8 red flags to a literary agent

Blog, Publishing

Book publishing is a commercial business full of highly professional and sophisticated people who love books of all kinds. We’re all looking for new authors with wonderful stories. It’s a complicated and difficult way to make money, but the goal is simple. Book publishers acquire manuscripts which they believe they can market to a particular demographic of readers in order to make a profit.

Among other things, a literary agent attempts to find manuscripts she believes publishers will want to acquire for publication.

Given the infinite information available online about the business of publishing, and the constant reminders about how difficult it is to find and agent and/or a publisher, it continues to astound me how unprofessional so many unpublished writers can be. This weekend I’ve been catching up on queries from unagented writers. On more than one occasion I’ve had to pick up my jaw from the floor.

Here are eight red flags that — rightly or wrongly — make me suspect you are not professional about the business of getting published.

  1. You query me about your manuscript without having read my submissions guidelines.
  2. You pitch your manuscript to me in a comment on one of my old blog posts.
  3. You ask me to assess your memoir even though you have not yet finished a complete first draft.
  4. Despite reading that I’m not accepting fiction queries at the moment, you query me about your novel in the hope that I will make an exception just for you.
  5. You provide your own book cover artwork. (Contracted authors will probably be consulted about cover design, but the publisher almost always has final say over the cover.)
  6. You send the full manuscript as an email attachment without having been invited to do so.
  7. You send an email with four separate attachments and a cover note that says, “Hi Virginia, please see attached.” Would you feel confident about opening an email attachment from a sender you’ve never heard of?
  8. You ask me to connect on LinkedIn. LinkedIn is not for querying agents. Not this one, anyway.

Lots of readers tell me they like my website because I’m open and straightforward. I want to help unpublished writers find publishers, but I’m not a charity and I can’t help everyone. So I want to know: what questions do you have for me as an agent that I haven’t covered on my website? Please don’t be afraid of asking questions. I won’t bite.

Share This