9.20.18: a rebel alliance of quality content
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not-so-secret agents, man
literary agents enter the blogosphere
by jael mchenry (@JaelMcHenry)

On our darkest nights, every unpublished author has probably said nasty things about agents and publishers. And these days, it’s hardly even the publishers we blame: since most don’t take unagented submissions, we don’t even have the chance to be rejected by them, which means that it’s just the agents we’re up against. And sometimes our words about them are unkind.

They reject us. Frequently. Constantly. We pour out our hopes and dreams and in return, we get a form letter. Because the rules of the game largely forbid phone calls or follow-up inquiries, our creative imaginations have to fill in all the blanks. A swift rejection means they never gave us a chance. A slow rejection means the query sat on someone’s desk. They are faceless and distant, powerful and forbidding, difficult and capricious. We say these things about them. We lust for their attention and they terrify us. All those "not right for us at this time" form letters. All those self-addressed stamped envelopes.

But now, there’s definitive proof that agents are people too. And how do we know this?

They blog.

When I first started looking for representation, way back in the late 90s, the best that you could do was buy a Writer’s Market, write up some letters, put them in the mail, and wait for a couple of months. That’s just how it was done. My first agent didn’t know how to use his AOL account, and all his correspondence to me came via the U.S. Postal Service, hot off his typewriter.

My second go-around with agents, about five years ago, crept a little further up the technological ladder. Some agents had started accepting queries via E-mail. I snagged one of these, and virtually all of my correspondence with the agency took place over E-mail, even sending drafts of the novel back and forth, with tracked changes. Still no publication, but still, it was progress.

And now, as I look for agents again, it’s like a whole different world. Many agencies accept E-mail queries; some even require them. And many of the top literary agencies -- I might even say most -- have websites listing their submission guidelines, their agents, the genres they represent, their client lists, and countless other tidbits.

But static websites and internet forms are nothing compared to the ultimate in high-tech personalization: the agent blog.

Which ones you’ll want to read depends on what you’re looking for.

For straight-up useful advice on what agents love and hate, I tend to head for Lit Agent X. Rachel Vater is an agent with Lowenstein-Yost Associates in New York, and her blog stays pretty focused on her experiences as an agent. She blogs about pulling an all-nighter to read 300 queries, or what she looks for in a synopsis. It’s a professional blog with some personality thrown in.

For a personal blog with some professionalism thrown in, you can read Agent Obscura. While some blogs come off as marketing tools, this one comes off as, well, Nadia’s blog. That Nadia happens to be a literary agent with Firebrand Literary is not totally front-and-center. But it’s an engaging read, and one that underlines the "agents are people too" message with a big fat Magic Marker.

Try this experiment: read Agent Obscura, and then go straight to Jennifer Jackson’s blog. (For extra credit, also hit Pub Rants.) They’re all agents, yes, but they come off very, very differently. Different people, different voices, different ideas. If you’re smart, reading them will put you off writing generic "Dear Agent" queries forever.

If you want to while away a few hours, there’s always Miss Snark. She’s a thoroughly anonymous agent, and although I’ve seen her legitimacy questioned on at least one other agent blog, she has legions of fans. Legions. As you might guess from the name, she specializes in being entertainingly mean to people. Better for entertainment than for advice on a daily basis, but she’s got a lot of solid content if you go directly to the Snarkives.

For an equally anonymous but much more focused viewpoint, check out The Rejecter. Lots of helpful advice here, not from an agent, but from an agent’s assistant -- possibly even more relevant for many authors, because if you can’t impress the assistant with your query, the agent will never see it. Updated frequently. Which is awesome.

There are also blogs maintained by specific agencies, with different agents and writers contributing on any given day. These include The Knight Agency and Dystel & Goderich. The effect is pretty much what you would expect from a blog written by a group instead of a person. The DGLM blog has only been up for about six weeks, so there’s not much to read there yet. But The Knight Agency’s content varies widely, from promotions for their new releases to advice on copyright law to chat and contest announcements. Not very personal, but if it’s an agency you’re thinking of querying, it’s required reading.

Will reading agent blogs get you representation? No promises, obviously. But they’re great resources for more specific advice than the kind of "make your query stand out" platitudes that you may be used to hearing.

And if nothing else, reading agent blogs will remind you that agents are people, not some monolithic shadow organization that exists solely to sow self-doubt and confusion among the ranks of unpublished authors everywhere.

(Or if they are, they’re getting much, much better at covering their tracks.)


Jael is tired of being stereotyped as just another novelist/poet/former English teacher/tour guide/"Jeopardy!" semifinalist/bellydancing editor-in-chief with an MFA who was once an overachieving oboe-playing alto newspaper editor valedictorian from Iowa. She was also captain of the football cheerleading squad. Follow me on Twitter: @jaelmchenry

more about jael mchenry


mantra for the novelist
a novel approach to motivation
by jael mchenry
topic: writing
published: 2.3.06

the secret to getting published
just one step from novice to novelist!
by jael mchenry
topic: writing
published: 11.4.09


jael mchenry
11.7.06 @ 9:58a

Y'know, the more I read Miss Snark, the more I wonder if she could actually be an agent... she updates SO frequently. She's either incredibly efficient or she's got a decent amount of time on her hands.

tracey kelley
11.9.06 @ 10:42p

Man. I have to spend some serious time bookmarking all of these sites. Good on ya for the research, doll!

jael mchenry
11.10.06 @ 9:11a

Thanks! As I've been tracking these, I've noticed who updates when. Miss Snark and The Rejecter generally have new content several times a day. Pub Rants is most days, Jennifer Jackson and Rachel Vater every few days. Agent Obscura has only updated once since I wrote this column, but it was a big update.

They're also very recursive -- noticed the other day that someone sent the same question to both The Rejecter and Miss Snark, plus Miss Snark linked to a "day in the life of an agent" thing that Rachel Vater wrote. Once you start reading one of these blogs, you start to get nudged around to the other ones also.

sandra thompson
11.12.06 @ 9:39a

For those of us with even the flimsiest of litarary pretensions, this is very valuable information. Thanks, Jael.

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