A Little Literary Agent Experience


Last week, I experienced the excited flush of receiving an e-mail from a literary agent asking me to e-mail her the synopsis of Perceval.  The request puzzled me.  I’ve posted the synopsis here at my blog and also at my Publishers Marketplace page.  If she had found my e-mail address at either place, you’d think she would have also found the synopsis.  So, I decided to investigate this agent.

First, I sent her an e-mail asking for her credentials.  Then I did a search on her name.  Several pages of hits came up — book reviews, her website for mystery lovers, her blog, but nothing about her being a literary agent.  I did a search on the name of her “new” agency — this time, a watchdog website came up.  Apparently this person has mass e-mailed writers who are members of Publishers Marketplace, asking each time for a synopsis.  All indications were that this “literary agent” is not a professional literary agent.

She replied very fast to my e-mail, pointing me to her reviews, her experience editing fiction at her editing website, and then the clincher for me: “I have made many contacts with publishers over the years.  I will be cultivating those and making many more.”  Really?  Who?  What experience do you have agenting books?  Have you ever worked for an agent? 

She had included the URL for her “new” literary agency’s website which turned out to be a single page, poorly written and formatted.  I’ve seen websites of agents working on their own as well as literary agency websites during my agent research, and this website, in my opinion, looked like something a sixth grader might put together.  Her website convinced me not of her status as a professional literary agent but just the opposite.

It is a somewhat rare occurrence for a literary agent to troll the internet for clients and approach them via e-mail in that manner.  Most bona fide agents are so busy they don’t have the time to do that.  So, the usual process is for a writer to send the query to the agent, not vice versa. 

For someone just starting out in the business, I’d expect to see that they’d had some experience with specific people, publishers, and/or professional literary agents.  And proud to list specific names as well as recent books they’d represented.  Beware of generalities and vague statements.  And unless the agent is known to you or withstands your check into his/her professional credentials, delete that e-mail….

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One response to “A Little Literary Agent Experience

  1. >>“I have made many contacts with publishers over the years. I will be cultivating those and making many more.”

    I must say, this sentence alone would make me question the veracity of her credentials. It sounds very much like someone just striking out on their own, without experience. Consider: “Contact with publishers” could mean a string of rejection letters from dozens of different editors. I would (as a Not-Author) expect her to have listed the publishing houses, no matter how small.

    If you look at my book shelves (well, if you had back in Michigan, when the books were actually on shelves), you would notice at least a dozen books from some small publishers (McBooks Press & Holt Paperbacks)- they print nautical fiction from minor authors or those long out of print. If I wrote in that genre, I would be thrilled to have an agent mention them and not just MegaPress.

    “I intend to cultivate …” while not a professional author, I am perfectly cognizant of English grammar. This implies that the cultivation will occur in the future. Why put your work in her self-admitted absent skills? I would have been more impressed with “I have cultivated extensive relationships with many publishers, both large and small. My professional connections will allow me to serve as your advocate, matching your work with the most advantageous publisher.”

    Come on … a skilled writer ought to at least be able to describe herself in glowing terms. Even if not accurate, it ought to at least sound wonderful.

    If I (as an Industrial Hygienist) read this sort of blab, I would do the same as you. In my field, a person would list specific companies for whom she’d worked/done consulting. Or at the very least listed the types of projects and explicitly state something like “please contact me for specific references in your area of interest”. At least in my business one can be rather constrained by previously existing confidentiality agreements.

    Good luck with your on-going quest!

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