Agents Share Their Pet Peeves

Agents are people, too.

Most literary agents, that is.

And, like most people, we have our highs and lows. Our problems. Our irritations. Our pet peeves.

I asked my fellow agents at The Steve Laube Agency to share their pet peeves with me for the purpose of this blog post. Boy, did that open a Pandora’s box.

Tamela Hancock Murray, the “ACFW agent-of-the-year” award-winning agent, agreed to come down from the mount where such personages dwell, at least long enough to play along. She said, “I had to give this some thought because writers are quite good about being respectful. I can’t call it a ‘pet peeve’ but the error I see surprisingly often is an issue with word count. Hardly a week goes by that my office doesn’t receive a submission of 30,000 words or 150,000 words. Unfortunately, these are lengths I can’t work with, at least not in the current market. To avoid submitting a manuscript that will garner an automatic rejection because of word count, please refer to the guidelines for the publishers you are targeting before approaching an agent.”

Dan Balow said that his pet peeves include writers who send him something they know he is not looking for, sometimes saying, “I know you said you weren’t looking for this type of book, but…” He also laments submissions that claim, “Your agency website says you are looking for _______,” when a more careful read of the website would reveal that we are not looking for this type of book listed. He says, “I am not sure what type of professional relationship could develop between me and an author if the author starts by paying no attention to my stated focus.”

Steve Laube says, “I don’t think I have ‘pet peeves,’ per se. But if I did, one might be writers calling the agency to pitch a book idea, which is never a good idea. Please follow the guidelines first. As a writer, it is your ability to express your idea in writing that is important. Not your elocution. Also, sending a link to your Amazon listing and asking me to buy a copy of the book that you are now pitching is simply not going to happen.”

Wow. Right? My own pet peeves seem to pale in light of those. But they include pitches for a “fiction novel” (pro tip: there is no other kind). And mass submissions that include the addresses of dozens of other agents in the email address field (send it to as many agents as you want, but one size does not fit all when pitching a book to an agent, and you’re only hurting yourself in ignoring that reality). And, like my colleagues, I frequently shake my head at writers who don’t take the time and effort to read the (free!) guidelines for submission (or utterly and obviously ignore them) before pitching a project. If an agent or agency tells you how to look good, why would you ignore that advice?

Unless, of course, your pet peeve is looking good.

33 Responses to Agents Share Their Pet Peeves

  1. Avatar
    Brennan S. McPherson November 8, 2017 at 4:50 am #

    Greetings Bob,

    I see you said you’re looking for fantasy fiction. My current fiction novel has 1,275,000 words, and I tried calling the agency yesterday to pitch it to you, but Steve said you were busy so I pitched it to him instead. Now that he denied it, will you purchase my book off Amazon to see how fantastic it is?

    (Pretty sure I hit every pet peeve here. . . let me know if I missed one.)

    • Avatar
      Janine Rosche November 8, 2017 at 4:59 am #

      “Greetings, Rob” or “Greetings, Literary Agent” would have strengthened the pet-peeviness. Bonus if you explain that your novel is the next Harry Potter AND Redeeming Love combined!!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler November 8, 2017 at 7:04 am #

      You’re both getting the idea. Now STOP.

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby November 8, 2017 at 8:38 am #

      Top 20,000 in all paid Kindle sales? Wow. I know how hard that is to get, and I’m impressed, Brennan. Maybe you should have included a screen shot for Bob, and then he couldn’t possibly resist.

      • Avatar
        Brennan S. McPherson November 8, 2017 at 10:25 am #

        Thanks Carol. Actually it’s sitting around 9,000 at the moment, and should break the top 2,000 before the day’s done. But “success” is fleeting on Amazon. . .

        • Avatar
          Carol Ashby November 8, 2017 at 10:58 am #

          I just did my part to help you hit that today by buying both Cain and Flood to read right after I get my next one out this month. Both yours look like ones I’d better not start reading until I meet my own deadline.

  2. Avatar
    Janine Rosche November 8, 2017 at 4:54 am #

    This goes along with my suggestion that conferences offer workshops called “Tact and Tackiness for New Writers.” Speaking of guidelines, there are many etiquette guidelines that I learned only after I made them one, two, or a dozen times. I am currently bumbling through the section of that workshop titled, “should you or should you not friend request agents, editors, popular authors, or speakers?” Now, I’m off to do a search of my proposal for “fiction novel” because that sounds like something I would say!

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler November 8, 2017 at 7:07 am #

      Janine, I love your title. I might steal that. And I think the general rule is, once you’ve commented on an agent’s/editor’s blog post, you’re eligible to friend-request him or her. UNLESS, of course, you used the term “fiction novel” in your comment, then you must spend six months in “friend request time out.”

    • Avatar
      Carol Ashby November 8, 2017 at 8:44 am #

      Janine, popular authors need friends for their platform, too, so go ahead. They can always ignore you, which relegates you to follower status at Facebook, but you’ll still see their public postings. Maybe I’m being too selective, but that’s what I do to the “retired generals” that have nothing on their own timeline but want me for their friend.

    • Avatar
      Carol Moncado November 8, 2017 at 7:16 pm #

      I talked to Cara about including this in next year’s First Timer’s Loop. For everyone writing fiction novels of course. 😉

      (I know that doesn’t help you now, Janine – but holler if I can help!)

  3. Avatar
    Judith Robl November 8, 2017 at 6:25 am #

    I wish I knew where your next appearance at a writers conference was to be and that I could be there. I really want to shake your hand. Love this post. Such good common sense.

    • Bob Hostetler
      Bob Hostetler November 8, 2017 at 7:12 am #

      Judith, how kind of you. My website will soon (Dec. 1) post my 2018 speaking engagements, but I can give you advance notice: my currently-scheduled writers conferences in 2018 are Asheville Christian Writers Conference (Feb), Florida Christian Writers Conference (Feb), Blue Lake Christian Writers Retreat (May), Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference (May), Montrose Christian Writers Conference (July), Taylor University Writers Conference (Aug), Oregon Christian Writers Conference (Aug), and reNEW New England Writers Retreat (Oct). A few others may be added, but I’d love to see you at any of those.

      • Avatar
        Carol Ashby November 8, 2017 at 8:47 am #

        I was kind of hoping you’d be at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference in Estes Park next year. I’m not looking for an agent, but I suspect you’d be a blast to eat with in the cafeteria at the YMCA camp where that is held.

        • Avatar
          Bob Hostetler November 8, 2017 at 9:00 am #

          Oh, don’t be so sure. When food is in front of me, I become positively rapacious.

        • Avatar
          Janine Rosche November 8, 2017 at 9:10 am #

          Is that at the YMCA of the Rockies? I lived in between Denver and Boulder until six months ago. I could be persuaded to attend that!

          • Avatar
            Bob Hostetler November 8, 2017 at 9:36 am #

            Yes, Janine, that’s the place. It’s a BEYOOTIFUL setting for a writers conference. Once one adjusts to the altitude.

            • Avatar
              Carol Ashby November 8, 2017 at 9:59 am #

              The altitude was no problem, but I already have lots of extra red blood cells because I live above 6700 feet. Some lowlanders did get tired quickly.

          • Avatar
            Carol Ashby November 8, 2017 at 9:53 am #

            I went in 2016, and it was excellent. I’m tentatively planning to go this year, depending on the presentations. For those following the traditional route, there are agents and editor interviews.

  4. Avatar
    Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D November 8, 2017 at 7:31 am #

    Bob, I always enjoy your postings! This one was delightful. My pet peeves include the video that Steve posted some time ago where writers were pitching the agent over the bathroom stall and chasing the agent down the hallways while saying “I know you don’t normally represent this genre, BUT….” or “the Lord gave me this book.”

    My pet peeves as a college instructor include glassy-eyed students who make it plain they are only in college because their parents are forcing them to come (hey, I saved for 16 years to be able to go to college- don’t flaunt your boredom in my face!) or students who seems really bright but don’t study for exams or take advantage of extra credit until the day before the end of term and then want me to give them extra credit because I will ruin their lives if I flunk them.

    But people who are off-topic for a blog may turn out to be one of your pet peeves…..please forgive my need to vent. It’s mid-term time.

    • Avatar
      Bob Hostetler November 8, 2017 at 7:46 am #

      Oh, yes, “The Lord gave me this book.” That’s a big one, as the appropriate response is too often, “He should have kept it” or “He should have corrected the spelling errors in it first.”

      No need to apologize for venting, especially when the post you’re commenting on was a rant to begin with.

      • Avatar
        Janine Rosche November 8, 2017 at 8:28 am #

        That bit about spelling errors made me choke on my coffee! I survived though 😉

      • Avatar
        Carol Ashby November 8, 2017 at 8:49 am #

        But what if God really did give the person that book?

        • Avatar
          Bob Hostetler November 8, 2017 at 8:58 am #

          I hope that, to some extent, God “gives” every Christian author his or her book(s). However, that statement is so often paired with naivete and poor workmanship that it makes editors and agents cringe every time.

  5. Avatar
    Loretta Eidson November 8, 2017 at 9:19 am #

    It amazes me that people actually do this stuff. I get so nervous about my submissions that I read and reread and study the guidelines to make sure I do it correctly. When I realize I’ve made a mistake, I kick myself a gazillion times, bury my face in the sand, and learn from my embarrassing error.

    • Avatar
      Bob Hostetler November 8, 2017 at 9:35 am #

      A gazillion times, Loretta? Really?

      Seriously, you can probably cut yourself a bit of a break. Mistakes are going to happen, and they probably won’t hurt you in an otherwise stellar pitch. It’s the egregious mistakes (see Brennan’s hilarious example, above) that make us shake our heads.

  6. Avatar
    Joey Rudder November 8, 2017 at 10:10 am #

    What a great and timely post. Thank you, Bob. With my novel now finished (I’m doing my happy dance in my chair, careful not to spill my coffee, and yelling, “Whoo-hoo!!” for the neighbors…maybe you can hear me all the way from Ohio??), I’m hoping to submit my fiction proposal soon. So it’s great to be reminded of what not to do.

    Now, on to rewriting the synopsis…end happy dance. 😉

  7. Avatar
    Mark Stevenson November 8, 2017 at 10:44 am #


    Thank you for an insightful post. As a new author, I have learned so much from industry specialists. Not long ago The Writer magazine also had a similar article on agent “peeves” and I learned much from that, as well. I tend to learn by trial and error but I try to approach my career with common sense. So, I hope my first query and proposal can be viewed with an opinion that I put an immense amount of thought and collective knowledge, when I submit.

    Thanks again,

    Mark Stevenson

  8. Avatar
    Robin E. Mason November 8, 2017 at 12:10 pm #

    but… but… my 178K EPIC novel IS perfect for your agency! you just don’t know it yet obviously!! now what is your number so i can call and tell you ALL | ABOUT | IT from beginning to end! oh, and it’s half price just now over on my sale linkie!! #sorrynotsorry #couldntresist #JUSTkidding

  9. Avatar
    Kathy Sheldon Davis November 8, 2017 at 2:05 pm #

    I want to leave a comment here just because this is such a hilarious crowd. My goodness!

    “Unless, of course, your pet peeve is looking good.”

    I’m on my way to my pool workout. Hope no one notices my laugh tears.

  10. Avatar
    Rachel Lewis November 10, 2017 at 2:40 pm #

    What are pet peeves of agents with their clients? How can a client make the most of his or her relationship with the agent, while at the same time, respecting the agent’s time and other commitments? I’ve read a lot about getting an agent, but I would love to hear more on how to utilize this professional relationship once it is formed.


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