Agent Anonymous





Hey you.


I got something for ya… something you may have never realized you wanted… until now.


I have an "in". And I'm willing to share!


Being an unpublished writer can be extremely difficult. We know what we want to say (for the most part), and we have the general thrust of what we're supposed to do (write, submit, become famous, then buy expensive jeans, etc.). But it's rare for an unpublished writer to know what happens when their manuscript leaves their hands. Sure. there are a lot of websites where you can find this information–but getting a peek at the whole process is generally impossible. And, worse, that information is couched in this very polite, professional language that seems, at times, infuriatingly vague. I have always wanted an agent to speak frankly to me about this process–to cut the bullshit, for realz–and have managed to find a few agents who've agreed to answer some questions honestly, openly, and, for the sake of their professional careers, anonymously!


Welcome to Agent Anonymous!


I've cobbled together a list of 100 questions I've submitted to these elusive agents, and bit by bit we will unspool that list and I will post that content here on But let's not stop there! If you have questions you want answered honestly and bluntly, post them in the comments and I will add them to the list. Or, if you're an agent and want to reply to some of these questions, I swear by the ink on my pages you'll be kept anonymous, and your answers will be posted without being modified.


Here's the original list:


  1. How do you start your day? I mean, should I submit my manuscripts at midnight so they’re at the top of your inbox because the first thing you do is read submissions… or do you have to get through the obligatory “agent pillow fight” every morning first?
  2. The “slush pile” is deceptive in how specific it poses to be, but really there’s no measure of “slush”. How high does it go? How deep? What creatures lurk in its gooey center? What are the chances that my manuscript will wander in and never come out again?
  3. OK, no bullshit. I misspelled one thing in my query. I’m doomed, right?
  4. What if that thing was your name?
  5. Lots of agents seem to also be authors now. Is that like sketch as hell or what? Do they rep themselves? Was it all a “game” they were playing to get in good with a publishing crew?
  6. Alright, about half of all agents just never even send a rejection. There’s a lot of talk about professionalism in the writing world, but isn’t it shitty/unprofessional that some agents never even reply? Don’t bullshit on the “too busy” front, I see their twitter feeds churning out cat memes like nobody’s business.
  7. Speaking of twitter—agents who use it like all day every day usually seem like they’re not working much. I know this because when I use twitter all day every day I’m not working much. So if an agent is using twitter all day every day (and not, like, in a #mswl chat or a #YAlitchat capacity), is it safe to assume they’re just not working very much?
  8. What are some things, when you’re talking a potential client, that raise red flags for you? Like, should I delete all my brony cosplay pics on my facebook account?
  9. If you’re teetering on a manuscript (like 50/50 asking for a full) what do you do to tip it one way or another? Twitter/facebook stalking? Ouija board? Take it to your boss and hold it aloft in supplication, waiting for her to either purr or swipe it with her fierce paw? (I assume all bosses are actually cats. Just sayin’.)
  10. I get a lot of “the market is saturated”. I assume this is bullshit speak for, “no thanks,” but I just want to be sure.
  11. This “market” confuses me. On the one hand, you could say a “saturated” market reflects a high demand. On the other, I suppose agents possess some insight into a “futures” like market for publishing. Agents, when speaking of this market, are they also referring to the anticipated catalogue of books that will be published in the coming years? Or just what is out now?
  12. I’ve heard agents befriend editors at publishing houses, and then more or less ferry manuscripts of that editor’s taste to them, and rarely venture out with different material. Is this true?
  13. What, exactly, happens when you’ve decided to acquire a manuscript/work with an agent and you begin trying to sell it? Seriously, the whole shebang would be fantastic, from asking to rep a writer through publication, including departmental/office meetings and battles with dragons.
  14. Poetry novels are dumb, right?
  15. The wait times for hearing back from an agent are based on what exactly? I assume it’s a strange gestation period.
  16. When a publisher gives a big advance, is it because the publisher is going to “push” the book, because they anticipate its success, because they see it as a great midlist work, or what?
  17. Is it worth it to go to these conferences and meet agents? Like, clearly I’m charming because I have over 400 followers on Twitter. Isn’t that enough? No, seriously, if going to these conferences is worth it and will help a writer “get” an agent, what exactly happens there? I went to a speed dating yoga class once, so I imagine something like that, but with books.
  18. What’s the average advance most authors get?
  19. I’ve heard of some agents/publishers shying away from YA fiction that explores gender intersectionality. Is this an acknowledged trend in publishing and something that agents have also acknowledged and are working on? Or is it like that Marvel/Disney bullshit where they think the numbers aren’t there to justify the effort?
  20. What are the genres and subgenres you’re sick of seeing? Because I have this mashup novel that takes The Walking Dead and combines it with Fifty Shades of Gray that is bound to be a bestseller. Fifty Shades of Dead. Seriously……………………………………………… wait where are you going come back—
  21. What are some query deal breakers? Like, besides writing it in Comic Sans or telling you how much of a bestseller a book is going to be.
  22. Is there a secret agent forum out there somewhere, where agents gossip about queries and say, “Oh god so-and-so submitted this manuscript and I was like woah.” “Yeah he sent it to me too! Can you believe that guy?” “Now let us put him on the agent blacklist, and forever exile him to the world of kindle publishing.” *maniacal laughter ensues
  23. Any good agent rivalries out there? One agency backstabbing another and swooping in and kidnapping Neil Gaiman or something?
  24. Do agents acquire “fixer-upper” manuscripts—ones that clearly have potential and need some tweaking? If so, about how much time/work is the maximum an agent will consider? Specifically, I had an agent tell me my manuscript had a lot of passive voice in it, and I was able to comb through the thing and fix the incidences of passive voice in a couple hours, which made the critique seem somewhat flippant given it was an easy fix.
  25. There is a twitter push for #WeNeedDiverBooks. Is there any dialogue within agencies happening to acquire diverse works?
  26. When there is a trending writing topic on twitter, do agents discuss it and react to it?
  27. What does it take to get an agent to solicit a manuscript from a writer?
  28. I’ve heard writers that have bad/mediocre sales for their first books generally aren’t capable of getting a second book signed. Is this true?
  29. As someone who sees a lot of manuscripts, what are some trends you see emerging out of the slush pile? Lots of mermaid vampires with angel wings?
  30. What percentage of manuscripts/queries you receive are legitimately unreadable?
  31. What are some simple formatting things writers can do to spruce up a manuscript/query? Including fonts, margins, characterizations, dialogue tags, double-spacing after periods, etc.
  32. How much does it really matter that a writer references your agent interviews/lectures/blogs/etc.? Will it make you consider a manuscript you normally wouldn’t?
  33. Do agents read about themselves on querytracker?
  34. Have you ever rejected a manuscript from a writer, then acquired something else of theirs later on?
  35. Sometimes I submit to agents just because their interviews and twitter feeds and such really make them stand out as an outstanding person to work with. Is this the kind of stuff I should mention in my query, or should I play it cool?
  36. Are there writer blogs agents recommend to writers and other agents? Like Chuck Wendig and such.
  37. For a while it seemed like a big deal that writers have a blog as part of their “pitch.” Is this trend still true? How does social media presence hurt or help a writer who has submitted a manuscript?
  38. Once you rep a writer, how do you work with them on their second book?
  39. Have you ever downloaded and read a self-published book?
  40. What feedback do agents/agencies receive from publishing houses? Does any of that get to writers who are submitting?
  41. Do agents/editors/writers team up for publishing projects?
  42. Do agents research/acquire self-pub’d novels?
  43. At what point do you think writers should give up submitting a work and moving on to their next project?
  44. When pitching a picture book that is not necessarily a narrative-based book (say, humor, or something like Goodnight Moon) what do you want to see in the query letter?
  45. Why do agents hate poetry so much? I mean, on a deep, personal level, they haaaaaaaate
  46. I often submit to agents that represent the genre I write in specifically because their author list evinces an interest in it. How much consideration do agents put into a conflict of interest between an author and a querying writer who are writing in the same genre?
  47. Would an agent pass on a sellable book because they represent authors already writing in a similar genre?
  48. What are some things that (for you) ruined an otherwise perfectly fine manuscript in the past?
  49. How often do you collaborate internally with other agents at your agency? Do you have to present books you’re considering repping then submit them to/discuss them with your colleagues before moving forward?
  50. When agents say they have a “hands on” approach to working with their clients, what do they mean? Foot rubs, right?
  51. In first-person narratives, there often is a split between believable internal monologue and, for, like, the, like, sake of you know, uh, readability, like not actually using, um, the way people talk for reals. At what point does employing idiom-based and colloquialistic narratives force you to reject a piece?
  52. When an agent supplies specific critique for a submission, but then rejects it, is that a compliment to the writer and the work? Is it encouragement? Or is it more of a way to notify the author why you may have been considering repping the writer but have backed off.
  53. How many writers are too much for an agent to rep? 30?
  54. I feel like many writers are under the impression that agents pretty much acquire books or slog through the slush pile, or meet with agents, authors, editors, etc. to discuss works. About how much of your time is dedicated to that, and what do agents do otherwise?
  55. Are there agency-mandated acquisitions? Like, an agent sees there’s a gap in the agency’s author catalogue, so they push for acquisitions of a specific kind? Like nonfiction, memoir, etc.?
  56. Where do agents and editors meet?
  57. Is there a formal submission process to sending a manuscript to an editor? What is the process like?
  58. How many pages do agents print a week? A month? A year?
  59. Do agents connect writers with other authors for collaboration/mentoring? If this has happened, why, or what are some reasons you can think of why?
  60. I’m sure this question has been answered, but wtf is NA? Like, Teen, but with sex? How graphic can NA get before it’s just Adult?
  61. Speaking of NA… it seems to have come about from a shift in the market, creating a new reading demographic that wants similarly constructed/paced stories, but racier and with heavier themes. Do you see another shift in the market coming up in terms of readership, and if so, where?
  62. Graphic novels… they’re weird, right? How do you handle them? Do they actually sell/make money?
  63. If a piece has pictures in it—even if it isn’t a graphic novel, per se—how should the writer handle its submission? Should they include excerpts within the work, or just annotate where a picture would be within the submission?
  64. If a writer wants pictures in their book and you’ve acquired it, but the writer cannot illustrate, how do you handle pairing the writer with an illustrator? How much does the illustrator get paid, and do these funds come from the advance, before, or are they paid via royalties or both?
  65. I once heard an agent say Roald Dahl would never be acquired now, wouldn’t sell, and anything Dahl-esque doesn’t deserve the time of day. Dude was being a dick, right? There is room for Dahl-like books in the world, right? Why would he say such a thing? WHY?
  66. Why is the supposed turnaround time for a book—from acquisition to, assuming flawless transmission to an interested pub house—two frikkin’ years?
  67. What’s the genre you wish would just go away?
  68. There is and has been a huge disparity between the numbers of book reviews for male writers vs. female writers, but I don’t hear much about gender statistics in acquisitions. Are agencies also skewing toward acquiring books by men? Are publishers? Is there a notable division in genres between what gender writes what genre?
  69. Why do some agents still prefer snail mail? It’s as ridiculous as those old book covers with giant author photos instead of back cover copy.
  70. I’ve heard that publishing houses often require authors to pay up for their own advertisements, that pub houses will match whatever the author puts up, and that pub houses will give a little bit but that’s about it. Are these true? How do pub houses handle advertisements and marketing?
  71. What do agents do to promote their authors’ work?
  72. How much do agents make a year on average?
  73. So it takes me about 1-4 hours to research and draft a query letter for an agent. This is an absurdly long time, and while it has paid off in that I have gotten a lot of reqs for fulls, I still don’t have an agent. It’s taxing. I’m weary. How long do you think one should spend researching an agent? I mean, seriously, I could template a fine query letter and double or triple my querying… but should I?
  74. Are query letters in the protagonist’s voice just plain weird? Can they work?
  75. You hear a lot about how authors should begin novels with a bang, en media res or whatever, but it really feels like just people saying you should Michael Bay the shit out of your WiP. What is some specific advice for how to start a novel, how to draw an agent in, examples of what you’ve seen work before?
  76. What are resources that you recommend/show/give to most of your authors that you would like to share with the peoples of the Internet?
  77. When you acquire a manuscript but it doesn’t sell, do you keep working with that writer? Or does your representation expire? Has this happened to you?
  78. Do you play favorites with your authors? Is it based on their sales or their selfies or bribes or anything?
  79. What external vendors reach out to agencies to facilitate your work/publishing? I’m thinking things like copy editors, cover designers, conferences, etc.
  80. What are the best conferences to attend for a writer? For an agent? For a published author? For a publisher?
  81. Is it true writers basically have no say in the titles of their work once they’re handed to the publishers? Because my novel Flim Flam Flummity Flom Flem is titled for very important, plot-specific reasons.
  82. How do you handle situations where the publisher and the author disagree?
  83. Is it true if you’re a new author, and you’re difficult to work with in the eyes of your publisher, you risk getting blacklisted? A bad reputation?
  84. Have you let writers go because they ended up being difficult to work with?
  85. If you’re working with a writer and she notifies you she has been offered representation elsewhere… what happens exactly? Release from contract? Volcano ears?
  86. When agents add something to their manuscript wish list, are they doing so because they know they could sell that work and it’s pseudo-speak for “well I overheard publisher a say he really wants to publish a book about Unicorns with Gambling Issues”?
  87. I’ve heard there is a notable difference between the number of younger male readers versus the number of younger female readers, with the latter overwhelmingly outnumbering the former. Is this true? Would this encourage you to acquire books that would appeal to either gender? Deter you? Do you give a shit?
  88. Would you recommend writers familiarize themselves with three-act and four-act structures? Do deviations from traditional literary structures appeal to you, or are they among the things that make you go HUH?
  89. If you could scream one thing at writers from the top of some romantic natural formation (ie mountain top, canyon lip, screeching eagle, etc.) what would it be?
  90. What is the weirdest way you’ve connected with an author/acquired a manuscript?
  91. Do agencies work on fiscal years? Are there acquisition targets/goals for agents? Is there a hierarchical structure within agencies centered on representation/acquisitions?
  92. About how many publishers/editors do agents submit manuscripts to before giving up on it?
  93. Is it true often the bouncer/gate guardian/first obstacle to having an agent review your work is getting past the intern/picked from the slush pile by the intern? Who’s to say they even know what genius is?! Are they trained? Are they gerbils? Do you even know?
  94. There are agents that remain unaffiliated with an agency—is this like the self-publishing of the agent world? What are the advantages/disadvantages of working in an agency versus independently?
  95. Do agents develop personal relationships with their authors? Like, not sexy ones, just like drinking buddies/cat meme friends.
  96. Do agents coach/prep their authors for book tours, conferences, etc.?
  97. Is it possible to negotiate contracts with publishing houses where authors keep their electronic rights? I’m guessing there’s going to be a big fat no here, but just wondering.
  98. Can an author’s self-publishing activity interfere with their print-publishing career/activity?
  99. Obligatory where do you see publishing in the next 5-10 years question.
  100. Is there anything you would like to add? No, right? Because these questions have been so all-encompassing and awesome.



Written By
More from todd dillard

The Equalizer // Another Flash Fiction Challenge

Chuck Wendig’s posted another flash fiction challenge–this time to create a character for...
Read More

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *