Thinking Like an Agent, Part 1

Back when I was working as a literary agent, Writer’s Digest published an article I wrote on thinking like an agent. Though I’m an acquisitions editor now, not an agent, these pointers are all still true. I wanted to update them and share them with you.

What I wrote then:
1. Let the market decide. The most time-consuming part of my job is dealing with writers who don’t quite understand my job. For example, I recently got an email from a writer who didn’t think the agency (or me) was the right match for her, but she wanted to talk about her book’s potential. I responded with a polite note about how she could submit her material but that I couldn’t evaluate anything for someone who wasn’t a client or a potential client. There will come a time when I’m too busy to give even that kind of a token response.

I understand that people need guidance and support, but there are so many agent and editor blogs, agency and publishing house websites, not to mention scads of how-to books and magazines, that you should be able to find out most of what you need to know just by doing a little research.

The most important thing you need to know – is my work ready for publication? – can really only be answered by sending it out and getting responses. Many of these will be rejections, and they will be painful, I won’t kid you about that. But it’s the only way you can find out what you really want to know.

What I say now:
True that. As an editor, I get inquiries from writers who want to know if I’ll look at a partial they’ve written. Nope. Unless you’re already an author I publish, or your name is Nora Roberts, I’m not investing time and energy in a project that may not come to fruition and may not be publishable when it does.

One thing I overlooked: A great source of help in learning the craft and getting feedback is writers’ organizations.