Agent Anonymous #2

The first note I found in a jacket pocket. It wasn't my jacket–I was trying it on at a Salvation Army.


The second note replaced the cream in a Cadbury Egg. I'd been saving it in my fridge for months.


The last note woke me up, because it somehow had gotten into my mouth.


They were instructions, an address, a time, a date. I showed up at midnight, in an abandoned warehouse, on the edges of Cherry Hill. "Did you get my letter?" a voice intoned, too deep to be authentic.


I picked up an envelope off the floor labeled "AGENT ANSWERS" and walked out without saying anything.




Welcome to Agent Anonymous #2, where we writers ask real agents our burning and bluntest questions, and they give us answers so candid they require the shield of anonymity to protect them and their careers! I have another 5 questions for today–but as always, feel free to email me or DM me @toddedillard if you have questions you'd like to ask.




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.


This depends on an agents' setup. Many actually write in their submission guidelines these days some version of "if you don't hear from us within a month/six weeks/eight weeks, it means we've passed. This is not a reflection on you and your writing but rather a testament to the volume of submissions we receive and the amount of quality we can actually look at." Some agents put that sort of thing in their auto-response, or write that they'll contact people only if interested. In an age where it's so easy to email people a rejection, even if it's a form letter, I really can't excuse this practice and I hate it myself. I think it's ugly and rude and unfair but it also is what it is and agents and authors have that power dynamic that allows such treatment of authors. Same goes with many big zines. The American Reader? Never heard a peep from them. Narratively? Only heard when they were interested even though they say they always respond. The LARB? Same. It's a whole culture of power between writers and their overlords of publishing, whomever they are and whatever form they take. So basically, no, unfortunately, it's not seen as shitty that agents don't reply. It's seen as normal.


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?


I don't think you should assume that. A lot of being an agent is writing emails, talking on the phone, waiting for emails and phone calls back. It's a lot of going out to lunch and doing some data entry or going through contracts and scanning royalty sheets. There's a lot of downtime, since agents get to choose when and what manuscripts they read. Selling your book is a thing that takes time. Interestingly, you'll find that many agents' assistants are actually NOT on twitter all day because they're often the ones going through queries and reading manuscripts and doing filing and such. An agent I know once told me that she never thought of her job as stressful. So basically, even if an agent is on twitter all day, they're most likely getting work done. You just can't see it.


What are some things, when you’re talking to a potential client, that raise red flags for you? Like, should I delete all my brony cosplay pics on my facebook account?


No, don't worry about that sort of thing. Agents aren't like job interviewers. They'll look you up, sure, but mostly to see if you've published elsewhere, if you have some sort of following (which mostly matters with certain kinds of non-fiction and memoir, far less for fiction) and to see whether you have an author website and how crappy it is. That still won't stop them from taking you on, though. Red flags are usually raised during the emails an agent will exchange and the phone call or meeting you'll have if you're taken on. If you two don't gel, then you might not work together – but that's as much the writer's decision as the agent's. It's sort of like therapy – if you have a session with a therapist you don't like, you get to say thank you and walk away and find another therapist with whom you ARE comfortable. And chances are that if one agent is interested in you, others will be (plus, you can use an agent's offer as leverage to bait others).

By all means, keep your brony cosplay pics. Personality is often good for sales as far as I can tell.


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’.)


Well, if you're an agent and you're teetering, that means it's a no. If you're an assistant and you're teetering, you'll think about it and maybe send it to your boss to see if they have a strong opinion one way or the other. But 50/50 is never good enough. An agent really has to LOVE something in order to take it on. Agents are your cheerleaders and girl scouts selling your homemade cookies at the same time. They cheer on your writing and editing and they go to editors and try to sell them as many of your cookies as they can.

As far as the cats are concerned, one flick of the tail means yes. Two flicks means no. Cat overlords are hard to satisfy. The greatest endorsement of your work is when a cat sits on it.


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.


Depends on the agent. The market IS saturated with things a lot of the time, and what the agent means by saying that can either be, indeed, just an easier way for the to say, "no, thanks," OR it can be a way for them to say, "this would be too hard to sell because there's too much like this." So even if they loved something – if they knew it was too hard to sell, they might tell you that. But that is really an individual agent thing. Some agents will gush over your work before saying no; some will give you a form letter; some will give you cryptic saturation level responses.



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