Book Proposals

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.

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