then again, maybe that would be taking things too far the other way:-) It could be fun finding out, though.

    Dee:-)

  15. Hi Dee,

    What a great and well thought out post. And very relevant advice, too. A good eye opener into the life of an agent and publisher, also. I don’t envy their job.

  16. Yes, I too have pondered the thin line between enthusiastic pursuit of a writing career, and probably unnerving and possibly creepy stalking. Who’d be a publisher? They must get pestered all the time. I’m sure they keep mum about their chosen careers at parties.
    It’s good that you have all your training wheels manuscripts locked safely away. I was dippy enough to send mine out(lol)

  17. That was an informative article and all of it so true. I really related to getting impatient. I have been submitting to agents and at times I get beside myself with doubts and impatience. The best way I’ve found to stop this self-imposed misery is to write on a different novel than the one I’m submitting. Writing is what we writers do, and it is what we love. It helps put into perspective all the other not so pleasant stuff.

  18. You’re right, Tracey. Imagine going on a cruise ship and people ask you what you do? you’d have to make something up wouldn’t you…or you’d probably be hassled for the whole cruise.

    Dee:-)

  19. Nice to see you here, Rhoda.

    That’s a great suggestion. I must admit I find that working on something else keeps me from fixating about something I’m waiting for an answer on. And I have always liked to have a manuscript ‘out there’ so that I have something good to hope for LOL.

    Dee:-)

  20. Yes, I’d agree that having multiple pieces of work either out there or being worked on dampens writer’s angst – it disperses that desperate feel and inspires hope.Postmen too, are at risk of being stalked by writers obsessing about the ONE manuscript they are waiting to get the yay or nay to from publishers.

  21. You’re right, Tracey,

    Being a postie can also be a hazardous profession lol. We have a post office box, so our postie has never been at risk from that sort of behaviour from me:-)

    Hope your postie brings good news.

    Dee:-)

  22. Hi Greg,

    If you can work out how to put glitter on your email and tweets that might be a very saleable commodity within ‘literary circles’:-)

    (Although I have to confess after today’s kidlitchat on twitter…which I was awesome BTW…that I’m a slow tweeter as it is…can’t afford the time to stop and add embellishments:-)

    Thanks for dropping in.

    Dee:-)

  23. Great stuff, Dee. I have another tip, something else not to put in the query: suggestions that your book would make a brilliant film / TV series or any other piece of “advice” to the agent / editor that indicates that you think you know their job better than they do. I see this (and all your other faux pas!) so often.

  24. Ah, so true, Dee. My publisher and agents are the loveliest people on earth and I see how hard and enthusiastically they work. Their workload is enormous and they have such a passion for what they do. Having been a writer standing on the other side of the glass publishing door desperate to get in, I understand the frustrations of other writers. But the wait is so worth it. A great manuscript will speak for itself.

  25. Thanks for dropping in Vanessa,

    Of course you can join us in the ‘virtual waiting room’. The more the merrier:-) And you don’t have to wait quietly. You should hear the commotion when one of us is lured out of the waiting room by good news:-)

    Dee:-)

  26. Hi Belinda,

    I know what you mean. It is frustrating for writers trying to break in, but a good author friend of mine once said to me, “There’s only a fine line between being a published and unpublished author.” And she was right. Sometimes, it’s just that you haven’t found the right publisher yet. I have been lucky enough to make it over that line, but I haven’t forgotten what it was like to be on the other side. I don’t have an agent, but my publishers are wonderful and tireless and patient, and help me so much to make my writing the best it can be. Letters to Leonardo took more than ten years from first idea to publication, but it was certainly worth the wait:-)

    Dee:-)

  27. Great post, Dee.
    I think in the desperation to get published or to get an agent, people often forget that agents and publisher are just people, like everyone else. It helps to be polite.

  28. Hey, there, Dee. Great post and lots of hard work on your part to do it, too. You’re providing a great service for your fellow writers – glad lots of people are dipping in to check it out.
    I got a real giggle out of some of the scenarios – I guess it can feel a bit desperate sometimes in the writing world. 🙂

  29. Hi Dee,
    Thanks for a great post and your tips. I must say I am guilty of the ‘Fiction novel.’ I actually called my story a ‘fictional story.’ The publisher didn’t correct me, however afterwards I felt like a dill. Those learning days! LOL

    Donna 🙂
    Jelli-beanz Book Corner

  30. If any one is wondering why I vanished after writing this post it’s not because I was abducted by an irate author…aliens… or anything nearly as exciting…we had a power blackout and have had no electricity for around 30 hours.

    So apologies for the delay in responding to some of your comments.

    Thanks everyone for your contributions to this post/discussion.

    Dee:-)
    (Who is really appreciating the benefits of electricity)

  31. How did they do it in the olden days, my kids want to know! Glad you can see what you are doing again.
    thanks for the tips; it is wonderful to see writers supporting other writers.

  32. Thanks Dee, The first poem I ever had published was written under the light of a kerosene lantern. It does give a different glow to the world.

  33. Thanks, Marianne,

    I’m not sure if I’ll get time to blog while I’m away. If I do, they will probably be ‘fly on the wall’ snippets with a few words and pics. Will have to see how I go:)

    But I’ll definitely share what I learn when I get back.

    Dee:)

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