What not to do when seeking a Literary Agent

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Before seeking that elusive animal called a literary agent you must determine if you are ready for one. The biggest error people make is when in a state of writing excitement or idea mania they want to test out whether or not a literary agent will be interested. I can not stress enough that we are very busy people and sometimes very grumpy. If you cause us to become caught up in your excitement we are very likely to ask: "when can I see the proposal?" If you respond with "I just wanted to see if you would be interested" we will put your name on our version of the post office wall reserved for America's Most wanted criminals. We want to like good material. That is how we earn money for what you all believe are our mansions and mazeratis. Our time is truly our money. If you have a great idea make sure you have fleshed it out and have followed all of the protocols before contacting us. Oh, by the way, do not call us. This was an example for the benefit of this blog. Unless you are truly a legend and not a legend in your own mind we will do everything to avoid your call. If we happen to answer the phone ourselves we will pretend to be our own assistants. When you are ready send a query letter by mail or email when appropriate. Before sending one please read our blog on "what not to do when writing a query."

You may have written a manuscript or book proposal and will still not be ready to contact a literary agent any more than you are truly ready to contact a publisher. The explosion of easy ebooks and self-publishing services where you pay to play has created a generation of very impatient writers. You are so eager to spread your message or to see yourself in print that you do not prepare yourselves properly. You will send out your material too soon because you have in the back of your mind that you will do it yourself if an arrogant literary agent does not see your potential. We are not looking for potential and you should not be satisfied with it unless you have reached it. There are many great books that will not find an agent or publisher. But there are many mediocre books that are in people's garages or in cyberspace that could have found a larger market if they had waited to be fully developed. If you are serious about your book or proposal there are many people who can give you a critique before you send it to a literary agent. It is a worthwhile investment.

Things not to do when seeking a literary Agent: 

  1. Do not phone us with an idea especially if you do not have a manuscript or proposal ready. 
  2. Do not phone us to find out if we have read your query. A query has no obligation attached to it. We know you are excited. We will contact you if we want to see more. 
  3. Do not send a letter to a literary agent addressed to "Dear Agent." There are so many directories including www.WAENet.com where you can get the names and addresses of agents that there is no excuse for this. 
  4. Do not send a letter to an agent that is meant for another agent. This happens more than you know. 
  5. Do not send an email submission of a query letter with the other agents to whom you are sending it in your email list. This also happens more than you know. Take the time to send separate submissions.
  6. Do not send a query or email submission with your proposal and/or manuscript. We have too much to read as it is. We will request what we would like to see. 
  7. Do not behave in a hostile manner toward a literary agent for rejecting your work. You may see them at a conference and who knows they may remember you and your work. Could happen. 
  8. Do not stalk your potential literary agent or your actual literary agent who then has to drop you as a client because your behavior is so bizarre at a writer's conference that you are freaking out all the attendees. You know who you are. 
  9. Do not call a literary agent and bully the receptionist so you can talk to the literary agent. At least at our literary agency it is often I, the partner and fellow literary agent answering our phone in my receptionist voice. Do you really think we want a client who does not respect the support staff?
  10. When given an offer of representation do not immediately go Hollywood. While we are hard at work trying to sell your project you are welcome to tell people you have a literary agent. Just do not expect us to be available to now read all of your friend's work so you can show off how important you are. 
Deborah Herman is a veteran literary agent,
book doctor and author of ten non-fiction books.
Herman is a co-founder of Writers, Agents and Editors Network

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