In Defense of Agents, by An Unpublished Writer

4 Sep

I’ll be upfront. I hate non-responding policies. I want to know an agent doesn’t want me so I can emotionally move on. Non-responding is the equivalent of the high school “go away to camp and come back with a new girlfriend” guy. But, I feel like there is just some absurdity coming from writers about the responding agents that I really don’t understand. Here is what I’ve learned ….not from being a writer, but from being an HR person.


A little background: When I first started in HR I started at the bottom of an international service industries corporate HR ladder: Staffing. (Dear staffing people, I know for a lot of people this is a career. It wasn’t here. Please don’t be offended.) Not only did I not stay there, but I had the highest success rate. How did they measure that? The managers I hired stayed longer, had more successful units, trained up more success managers from within. They also stole less and had fewer complaints brought against them. Basically, I’m decent at reading people’s abilities and integrity.


And it all starts with the world’s equivalent of a query letter –> a resume.


I feel bad for agents sometimes. It’s a double edged sword. You take “too long” with the query and you’re not working hard enough (don’t twitter like the rest of the world, or you’re slacking). “Too fast” with the query meant you either didn’t even see it OR you didn’t bother to read it. Oh, and the same people that hate non-responders, hate form letters. I say, “Bring on the form letters and thanks for letting me know!”


So, what, you might ask, does this have to do with resumes? A lot.


Just from the resume, I can tell several things. What they value. What’s important in a job. How much they know about the industry and that company specifically. You start to have a sixth sense about what might be lies or exaggerations. Stability. Not just job stability, but personal stability. The excuses that are softly folded into resumes can be amazing. And, just like publishing, the industry I was in was a big-small-world. I could pick up the phone, call a colleague and find out if my hunch was correct before you could find yourself an alibi. And don’t forget: Personality. Oh, don’t believe me about that one? Think of the most pompous person you know. Think of their vocabulary and how they use it. I know one guy who uses his like a weapon to slash everyone down before they even have a chance. Trust me, you can see that in a resume. Do you want that guy to be your boss?


And then there’s just a point that you can’t know: I know what my team needs. I know what I like working with. I know where the promotions (holes) are going to be. I know where somethings going to be hot because of a company move. I know a ton that you can’t know, not because you’re uneducated or unaware ….but because you aren’t in my position and my position is to keep those things to myself and do what’s best for my employees and company.


Finally, I can often tell if I’m going to like you. And let’s be honest, that’s important. Because no one…and I’m betting this is true for agents no matter how much they like a book…wants to work with someone long term they can’t stand to be around or don’t respect.


And I can do this all under 3 mins. I know what I’m looking for. I know what I’m not looking for. And, honestly, it’s 1 page. How long does that take someone who doesn’t know? 6 mins? 8?


So, yeah, when I get a fast rejection I get that “arg. why don’t you love my book?” feeling. But angry? No. Oh yeah, except for the one agent who responded in 47 SECONDS and misquoted my query letter. Him, I wonder about.


Trust agents. They want to find great books. You may have a great book but a lousy query letter. Thank goodness for the agent who told me I had a “trite looking synopsis” — it changed the entire game for me. Hopefully soon as I start the process with a new book, someone will see my query and ask for pages…and then more pages…and then more books…and then and the and then we’ll have the beginning of a beautiful partnership.

5 Responses to “In Defense of Agents, by An Unpublished Writer”

  1. Cinde Morris September 4, 2009 at 9:29 pm #

    47 seconds???

    I just feel like the query letter is such a harsh form of hazing I’d rather peel off my finger nails and offer those. I hear so much about how a query letter has to be so perfect, sometimes it seems like it has to be better than your book. It’s a bit intimidating. However, I realize that if agents looked at every single query letter they got, including the real POS ones, nothing would probably ever get published. ;P

  2. December September 5, 2009 at 10:47 am #

    you know- I’ve gotten every single job I ever interviewed live for.
    with the grand exception of one, where they wanted a crew of Yes Men to be butt kissers. (Not saying that with malice. I work in customer service, these people are very important.)
    That job, I did not get, and I’m okay with it.

  3. briaq September 5, 2009 at 1:38 pm #

    LOL December. You always make me smile with your way of looking at stuff.

    I’m betting that every letter gets looked at. I’m betting that a majority of agents do that themselves. Honestly, I’m thinking that once you get good at them, 3 mins is all it takes for each one (w/o pages or synopsis)

    Don’t give up hope, ladies! I Hate writing these things. I’d rather just write another book, but it’s they way of the world

  4. melsmag September 6, 2009 at 9:55 pm #

    ah you worry me. LOL! time to go back over synopsis… because I’m never confident. I’m so bad at interviews. I babble and strip over my tongue.

    and 47 secs? Pfffffft.

  5. melsmag September 6, 2009 at 9:56 pm #

    er trip… tripping over tongue. *sigh*

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