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).



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.


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.


  • 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’.


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.