How NOT to Get an Agent

For those of you who don’t already know, in addition to being an author, I’m also an Associate Literary Agent for the Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency in NYC.  I LOVE this job, but I gotta be honest…while I do sometimes discover great writing in my agent inbox, I also see plenty of mistakes being made. Plenty of queries that make me cringe and hit the reject button faster than I can sip my morning jolt of java. Are you currently querying an agent…perhaps even me?  Then listen up.

Marie’s Top 10 Countdown on How NOT to Get an Agent:

#10: Send me something in a genre I don’t represent and then try to convince me that even through it’s about futuristic dragons, your novel is not high fantasy or Sci Fi.

#9: Tell me how wonderful the book is, using words like blockbuster and bestseller and hit, without telling me what the book is about.

#8: Don’t give me a book title, and give no mention of who the audience is or what genre it is.

#7: Tell me too much about yourself. You recently got a dog.  You had a lovely vacation. You read books for fun. You work in a coffee shop, cleaners, are a housewife, like walks on the beach. You write letters to friends, you proofread your husband’s technical papers for him, you had a recipe published in a newspaper 20 years ago. You can hula dance…

#6: Don’t bother to spell check or proof read…  Missing words, misspellings… One error, I say you’re human.  FIVE errors and you’re in the wrong business.

#5: Use words the wrong way, because, hey, you spell checked and there are no wrong words in your query…  But then you include stuff like “escaping her density” and “dying from a gunshot womb.”

#4: Address me improperly: Dear Ms. Marie Lamba, Dear Marie Lamba Associate Agent, Dear Ms. DeChiara, Dear Sir or Madam. And my personal favorite: Dear Ma Lamba.

#3: Contact me in inappropriate ways… Through other email addresses, by stalking me on facebook and then popping up on my facebook chat to have a nice little natter, calling my home phone!  These are scary, people.

#2: Try to convince me, after the query and sample pages were rejected, that I’ve made a horrible mistake and that I shouldn’t reject the manuscript based on the characters, because this story is based on real life and every single person in the world will identify with the story.

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the top way to NOT get an agent (insert drum roll, and cymbal crash!):

#1: After I politely reject you, send me an email that simply says, “You suck.”

So there you have it, 10 clear cut ways to NOT get yourself an agent. Sadly, I’m not making this stuff up.

Just remember, bad form will earn you a quick rejection. Bad behavior will have your email address shared with others in the firm and blocked as spam.  On the flip side, if your query follows guidelines and is as professional as any business letter should be, you will give your manuscript a fair shake…and so will I!

For my submission guidelines, click here.

Wishing you success,

35 thoughts on “How NOT to Get an Agent

  1. Marie, I just had to laugh reading this! And cringe over #3 – that IS scary! I hope that this helps some poor (and deserving) soul trying to make their way to being published. You know that #1 reason is my favorite! (because you are the complete opposite of suckage and if someone had researched you properly they would have known this)

  2. I am surprised that with all the workshops about query letters available, writers are still doing the things you list. But the small press publishers I know have noted the same behaviors – stalking, sending “my story is wonderful” queries, etc. I hope the ones hoping to send future work your way read your blog and take notice.
    Barbara of the Balloons

  3. “You suck.” ? That’s a good one. Just think of telling this to a prospective employer after you’ve received the form letter explaining why you didn’t get the job. Probably somebody has done this but going after an agent (of publisher) is the same thing.

    These are obvious over the line mistakes. However, you might add another less obvious one to this list. My acquisition editor may reject a writer for not already being a presence on the Internet, (website, blog, Facebook, Twitter, other social networks, etc). By pre-promoting, it shows the writer is willing to go the extra step to market the book once somebody does publish it.

    • I’ve heard of agents rejecting writers because they don’t have any web presence. I find it a definite plus to have a positive web presence and a definite negative to have an unprofessional and problematic web presence (a writer behaving badly online, for example), but I won’t punish a writer for not already having an online existence. Some folks are older, some are busy, some just don’t know how important it is yet… HOWEVER, once I take on a client that online presence has to be created. That’s definite!

      Thanks for checking in.

    • Hi Lauren,

      Yup. And I don’t think they were thinking. If the writer had been thinking, he’d have realized that he might write other manuscripts, that he might not want to burn bridges, and that your reputation and professionalism matter.

      Thanks for checking in!

  4. Love these examples of what not to do, especially since there’s so much online informing writers of what to do. My only problem is with #4. Would you really reject someone out of hand for addressing you as Ms. Marie Lamba? Seems harsh to me.

    Here’s my problem. You’ve just upped my paranoia level! I know that Dear Ms. Lamba is the proper form. But I’ve been to several Writers Coffeehouses and was in your class at the Philadelphia Writers Conference, although I doubt you remember me. In those places, as here, I called you Marie. So, is it inappropriate to address you as Dear Marie? If you do remember me, would you consider it overly formal to address you as Ms. Lamba?

    You’re not the only agent I’ve wondered about in terms of proper degrees of formality, based on slight-to-not-so-slight acquaintance. I thought I was being overly persnickety, but apparently not. Advice appreciated.

  5. Hey Ma Lamba! How about when you get a query that begins with how the boss (that would be Ms. De Chiara) had already rejected the querier and then gave me all the reasons SHE sucks?! I got one of those. What? Did the knucklehead thiink I’d be like, “Yeah. She sucks! I’m going to represent you, dude!” Or something. Good blog post!

  6. Dear Mister or Mrs. Sir Ma Lamba,

    I found a typo! I guess that means you’re human too. Seriously, though, these cracked me up. #5 is my favorite.

  7. Hi!
    I love number 5 as well! It made me laugh out loud. I think we’ve all done that before. I know when I was editing one of my novels, I found a couple of those and some are really funny.

    • Hi Monika,

      Yeah, you can’t help but crack a smile, then wince. Typically writers who exhibit this sort of mistake do it not once, but several times (and with different words!) in the space of a brief query. It’s always best to have someone else look over your words before you submit.

      Thanks for commenting!

      • Hi Kelly,

        There can be small errors in even the best of submissions, so don’t torture yourself over something so minor. It’s the sloppy glaring errors that will reflect poorly on a writer.

  8. Thanks for the heads-up Mr./Ms. Associate Agent or current occupant of this blog. As one who is looking ahead to the querying stage (don’t worry, not stalking–wrong genre), it seems like 10 minutes of Internet searching would be enough for any smart person to know not to do that stuff. But I suppose that just makes it easier for the rest who actually take the time to learn about it.

    I don’t know if you followed the #BadWritingTips or #BadQueryingTips Twitter-based time wasters, but there were a lot of great “what not to dos”. Inspired by that, I did a post and cartoon that you might find resonates well with you. I don’t want to spam you or your readers so I won’t leave a link. I’m sure you can find it if you’re interested.

    Thanks for the post! For those, like me, who are trying to learn how the publishing business works, it’s a great laugh.

    • Hi Barmy,

      Too true! With the internet and so much info at our fingertips it’s hard to believe people don’t spend a few moments doing their homework.

      Some of this stuff is funny, but there’s a flip side: that writer who never gets their work read. Here’s hoping more folks will figure out the basics and give their work a better chance.

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  10. #5–ah, the joys of making mistakes. I once had a character frying bacon in a skittle. Thankfully one of my readers pointed it out to me. I blame it on the Skittles I was eating during the manuscript writing process. 😉

    #1–it still amazes me that people do this kind of thing. Do they really think it’s going to help anything? *sigh*

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  12. I’ve been writing stories for decades but never thought any of them would meet the requirements of an agent. I kept asking myself…

    Are any of my stories written well enough (quality) to attract the attention of an agent?
    Have I written a story that fits an agent’s word-count (quantity) requirements for that genre?
    Would any of my stories satisfy (expectations) people who read stories in that genre?

    I could say “Yes” to my novel, “Close but no cigar” to my novelette and “No” to my short stories. Like most writers, however, I want a wider audience for my stories than family and friends. Your blog and your replies to comments make it clear that once I’ve done my best to meet the requirements of an agent and the expectations of a publisher’s readers, I have to find agents who are seeking stories in the genre of my story, cull that list down to one or two agents who best fit my requirements, then send a query that avoids the incorrect ways to get an agent.

    Thanks for posting this blog. It was informative, of course, but you replied to every comment, and that’s not typical of the vast majority of editors, agents and so-called writing experts on the Internet. I look forward to having something worthy of a query to you.

    Billy Dean

    • Thanks for checking in, Billy. I’m glad the blog is helpful for you!

      I would suggest that you query more than 2 agents at a time – it’s very competitive, and it can take quite a while to find that fit. Better to send out a number of queries at a time to agents that are a good fit, and then, based on replies, adjust your query letter and try again.

      Best of luck!

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