Believe it or not, agents and editors are people too.
In my experience, at least. They’re not mean or grumpy—most of them. They’re not lying in wait for a chance to dash a writer’s dreams. They don’t enjoy saying no.
They’re mostly a good sort. They like to be liked. And they truly appreciate and will often remember a few small things that writers do, whether in an email, in an appointment, or across the cafeteria table at a writers conference. If you want to make them smile (and possibly hold onto a positive memory of you), try doing these few simple things:
- Get his or her name right.
Sure, I get frequent emails with the salutation to “Steve.” That’s mostly understandable, since I am a serf—er, I mean representative—of The Steve Laube Agency. But I’ve also been addressed as “Ben,” “Bob Harrison,” and “Mr. Hostetzer,” among others. Believe me, I understand the ease of cut-and-paste and also how easy it is to misspell a name. (I once signed a book to a guy who said his name was Bob, and then handed it back to me, telling me it was spelled “Bobb.” Well, okay.) But whether in speech or writing, getting the name right is an elementary ingredient of a good first impression.
- Express curiosity.
Remember, editors and agents are (mostly) normal. Like most people, they feel honored and valued when someone asks questions about their life and work. So express curiosity. Ask, “What’s your favorite part of your job?” “What book are you most excited about right now?” and “What would you really love to see from writers that you’re not seeing?”
- Follow instructions.
Pay attention to editors’ and agents’ guidelines and preferences. If he says he prefers to see a full proposal, don’t send a query. If she says she’s not looking for fantasy, don’t say, “I know you say you don’t represent fantasy, but I think you’ll change your mind when you read this.” On the other hand, when you say something like, “I’ve benefited often from your blog posts so you may recognize my name as a frequent commenter” or “I noticed that your blurb in the conference mentioned a love for historical fiction,” you might get a nod, a smile, and a listening ear.
- Say “thank you.”
The cynic says, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” I say, “Publishing, like the rest of life, is all about relationships.” So even if your idea didn’t result in a parade or confetti shower, a sincere “thank you” is always a good idea, whether it’s in person, via email, or in a handwritten note (remember those?). And in my case, a “Donutgram” is always a good way to say “thank you.”
Sure, these are all elementary. But you would probably be surprised at how rare these things are. Rare enough to elicit a smile from an overworked editor or agent.
Then I better make sure to comment, so you will recognize me when I some time in the future actually send you a proposal…
Will it also help my chances if I say I’d be flabbergasted if you like my writing?
With a name like Tuvia, you and your comments are much more easily remembered. It’s people named “Bob” that I struggle to recall.
Hi Mr. Ben Holtseltzer,
I know dystopian military romance isn’t your genre, but I figured I’d send it your way again in case you didn’t get it the first time. This book is so good, it’ll make you change your mind about not representing this genre that I just created five seconds ago.
Oh, and I better get confetti!
You’re a shoo-in, Elismabooth.
Thanks Mr. Bobb. Great reminders to always try and be courteous.
Yes, J. D. Though you always are, to my knowledge.
Gloria D. Hicks
thank you for all the research you have done and shared with us. I have copied it all down and will eventually use it in my King James study group and try to let them know what is happening. sometimes this is very difficult but I will do my very best as you have done your very best.. again thank you and bless you and I pray that I am able to pass on some of this knowledge. please pray for me as I am in
I know you don’t do gardening books, but my book, “The Zucchini Chronicles and Other Wisdom from the Porch of Life” is such a good devotional, well, it doesn’t have many devotions, well, actually it’s about what a sneaky plant zucchini is. But you’ll love it and it will change your mind about gardening. And if that doesn’t work, I’m following Elizabeth Warner’s suggestion and writing a dystopian military romance. I’ll send you a donut first, so you can enjoy the journey…A zucchini donut.
Oh, so close, Sherry. I’m looking for cumquat books.
Close your eyes and imagine me handing you a donut.
Thanks for the post. I hope everyone is polite to today.
Imaginary donuts are disappointing.
Writing a thank you to someone who didn’t want to represent your book or read more than a proposal or query is hard. But I’ve found that often when I express outward gratitude, I experience more inward thankfulness and peace about where I am on my writing journey. It’s well worth the time and effort to write those thank-you notes.
A thank you to someone who was rude or abrupt can be a subtle correction; to someone who was polite, even in disappointing the writer, is a sign of God’s grace. Actually, both are.
Bob, you say that all as though you were not the impish selfie-snapper of the Blue Ridge Mountain Christian Writers Conference. Your keynote talk there, and your personal availability, blew my mind, pardon the aging cliche. What you agents do, having to be personable and approachable yet ready to say Sorry, No, is daunting.
It was a pleasure having gotten to know you a little bit. (I was the guy with the brown cowboy hat and the thriller about a lady ex-spy.)
I remember you well, Maco. But I disavow any knowledge of impish behavior.
I’m very new to all this (on my first novel at age 76), so I had no idea the comments to your posts made any difference. Do agents even read anything from first-timers my age? Btw, I’m a quilter, too, so what’s the significance of the “quilt patterns” with some of the comments?
Kris, the “quilt patterns” are just what appear when a commenter hasn’t uploaded a photo or chosen an avatar. And yes, agents and editors often read material from newbies. When it comes to quality material, everyone is on surprisingly level ground.
I had seen that look before,
and as we Skyped, my knees they shook;
a certain mien as the editor
savagely ripped apart my book.
Red ink flew in bloody spray
and giggles rode the internet
while I could only sit and pray;
can this not be over yet?
Aha! thus did my memory pique
foreshadowing of this primal feast,
when I saw in Mozambique
an alligator kill a wildebeest.
Editor laughed, said with a smile,
“You mean, of course, a crocodile.”
Yes, the last two lines are a shameless lift.from Ogden Nash’s “The Purist”
Bob, I’ve known another Hostetler or two in my life. Good guys all. Thanks for the chuckle – and the reminder that good manners and common sense never go out of style – no matter how rare they are.
Isn’t it ironic that we spend time, energy and imagination on creating fully human, fictional characters, yet sometimes lack the imagination to perceive the humanity in those whose help we seek in bringing those fictional characters to the world stage. I think fear has something to do with it. Toto pulled back the curtain on the “great and powerful,” revealing a kindly albeit flawed human being with his own dreams and desires. And Dorothy her fear.
For the sake of clarity, the last line above should read, “And Dorothy lost her fear.”
True, Catherine. True.
Bob, what’s the favorite part of your job? What book are you most excited about right now? What would you really love to see from writers that you’re not seeing?
Dude, I’ve been wanting to ask these questions! ?
Laura, ain’t you the A student? The favorite part of my job is seeing unique, brilliant ideas come to fruition…sometimes with my small participation. The book I’m most excited about right now? Well, there are several going to editorial boards in the near future that I really really pray get an offer. And what I’d like to see that I’m not? Here’s one that may not be possible, but: Amish Millionaires (can wealth and simplicity coexist?). How’s THAT?
I’m surprised there hasn’t been one.
If the Amish can be vampires in space, anything could happen.
Many agents and publishers seem like lions baulked of preys especially budding writers. It is not palatable to just rejected a work without suggesting areas the writer need to improve upon. Budding writers need to be encouraged by giving them some tips on how to improve a rejected work. This I hope will reduce their depression after rejection.
Ikem, I’m so sorry that your experience with agents and editors has apparently been so negative. Those I know and work with (and love) are utterly overwhelmed with submissions and pitches, and can’t possibly also instruct or coach the hundreds of people who could (and might) profit from tips and suggestions. But, as Maco said in his comment, you might be pleasantly surprised to meet those editors and agents at a writers’ conference and see the sacrificial time and effort they put into encouraging and helping aspiring writers. None of us can help everyone, but we do our best to help those we can.
Thank you Bob for such a great post!
See how good I listen and how quickly I learn?
Yes, Otis. I see you and I appreciate your assiduous attentiveness to application.
If you decide to write a what-not-to-say post, I can share the worst/best ever response to a rejection. I thought I was gracious to offer some encouragement and help, but apparently not.
Oh, Nancy, that would be why I never give feedback. 1) I’m one person and other editors have different opinions; 2) Some feedback is less than welcome. I occasionally will send an agent feedback, so they can tailor what they send me. But I reserve feedback to conferences and mentoring sessions.
I recently sent a polite (I thought) “no thank you” to an over-the-transom submission, and received a response along the lines of, “I made the mistake of thinking you and your agency would be interested in advancing God’s kingdom.” Why, I oughta….
My first mistake was thinking when she asked me to give her ways to improve if it wasn’t for us that she wanted input. I put a suggestion between two compliments. Silly me.
I recently had an author forward me a proposal he had sent to Zondervan. I don’t mean he told me he’d sent it to them; he forrwarded to me the email he had sent to Z. No greeting or acknowledgment…just bip, there ya go, complete with the Z editor’s email address. I deleted it; no response. Following a tiny bit of protocol goes a long way.
So Donutgrams are a thing. Would vegan donuts be ok when you accept the blockbuster proposal I just sent?
Mr. Bob Hostetler,
You’re blog post was very informative and inspirational!! I just finished a course that had me shivering at the thought of publishers and editor’s. I was informed that many manuscripts will be overlooked, because of how many are being turned in. Also, we were informed about a proper query letter and proposal. The way in which it was layed out made most of us believe that we had to take a separate course on the matter. You surly have relieved some pressure. Thanks for the insights.
Bob, something to consider as a blog topic, revisited if y’all have done it before: self-destructive writers’ responses to rejection (you mention one above) together with unusually graceful, genuine thank-yous from similarly rejected submitters. Exploding bonfires of bridges detonated vs bridges back left intact and strewn with flower petals.
So you’re interested in Amish millionaires? We live in the Midwest around a lot of horse-and-buggy people and do taxi driving for them when they want to travel. You wouldn’t believe how many of them are sitting on lots of money. So yes, there probably ARE Amish millionaires.
Thanks for your posts; they’re always informative and entertaining. A couple years ago when I first approached you with a book idea—and didn’t know the first thing about book proposals–you offered helpful suggestions and were quite kind in your response to this newbie. After reading your posts and others from the Steve Laube agency, I have learned so much. You and your co-workers are appreciated by lots of people.
Ooohh, a passive sentence in my reply above. How about, “Lots of people appreciate you and your co-workers. See, I HAVE learned some things!
–Except proofreading my comments and placing quotation marks in the right place.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Bob, my son once got a rejection letter that read “Dear Charles…” His name is David.
I will keep in mind your comment about the donuts…. I normally consider then to be artery blockers but, if you like them, I’ll see what I can do at a future conference.
Thanks so much for how much you make me smile with your postings.
*Met you in a Kathy Ver Eecke session as ‘Student/Cynthia/Claire.’ Resulting in a quantity of confusion for all, since I post on your FB page as Claire… Helpful in remembering… perchance?
*Doughnuts a dozen of your favorite type coming your way…
*Romance/suspense cookie-cutter types (at least to me) are a surefire way to kill my interest. WHO really looks at someone’s very awesome abs while being shot at? So, I go for weird people who have other things to think about like… opening a doughnut shop/bakery/sweet shop…
*… which is why I enjoyed your fiction, ‘The Bone Box.’
*I have been wondering how I could fit in Amish romance with explosions, bullets, and detective work (that doesn’t look like ‘Witness’).
*You, a serf? Tsk, I bet Steve is laughing.
~Claire not my real name. Student? Mebbe…