No wonder you think agents are weird

Dear Mrs. Snarkarita Clooney,

In response to a query, I received the following (redacted to protect the not so innocent) reply:

Sounds like insanity, what say you?

Dear xxxx,

On behalf of xxxx., I am writing to respond to your email (below) and to thank you for considering our agency. Your book does look promising. Towards that end, we are prepared to ease into a proper and full evaluation by reading material on the conditions as follows - and please note that we do not charge you for this service.

By e-mail, please send us:

1. The 1st 20 pages and the last 20 pages, double spaced, your name and page number on each page, MS Word doc or Mac rtf format, as attachments,

2. A synopsis,

3. Your bio,

4. The history of your submission (what other agents, publishers or editors you have submitted your work to and their responses in full, if possible),

5. Your written guarantee that you will refrain from showing or otherwise soliciting other opinions and/or agency agreements while we look at your work (approx. 3 weeks).

Over to you,



uhhh...they want to read the first and the last but not the middle?
ok, it's a strategy I guess, but not one I've ever used.

And telling you they don't charge?
Why would you think they did? No reputable agent does. Why do they feel the need to mention it?

Calling their evaluation a service is a bizarre turn of phrase. It's not a service. You aren't getting a critique. You're getting a yes/no. Here at Snark Central we call that "a decision".

The history of the submission? With responses? Geeze. Who cares? I mean, unless this project has been seriously shopped by an agent who repped you, who cares what form letters you got previously?

And of course, exclusives stink, even three week ones.

Just for some perspective, I was ratting around in my slush pile this weekend and found six things I wanted partials on. I emailed the writers and asked to see more pages. I asked if anyone else was reading the material. Most of them, DUUUUUHHHHH!!, had more than one response for a partial. Duh because if I think it's good, chances are those clever imps over at Jane's and Paige's, and Kristin's and Kate's will too.

My response? Read those first, get back to the writers promptly. If I get and like the full, my NEXT response is to talk to the client about all the other stuff while inserting clever little wooing phrases about why Snark Central is the place to be.

I'm fully prepared to compete against other agencies by telling you why I'm a good match for you. I win some of those; I lose some. Making someone sign on the dotted line before they've queried widely, or before they've affirmatively chosen the agency is short signted. I only want clients who KNOW I'm the right choice for them because they've looked around and talked to other people.

This agent could be solid and effective and do a good job for you.
This response however doesn't do much to convey that.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like the type of agent complained about by Gawker's Unsolicited: "You have not read it. All of it. Including that middle part that drags harder than Lindsay Lohan on her way to work after a night out."

For this and more on nitwit agents from an editor's POV:


Ryan Field said...

Time was when you actually had to buy WRTIERS MARKET or some such for agent listings, and WRITERS DIGEST was your monthly staple. And you know what, submission guidelines were always varied, always quirky and that's what you expected. Dog bless them all, it's not going to change.

Bernita said...

Has a certain smell.

2readornot said...

There are a couple of legit (and successful) agencies who mention they don't charge fees, for some reason. And I know of another agent (also successful) who insists on responses from others who've read it -- but only if they said something other than the standard.

Adrian said...

Asking for the beginning and the ending isn't necessarily a bad idea. Those are the hardest two bits to write. The beginning has to hook, the end has to satisfy. I've been sorely disappointed by books that had a great beginning and middle, but fizzled in the end.

It might also be a way to weed out people who are querying before they're ready. "I've got a great beginning and a first draft. I can revise it before they ask for pages."

I suppose, for many agents, the synopsis is where to learn if the book has a good arc and an ending. Asking for the final pages may just be another way to determine that.

S William said...

Personally, I would run like the wind away from that train wreck.

David Young said...

Personally I kinda liked the beginning & ending bit.

I had a partial rejected by the same agent (it's easy to recognize him, y'know?)--he really, really didn't like my work, but I was left with the impression that he was a very honest guy. I liked the tone of his emails, anyway, though his direct, blunt approach might not be for everyone.

Anyway, I believe he's serious about what he does, though of course I can't testify as to his effectiveness.

Anonymous said...

I'd send a potential agent a synopsis and whatever selection of pages they think they need to review. I'd also let them know no editors have been queried. I would be happy to send a list of pub credits and a resume.

This guy doesn't even care to read the whole thing. He hasn't let you see his standard contract or offered to represent you. He hasn't made any specific comments re your project or why the idea attracts. This sounds like a form email he sends everyone who queries. Why?

He's given you exactly what, so far? Nothing. He's entitled to exactly what, now? Nothing. He's not your agent, he's not your boss. You don't owe him hello, never mind a list of other agents queried and their comments, etc. I personally would decline to provide that list or an exclusive anything until he is officially my agent, and if that means the next email from him is a reject? Fine.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the exclusivity on partials, there's one of the really big name agencies that requires a three *month* exclusive on partials. In a debate on a writer's board on this matter, most of the published authors seemed to think the unpublished writer should just suck it up and let the agent have the exclusivity (or else the writer didn't have faith in his work that it was publishable.) The thought that a writer's time is just as valuable as an agent's doesn't seem to bother them. Not to mention, even a perfect query or partial to a perfect agent may get passed on if the agent was busy/distracted/in a bad mood/sick. They're human, too (so I've heard.)

Kim said...

The only problem I have with the beginning/ending thing is that one of the most common problems found in manuscripts is the dreaded sagging middle. How the heck can an agent tell that if they don't read the middle? I don't know that it would raise a red flag, but it is kinda weird to me.

Anonymous said...

Please tell your friends not to send rejections copied onto the back of another author's manuscript page. Not only am I rejected, but I know that LNAME/Book Title/Genre was tossed in the trash, too (well not really, the ms was used as stationary). God knows who is getting rejection letters on the back of my "recycled" manuscript pages.

I'm sorry, but this is just unprofessional. I wouldn't accept this kind of communication from my septic tank service.

And if you should decide to snark about the quality of my writing being the problem, know this-- I've just sold this manuscript to a major house, or rather my agent did.

Anonymous said...

I signed with one of the larger NY agencies, and when they asked for the full, they mentioned that they don't charge reading fees. I figured this was just something they did to soothe writer paranoia.

The term "service" is a red flag to me, though. It makes me wonder if they charge for other "services."

And I wouldn't want to air my dirty laundry to a prospective agent at the partial stage. It's really none of his/her damn business what another agent thought about my ms.

Have you researched this agent thoroughly? Overall, he or she sounds sketchy to me.

P.S. Exclusives are good for the agent and bad for you.

MichaelPH said...

Can you imagine you've invented the coolest widget for your pooch and want it marketed...and the widget factory cat says he only wants to see half of it. I say agent "xxxx" should see the whole kit and caboodle to make any serious decision. Not that my opinion means anything in the industry...

BradyDale said...

From my own professional perspective, new people in politics and organizing are often control freaks and try to accomplish/ask for more than they can. maybe it's just a young agency that's trying too hard?

JB said...

This sounds shady and reminds me of a reply I had years ago from a shady agency (ST Literary Agency). I'd suggest double-checking Preditors & Editors before you proceed.

Anonymous said...

Someone is asking the same questions on Snark and Rejecter. I like Rejecter - reminds me of a Mini-me version of Snark.

LadyBronco said...

"Danger, Wil Robinson, Danger!"

I would stay away from this one. Smells funny.

Brian said...

I agree with an earlier comment. "We do not charge for this service" smacks of "however, would you like to hear about the services for which we DO charge?"

David Young said...


It's not a form letter. Or, well, part of it is. There were some more words in the version they sent to me, and not random words either...the agent had clearly read my query & been intrigued. But they do request the same stuff from all authors they are interested in representing. I checked around, y'know?

I sent my query one day, got the request for a partial the next, and after I agreed to the 3-week exclusive I had a (negative) response in a week. Whatever anyone thinks of the guy's judgment, there's clearly no scam potential in his actions.

As for the questions about the first/last thing...it's kinda odd to complain that that way they don't read the middle. It's, um, a partial. Like, not all of the manuscript. Maybe this works for 'em.

Whatever. I don't see what all the flap's about. I think the guy's legit. Even though he didn't like my work.


aardvark.novelista@gmail.com said...

1st and last 20 pages?

Huh? Why? To make sure the author can count?

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

I have proof agents are nuts. From a transcript of a meeting of the Royal Sanitary Fair Commission of Lower Upper Eddington and West Reeds Close:

Miss Uppinton Downs (for the Crown):

Your honor, may I direct your attention to exhibit 10A. You will note that this is a post from an agent's blog. Note the erratic thought processes. Note the questionable spelling.

Now, your honour, notice exhibit 10B. This is a rejection slip sent by the same agent. Note the stains on the center page. Here is a chemist's report stating that they are Gin stains.

Here is another report stating that the stains on the bottom right are tearstains. The analysis further states that the tearstains contain traces of pheynolikotypomalpositon molecules. These only occur when tears are produced by insane laughter.

Your honor, this is, as you know, the 40th example we've produced for this commission's consideration. It's clear that most, if not all, agents are nuts.

If it please the court, at this time the crown would like to submit an order for confinement and psychiatric evaluation of all Literary Agents. Further, we wish to request an order of extradition for blogging American agents.

Only one place is suitable for their confinement, the Home for Wayward Agents and Editors at Dartmoor!

(Mr. E. Redactor, Appointed Defense counsel for Literary Agents and assorted Editors of Ill Repute):

Your honor, the evidence is overwhelming. Lock them all up! There is no way I can defend these people! They're all insane. Evilly, wickedly insane.

Maya said...

The first and last pages didn't bother me. I figured it was someone who didn't want to spend time only to learn that the mss wasn't finished yet. It's just a more specific partial.

I wasn't crazy about "service," but history of submissions flat out worried me. This feels like the agent in question didn't trust his/her own judgment, which doesn't fill ME with confidence.

And I never gave an exclusive for more than a week to anyone.

wassup said...

(Enjoyed your post, pixie princess!)

One of the anonymous posters said, It's really none of his/her damn business what another agent thought about my ms.

My thoughts precisely. Would they actually expect us to admit that an agent said, "This piece of dreck totally sucks ? Yeah, right.

McKoala said...

A few UK agents ask for a list of other agents who have already seen the manuscript - not publishers, agents. Publishers I could understand for sales reasons; agents I don't.

As Miss Snark often tells us, different agents are looking for different things. What does it matter to Mrs Pinkeye that Mr Rednose has already rejected it? Can't she make up her own mind? And if she's automatically going to reject it because ten agents already have done so; or if she's looking to see if Bigwig and Profit have spurned it, and make up her mind based on that, then that's not an agent that I want. I want one that will read my work, good or bad, with an open mind.

Sometimes I wonder if these agents are trying to get themselves to the front of the submissions list - after all, who wants to admit that they've already been rejected twenty times, so why not submit to the agent that asks for the list first?

Whatever the reason, I don't submit to them at all. Maybe I'm foolish, but there's just something that I don't like about that question.

Christine said...

I guess this guy doesn't read Miss Snark.

He wants the beginning and end, but what happens if aliens show up in chapter 14????

Then what's he gonna do, eh?


Anonymous said...

How on earth are you meant to show them the responses of other agents in full, by email? What do they expect you to do, retype the letters? Or perhaps you're meant to scan them in? Madness!

susan said...

"Over to you"???