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  • Writer's pictureS.E. Reed

Lit Agents Spill the Tea

There has been a lot of discourse of late, regarding agents behaving… badly. Ugh, I hate that phrase! But like in any career field, those misbehaving tend to get all the media. So, I thought it would be nice to hear from some agents who aren't spinning out of control and see what they have to say. So I contacted 4 fabulous Lit Agents I’m friendly with and asked them to spill the tea. 


And in case you were wondering, I do not have an agent. Miraculously, I’ve signed 8 novels to 3 small publishers on my own. Legal language is fairly universal, so because of my day job, I felt qualified to review my offers during the querying process.


However, if you are uncomfortable with contract language, it’s imperative you have an agent to review the terms, negotiate changes and champion your success! At the end of the day having an agent is the safest way to be traditionally published. 


First up, we have the insightful Vicky Weber. 


Can you share your name, Agency, years as an agent, any professional associations and credentials you have.

Vicky Weber, 2 years as an agent but about 4-5 in the industry. I started at The Purcell Agency but now found a home at Creative Media Agency. I'm a member of the AALA and am a bestselling author of children's picture books myself.


We all understand the #MSWL is the way to narrow down a search to find an agent who will represent our current WIP. But, can you share some other things a querying author should look out for when researching an agent? 

Definitely talk to other authors in your genre to get honest opinions and recommendations. QueryTracker is also a great place to look because you can set up alerts when specific agents open/reopen to queries, which saves a ton of time.


Tied to the previous question, what are some red flags authors should look out for when they are researching agents? 

When you're researching agents or you have an offer of rep and are making the decision, ask questions about their submission strategy. Not having one is a big red flag and so is lack of sales. Now, that doesn't mean you should discount newer literary agents, but it does mean to read between the lines. For example, if someone has been an agent for over 10 years and has never landed a Big 5 sale, alarm bells should be going off in your head. Never, ever pay a literary agent upfront for any reason and honestly, find other writers you trust. That way, if you're unsure about something, you have people to ask for help.


What are the websites you use to collect trusted industry news, in a sea of fake-news & AI generated headlines. 

Publisher's Lunch and Publisher's Marketplace, for sure. Otherwise, I rely on other agents and editors for industry news.


What’s one thing you want querying authors to know about you and how you’ll handle their work if they submit to you? 

I reply to every single one of my queries, even though it sometimes take a while. I also try to be as specific as possible with my responses as often as I can. It's not a perfect system because I get anywhere from 500-800+ queries per month, but it's important to me to try.


Anything else you want to share or comment on in today’s agenting/publishing climate?   

Take a deep breath and know that you aren't alone. It's easy to feel discouraged so surround yourself with a good support system and remind yourself why you write in the first place. Often, the most persistent authors are the most successful in this industry.


Next, we have Jenna Satterthwaite, who knows this industry like the back of her hand. 


Can you share your name, Agency, years as an agent, any professional associations and credentials you have.

Jenna Satterthwaite. I've been an Associate Agent at Storm Literary for 6 months. The most important credentials I have as an agent are the 10 years I've spent writing, querying, signing with an agent myself, and (yay) getting published--in fact, my debut thriller is out July 2nd with Mira Books--Made for You. All of that time spent writing, querying, etc., was my on-the-ground education in all things publishing, and what I believe prepared me to hit the ground running as an agent.


We all understand the #MSWL is the way to narrow down a search to find an agent who will represent our current WIP. But, can you share some other things a querying author should look out for when researching an agent? 

Their social media presence. Does it vibe with you? I remember in my querying days, there was an agent on my list, but I ended up not querying them because their Twitter presence was sooooo negative. Constantly criticizing queries they'd seen in their inbox, and generally just being angry about things. I realized that wasn't someone I wanted to work with.


Client references can also be helpful--especially clients who that agent hasn't sold anything for yet. Do they feel prioritized or neglected? Supported or forgotten? How quickly does the agent respond to their emails? Manuscripts? Etc.


Tied to the previous question, what are some red flags authors should look out for when they are researching agents? 

If they belong to an ultra small agency--or an agency that's been losing a lot of agents--I'd really ask about structure. I tell all authors that I offer to rep: the structure of an agency is SO important. It's invisible to outsiders, though, so you really have to come in with questions. Who handles foreign rights? Film? How many sets of eyes are on my contract? Do you guys have a shared editor database? Is the agency collaborative? Do you have sales goals that put pressure on you to perform quickly? Who is your boss at the agency, and what is your relationship like with them?


What are the websites you use to collect trusted industry news, in a sea of fake-news & AI generated headlines. 


Publishers Marketplace reports all deals, so that's a cut and dry way to see what an agent has done from a factual standpoint. Unfortunately, it costs money to access. I also subscribe to Publisher's Weekly and Writer's Digest.


What’s one thing you want querying authors to know about you and how you’ll handle their work if they submit to you? 

I read pages for every query sent to me. Even if your pitch isn't "perfect" (I mean, is that even possible?), I will always dip into the writing, because it's your writing that I'm looking to connect with.


Anything else you want to share or comment on in today’s agenting/publishing climate? 

   

I know agents can seem like big bad gatekeeping wolves. But we experience tons and tons of rejection, too. Nearly every single author I've offered rep to has been a competitive situation with other agents. I've lost out on at least half a dozen authors whose work I fell in love with (hard). I actually just got a no this week, and I've been in a funk ever since. Querying writers are putting themselves out there--but so are we. Every time I fall in love with a project, I face the heartbreak of potentially losing it to an agent who's been at it longer than I have, and has more sales to their name. It's a bit of a catch 22 because I need great authors to make sales, but until I have sales, people will tend to go with the agent who already has sales. Getting your start in agenting is TOUGH and I'm not gonna lie, I am working hard to preserve my mental health and stay positive!


Round three is Christine Goss sharing oodles of resources to bookmark.


Can you share your name, Agency, years as an agent, any professional associations and credentials you have.

I am Christine Goss with FinePrint Literary Management after starting out with The Purcell Agency in October of 2023. I am also a member of the AALA.


We all understand the #MSWL is the way to narrow down a search to find an agent who will represent our current WIP. But, can you share some other things a querying author should look out for when researching an agent? 

Most agents are online in some capacity, whether it be Twitter, Instagram, and/or a website. Visit their profiles to see if you generally align with them and their personality and beliefs.


I also think that most authors and people in the writing community are willing to share their experiences. If you have a repertoire with authors who have agents, or those also in the querying trenches, reach out to see what they have to say! Here is a great TikTok on an author's experience with her first agent and how it changed her search for her second:


Another tip that I use also for myself when gathering the taste of editors, and what I did with agents while I was a querying author myself, is reading the acknowledgments of books-- especially ones you are using for comps. If you like the book you read, and think it’d be a good comparison to your novel, check out the agent in the acknowledgment! It’s proof they like what you write, and have sold a book*. 


*Of course some newer agents won’t have sales (like me), so other methods are better than the last.


Tied to the previous question, what are some red flags authors should look out for when they are researching agents? 

Ok- so I’m kind of going back to my last point of the second question here. While newer agents won’t have sales or many, I would suggest looking at the sales an agent has. Look at where agents are selling to- big 5 or indie. You’ll get a sense of the agents who have relationships with editors at certain imprints. But big red flags are agents that only sell to the same publishing houses or have been working for years and have no sales. There are exceptions to rules, but this is when reaching out to other authors comes in handy.


For these red flags, I cannot suggest Writer Beware enough. I receive their newsletter and have checked their website for both publishers and agents.


What are the websites you use to collect trusted industry news, in a sea of fake-news & AI generated headlines. 

Subscribing to Publisher Lunch is great for up-to-date deals and happenings in the industry. There are a few different options available for a fee, but I think there is a free version as well.


As mentioned previously, Writer Beware is amazing— there is a newsletter and I believe the website is updated frequently. 


I subscribe to a lot of Substacks from industry professionals. Kathleen Schmidt has a great one though I think she just moved to mostly paid content (worth it IMO). She has worked in publishing PR for many years and has great insights to that part of the industry. Courtney Maum is another one I always read (along with her book BEFORE AND AFTER THE BOOK DEAL). Kate McKean has wonderful content, especially when she breaks down her agenting income, what she takes on, and more insider information. Lastly, I just read a great blog by George Sandison that really gets granular about how many books make it to publication (hard stuff to read, but very insightful and realistic). 


And one go-to source for craft and the latest in the industry is The Shit No One Tells You About Writing-- their podcast and newsletter are wonderful and the agents (Carly Watters and CeCe Lyra) do great classes. Bianca does a Beta Reader Matchup. The podcast is free, as is a portion of the newsletter. 


Lastly, I love Jane Friedman for all her resources. She has great content on AI and marketing. Many of her classes are $25 and she has a free newsletter that usually has around 3 articles written by guest authors.


What’s one thing you want querying authors to know about you and how you’ll handle their work if they submit to you? 

I emphasize open communication. That is very important to me. I want to be sure that we are a team and work together towards a career, rather than one book deal. I'm extremely editorial-focused as well, so I usually go through several rounds of revisions, and likely if you're my author you'll hate hearing, "how are they feeling right now?"


Anything else you want to share or comment on in today’s agenting/publishing climate?  

It’s ok to turn down an offer and say no to an agent if you feel like they’re not a good fit. I would suggest only submitting to agents you generally think you’ll get along with but it’s so hard to know. So if you have The Call and you don’t feel it, it’s ok to say no. No agent is better than a bad agent. I'm sure you're all rolling your eyes because the thought is to just get an agent. But I promise you, having someone who isn't a good fit will not propel you forward. (Go back and watch that author's TikTok!)


Also, it's ok to ask for more than two weeks if possible and if you need (or other agents need). And to nudge! Nudge, nudge, nudge!


And last, but definitely not least, is a rising star in publishing, Andie Smith.


Can you share your name, Agency, years as an agent, any professional associations and credentials you have.

My name is Andie Smith and I'm a junior agent at Booker Albert Literary. I am approaching my one year agenting anniversary in September, and was an intern at Booker Albert for a year before that. I'm also a young adult author and the founder of Sun & Spines Editorial, where I offer a range of editorial packages for authors in conjunction with my experience as a developmental editor for Wild Ink Publishing. 


We all understand the #MSWL is the way to narrow down a search to find an agent who will represent our current WIP. But, can you share some other things a querying author should look out for when researching an agent? 

First, always know that #MSWLs aren't everything! For me and I know several other agents, it's so hard to narrow down exactly what we're looking for, and these lists are mainly a bird's eye view of what we'd be interested in seeing. But most of us don't know until it hits our inbox. So while MSWLs are a great guide, definitely don't take them as the end all be all or let them push you away from submitting to a specific agent. If you're on social media, always look for tweets or posts agents put out there about things they are reading and want to see something similar of, comp titles they wish authors would use, etc. You can also research writing workshops and pitch events! These are great ways to connect with other authors, learn about the craft and the industry, and meet agents to get feedback on your submission package. At a deeper level, be sure you agree with how the agent presents themselves and also look at who their current clients are, what genres they're in, how you might fit into the team, etc. 


Tied to the previous question, what are some red flags authors should look out for when they are researching agents? 

Oof, this is tough one because I feel like these days, new red flags are showing up more often. We've all seen the unfortunate situations that have happened on social media even just this last year, and I think it's important to know that us agents are seeing it too. We are watching, learning, and hopefully, speaking up and doing better. The most obvious red flag is if there's any sort of money incentive an agent is trying to pursue with your submission. You do not have to pay an agent to look at your query or represent you. There are events like writing workshops and things that you can pay for to attend classes and learnings, and pitch agents on the spot, but this is different. Next I would say get a feel for who they are, what they share/talk about online, how they carry themselves. You want to sign with someone that you genuinely respect as a person, maybe even share values/mindsets with. A lot of people think not having too much experience is a red flag, but I encourage you to step away from this thinking and know that agencies are growing and new agents are joining the ranks frequently. While some are not a fit for the industry, most of us are excited to be here and we are hungry to work with clients and make a difference in this world. Don't shy away from an agent just because they have less than year experience or no sales yet (they might be in the process of one but can't talk about it), instead, ask about their mentors and support they have at the agency and how that plays a role in their daily activities. 


What are the websites you use to collect trusted industry news, in a sea of fake-news & AI generated headlines.

I stick to the Publisher's Marketplace newsletters for the most part, this is a great overview of information and news in the industry. I'm also lucky to have great mentorship and support at my agency and with several other agent friends who resource share and always make sure everyone is up to date with anything happening or things to be concerned about. 


What’s one thing you want querying authors to know about you and how you’ll handle their work if they submit to you? 

Oh goodness, so much! Transparency and communication is very important to me, so I make that known from day one. I am an editorial agent and the developmental process is my favorite part of revisions, so I am here to help work with you and make your story strong but without taking away your voice and vision. I treat my clients as my partners, I like to say we are in this together and I want it to be a very collaborative relationship. Even though I am a newer agent, I am so honored to be in this position and have finally found my 'place' in the world so to speak, and I aim to use whatever little power I have in this industry to support authors of all groups and at the end day, get stories out there that I am so passionate about. 


Anything else you want to share or comment on in today’s agenting/publishing climate?   

Today or a year ago, or years from now, this industry can be wild. It's tough, emotional, and overwhelming. Agents understand that and we know what authors are going through. Some agents are even authors themselves so there is an extra layer of how much they get it. There's so much I could say about this but I think it's important to know that there are many different paths to publishing, and once you find the right one for you, stick with it. So much is happening these days with imprints closing, agents behaving badly, fear of sharing your work, but at the end of the day, no one is going to be a bigger champion for your stories than yourself. Finding an agent to be your partner through it all is great but finding your community of critique partners, beta readers, and overall writing friends is priceless as you keep writing and hone your craft. We all need someone to talk to about the craziness of this industry, and there is craziness, but I think it's important to remember there are celebrations too. Don't forget to take the wins as they come and keep looking for the next one.


 

Wow! These interviews were so informative. And honestly, they make me feel so much better about the query trenches. Good luck and keep writing!


XO


S.E. Reed

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