Agent Monday: When an Agent is Not a Writing Coach

A literary agent is someone who scouts out talent, and then connects that talent with the right editor. An agent is someone who supports her clients, and helps her clients build their careers.  An agent can give her clients some editorial direction, too. But I want to emphasize something to folks who are querying me and are not my clients: I am not your writing coach.

Look, I’m happy to offer editorial advice to my clients. But for folks who send me queries and folks who I request full manuscripts from, but who I do NOT end up offering representation to, well, please don’t expect me to tell you how to revise your novel.

Here’s the truth, if I read your full manuscript and something jumps out at me as a problem, in my rejection notice I will do you the courtesy of stating what that is. But that is a courtesy, honestly. I don’t need to say anything more than “no thanks.” If I say that there is too much telling, or that the dialogue doesn’t ring true, it is up to you (if you agree with this) to figure out how to fix it. It is not up to me to show you how.

Why am I bringing this up?  Because some writers don’t “get” this.

If you need assistance, you can turn to craft books, beta readers, a critique group, or you can even hire an editor. What you shouldn’t do is email me repeatedly asking for advice. Or Facebook message me. Or, as a rejected author has done, shoot me an email filled with derision and sarcasm and downright nasty sentiments thinking I’ll somehow apologize and offer assistance. (At least I think that was the logic behind it…You can bet I just pressed “delete” instead. Yikes!)

But what if I’ve given you extensive revision notes (beyond a few sentences) and told you that I’d be happy to see this manuscript if you decide to revise it? Well, if you need clarification about what I’ve suggested, then yeah, send me an email and ask. No problem. Yet even in this instance, the actual “how” of it is in your court.

Hey, I know that writers are hungry for guidance, and some folks just don’t understand that they are stepping over a line of sorts. Most don’t mean any harm.

Just keep in mind that if a helpful agent does offer you constructive criticism in a rejection, that’s a bonus, not a given. The rest is up to you. So always remember what an agent is and ISN’T. And play nice out there, okay?

*Agent Monday is a weekly post. To catch all of these, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s Site Here” in the upper left column.

11 thoughts on “Agent Monday: When an Agent is Not a Writing Coach

  1. This post will be really helpful to many, Marie. Especially to those just starting out, whose writer toolkits may only include a hammer and nails and no foundational blueprints. I appreciated even more the decade I’d spent honing craft when my agent said, “Deepen the emotion in this scene.” As you said, you need to know how to do that! Let me amend—you need to “already have known” how to do that, because you don’t want to keep her waiting for a year while you take a class and find out. Many of us dream of overnight success, sure—but should it happen, you are inviting a heapload of stress into your life!

    • Hi Kathryn,

      Writers definitely continue to learn their craft, which is one of the things I love about being a writer. It continues to develop. But while no one ever knows everything about writing and editing, you’re so right… you need to bring your own skills to the table.

  2. It amazes me when I hear about writers lambasting agents over rejections! A rejection is, in fact, feedback — even if it arrives via form letter with no more than a ‘Dear Author’ salutation. Sure, it would be great to get a nugget of something to run with, but as you said, that’s a bonus. Writing is hard, can be isolating and frustrating, but agents are not hand holders. And if you expect that, maybe you need to grow up a little before querying? : )

    • Hi Karma,

      Yeah, funny thing is, I have my own stack of rejections I’ve received over the years as a submitting writer. I do remember the frustration, but I definitely took the form rejections to mean “work much harder, you’re far off the mark,” and the personalized rejections to mean, “you’re close, but no cigar. Keep working and you’ll get there!”

      And I think people should definitely take a deep breath and a break before immediately responding to any sort of rejection. In this world of immediate interaction, we have to be extra careful before we press “send.”

  3. Were people always so rude when their work was rejected? Do you have any clues to the ages of your repliers?
    I wonder if this belief they are entitled to absolute acceptance has been fostered by the same processes that makes students feel free to crucify any professor who has the temerity to grade them on their work based on quality ?

    • Hi Jeanne!

      One of the worst was someone probably in her 40’s-50’s. I’m not sure what is behind this sense of being owed. But I know what you mean about what professors now must face. There’s a need for respect and for self-respect as well. Taking responsibility for your own work is a strength, and that leads to respect too, I believe.

  4. What if an agent sent you a rejection, offered no advice, but asked to see it again if the author tweaked the manuscript? This happened to a friend last week….yes, it really was a friend, not me. 🙂

    • Hi Sharon,

      If the writer is open to revision, then she can send a quick note to the agent thanking her for being willing to give it another look, and saying that she will revise and resubmit it soon. I’m assuming the agent pointed out some reason for the rejection. If the author is in anyway unclear about what the agent is saying, she can ask the agent to clarify… something like, “You referred to problems with the start of the manuscript. Could you be a bit more specific and let me know if you had a problem with the pacing of the start, or if it was another issue that made you pass on this manuscript?” What your friend shouldn’t do is something like, “You had said the start of the manuscript is too slow, can you be more specific?”

      If the agent says the start of a manuscript is too slow, then the writer can definitely work with that and analyse if the issue is a matter of structure, or pacing, or too much prose, etc.

      I hope this makes sense and helps your “friend.” Kidding! 😉

  5. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday 09-13-2012 « The Author Chronicles

  6. Pingback: Top Picks Thursday 09-13-2012 | The Author Chronicles

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