How to Avoid Getting an Agent


I suppose there are several good ways to make sure you don’t get an agent. You could, for instance, never try to get an agent. Or you could lack writing skill. You could pitch books that nobody finds interesting.

But let’s say you are trying to get an agent, and you are a good writer with good ideas. What trait can stop you from getting an agent?

In a word: Negativity.

If you’re negative about the publishing industry; if you complain about agents and publishers and the unfairness of it all; if you’re resentful about bad books being published; if you speak disparagingly of specific publishers or editors or agents… you can be pretty sure most agents will not want to work with you.

There are plenty of places on the Internet for you to rant about everything that frustrates you with publishing. But I urge you to use caution, because agents and editors have the same Internet access you do. Sometimes we Google your name if we like your writing and are considering discussing representation with you. If we find things that scare us away, you’ll never know we were even investigating you. You’ll get a form rejection.

I’ve had the experience of sitting in face-to-face meetings with writers who have a ton of potential and may have even published before. Then they start bagging on the publishers they were with; and how the publisher never promoted or marketed their books; and how the sales department dropped the ball and that’s why the book didn’t sell; and how their editor “done them wrong.” Soon I am mentally walking away.

It honestly stuns me when a writer sits there and has the nerve to brutally diss an editor who may be a respected colleague. Or denigrate an entire publishing company that’s a big part of my day-to-day business, or vilify a fellow agent who might not have served them well but also doesn’t deserved to be gossiped about.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for honest conversation between an agent and a potential client. It’s possible and even desirable for a writer to express their opinion about their past experience and their concerns for the future. I have more than one client who had a difficult experience with a former publisher or agent, and we’ve spoken openly about it. But any savvy agent can tell the difference between someone who’s justifiably concerned, and someone who’s going to be a nightmare to work with, never happy, and always blaming everyone else when things don’t go their way.

Of course, you could be harboring all this negativity in private and maybe nobody would know. But at some point, I imagine your attitude will show through. Your bitterness will eat you alive from the inside out, and eventually will stop you from being able to produce good writing.

Resentment, negativity, and blame also make you incapable of learning from a situation. If you’re busy blaming the publisher for your previous book not selling, you’re probably not asking yourself what you can do better to help the sales of your next book. If you’re convinced that all agents are evil because they send form rejection letters after reading fewer than 500 words of your writing, then you’re not going to be focused on writing a better book.

And of course, all that negativity begs the question: why are you trying so hard to be part of an industry that you clearly disdain?

The lesson here applies to all of us. Maybe you’re not extreme as I’ve indicated here, but maybe you find yourself having moments of real frustration. Don’t let it go unexamined. Watch your attitude. Don’t get resentful or bitter. If you start getting that way… take a break. Back off from the pursuit of publishing. Take some time to get yourself back in a good place.

There are enough difficult things to deal with in this crazy publishing industry. Bad attitudes shouldn’t be one of them.

So tell us: Have you struggled with your attitude? How do you deal with very real frustrations and keep them from developing into bitterness?

© 2011 Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. FantasyWriter on September 16, 2013 at 3:32 PM

    Nobody likes to work with someone who they think will turn around and start bad-mouthing them in the same way. On the other hand, though, I’ve read some agents’ blogs where THEY derogate a specific submission (obviously no names used, but still being rude) and even though this has never been done with my work, it makes it a lot harder to put yourself out there when you know you might be talked about that way… Then again, I suppose even published writers have to learn to deal with negative reviews…

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  4. Rachelle on January 11, 2011 at 1:24 PM

    >Anon 9:13, those two sentences are pretty funny, and neither are true. I'm sure plenty of "meek" personalities have produced great works. And as an agent, I'm aware of how to have good relationships with exceptional writers, few of whom have the cliché "ego."

    Sounds to me as if you're operating under some stereotypes that don't hold true across the board.

  5. Anonymous on January 11, 2011 at 9:13 AM

    >No meek writer has ever produced GREAT work.
    If you, as an agent, want to hit it big and produce a bestseller, you will have to put up with an exceptional writer's ego.

  6. Robert on January 8, 2011 at 5:05 AM

    >Your provocative blog prompted me to respond, Rachelle. Please see 'How to lose an author'

  7. De's Stories on January 7, 2011 at 2:01 PM

    >This is an excellent post, a great source for every author to read as we all get into those moments of frustration. I have to admit, a year ago when I submitted to various agents and publishers, I received 40+ rejections and a few of those rejection forms weren't the nicest. I ranted and raved to myself in private, but eventually I put my whole heart and soul into writing my second book with the determination to make it a really good story with good, solid writing.

  8. jesswords10 on January 5, 2011 at 8:30 PM

    >Interesting post. I'm attending my first writer's conference in April and they have opportunities to meet with agents. I don't, as of this time period, have an immediate work I'd like to publish, but would you recommend setting up a time slot? I'd like to sit in on one to see how it goes, find out what a writer needs when they begin the publishing process. Any resources I should look into? I'd like to be prepared and respectful of their time.

  9. Douglas Morrison on January 5, 2011 at 6:12 PM

    >Great post!

    I've felt for a long time that many think being negative is a way of showing their intellect. So easy to spot flaws in others.

    Verisimilitude of the pessimists?

    Finding what is great is not always along the path of least resistance, but it makes for a better walk.

    In what I do, I look for the best and give my every effort to point to it.

    It's Ok to kick a little at things now and again, but not as a way of life, and its certainly no way to convince me of intellect.

    May 2011 be the year of looking for the best in all things!


  10. Julie Weathers on January 5, 2011 at 3:20 PM

    >Crap happens. It happens to everyone, even the people we think live fairytale lives.

    I'm usually pretty upbeat, but there are times I just get battle weary. When that happens, I have to bury myself in something positive. I send cookies to soldiers frequently and I'm working on making quilts for soldiers and lap throws for wounded soldiers.

    When I want to indulge in a pity party, I just look at my soldiers' pictures album and realize how really good I have it.

    My youngest son told me about an explosion at their base shortly before dawn. They went out when it got light to investigate and found what was left of some insurgents who had been planting an IED on the road the convoy would have driven down that morning. So, before breakfast, my son who was barely old enough to drink started out his day picking up body parts.

    I didn't pick up body parts when I got up this morning, so it's probably going to be a pretty good day.

    Bed things do happen, but it's part of the journey. It, and how I deal with it, makes me who I am. I may not be able to control a situation, but I can control how I react to it.

  11. Laura Campbell on January 5, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    >If I am unhappy about a particular experience, I do write about it. When I post on my blog, I make every effort to remain objective and use the platform to analyze the situation and determine what I can change to avoid repeating the experience. One thing I do stray from is ranting and dragging someone or their name through the mud.

  12. Amy on January 5, 2011 at 9:25 AM

    >Two things here —
    – you HAVE to work, at least a little, with the DMV in order to drive. I'm not aware that we have a choice there. Is there anyone out there who uses the Internet who thinks there's no alternative to traditional publishing?
    – saying you don't like the DMV or traditional publishing offends few people. Saying you don't like specific PEOPLE at the DMV or in publishing is bound to offend someone.

    Agents need to work with their writers – regularly. But they don't need to choose to work with YOU. So you can be negative all you want. But if you're plastering it all over the Internet, don't be shocked when you don't get a lot of people wanting to play in your sandbox.

  13. Anonymous on January 4, 2011 at 9:46 PM

    >"Just because I want to drive a car doesn't mean I enjoy dealing with the DMV."

    That about sums it up for me too. Hope that wasn't too negative.

  14. Anonymous on January 4, 2011 at 8:59 PM

    >So here is a strange problem – what if an agent is googling you and they find out that your name is also the name of – well – an "adult" personality of some sort(true – even though my name is real and is in no was risque – there is someone else out there with a very different aim in life who has the same name and is on the internet much more than me) – what then? Will they send a form rejection because they are offended thinking I am somone who I am SURELY not. Should I submit under another name? Gosh I never thought of that.

  15. K.Victoria Smith on January 4, 2011 at 8:33 PM

    >Thanks for the post. I just wrote in a similar vein on my own blog,

    I see it everyday, people who get sucked into the swamp of negativity. It is so important and yet so hard to be able to step outside of ourselves and see the help and truth in rejection and trials, but it is the path to growth. The other piece is to surround yourself, physically and electronically with a network of people who help each other grow.

  16. Ev Maroon on January 4, 2011 at 7:39 PM

    >I agree that writers, especially the unpublished among us, need to be professional and convivial, which necessarily precludes over-negativity and bitterness. But Snooki had her book published today, and the people in my life–even the publishing folks–would wonder what was wrong with me if I didn't make at least one Twitter comment about it. It's good to laugh about the industry, too.

  17. Jess on January 4, 2011 at 7:13 PM

    >Ahhh, this post put a smile on my face. After 20-something rejections, a request, (which was ultimately rejected) and 20-something more rejections – I'm still keeping my head up. I figure as long as I do my research and get my work out there, at least it's getting read, and that's a step in the right direction! Call me Pollyanna. 🙂

  18. Michael K. Reynolds on January 4, 2011 at 6:59 PM

    >Beautiful post Rachelle,

    I do believe that incredibly talented, big idea people…with miserable dispositions…can get published, and have a good chance of being successful by worldly standards.

    But, when it's said and done, they'll still be miserable. I don't aspire to be any of the "great" writers, who experienced forgetable lives.

    Being positive has so much more to do with life than just getting published. It's about being grateful for each and every moment. If you can master that, then you have something valuable to write about.

  19. phyllis sweetwater on January 4, 2011 at 6:53 PM

    >I enjoy the posts here! If you would like to receive an award, see my blog.

  20. Carol J. Garvin on January 4, 2011 at 4:50 PM

    >For many years I owned a professional dog show business. It was eye-opening to notice how negative comments and gossip circulated and how people tended to avoid those who were spreading it. The 'glass half full' people were always more pleasant to deal with.

    Frustration is a temporary setback. I glean what I can from the experience and use it to help develop an alternate approach. I'd rather smile as often as I can. Frowning causes wrinkles. 🙂

  21. Anonymous on January 4, 2011 at 4:46 PM

    >I've been very neutral-sounding in my explanation to my current agent about my working relationship with the previous agent. It's been quite obvious what opinion my agent has formed, but eventually my agent suggested dropping a brick on the ex-agent's head.

    So…sometimes there's room for negativity. But I'll let the opposite party be the one to initiate it. If the other party truly was behaving less-than-professionally or the ex-publisher done you wrong, the story itself will reveal the villains. Show don't tell applies here too.

    (No bricks were dropped during the writing of this comment. LOL!)

  22. Nikole Hahn on January 4, 2011 at 4:40 PM

    >"If you're negative about the publishing industry; if you complain about agents and publishers and the unfairness of it all; if you're resentful about bad books being published; if you speak disparagingly of specific publishers or editors or agents… you can be pretty sure most agents will not want to work with you."


    If I am going through an especially difficult time (usually has nothing to do with the publishing industry), I find it hard to write well. Bitterness often blocks all of my creativity. It doesn't flow again in good writing until I have dealt with that bitterness.

  23. phyllis sweetwater on January 4, 2011 at 4:26 PM

    >Honestly, if I continue to get rejected I know it is because I need to improve my writing. So I try to improve it. Sometimes, out of excitment, I jump the gun submit stuff that maybe isn't ready. I expect to get rejected. If I really want to "drive a car" and get my book published I'll go to and do it myself. You make your world. Attitude is everything.

  24. Jill on January 4, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    >Dorci–that's my point. The greatest authors did do this–engage in (often) very negative debate and criticism. But I feel like this is moving in a different territory from Rachelle's argument. She doesn't like whiners, and I don't blame her. What worries me, in a broader way than what Rachelle meant, is that it looks like we're moving into an era in which debate itself is criticized and shut down. The Disney mantra "if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" disgusts me. There's a time and place for not saying nice things–of course, that time may not be when talking to a potential agent or editor. Context is everything.

  25. Susan S on January 4, 2011 at 2:04 PM

    >Such an important idea. There really is a difference between critique and criticism – and a similar line separating the appropriate way to deal with rejection and sorrow from bitterness and negativity.

    Nobody's saying a writer has to like rejection, and few of us would even try to claim it's possible to get used to it completely. That said, every time I start feeling frustrated I literally pull out Rudyard Kipling's "IF" and read it through again.

    Those worn-out tools leave no room for negativity.

  26. Jean Ann Williams on January 4, 2011 at 1:57 PM


    I truly appreciate this post. I've gotten discouraged many times, but never bitter. I've seen others get bitter, and I don't want any of that. I am a half-glass full person and like it that way.

    Every agent and editor that I have crossed paths with have been kind and professional. Like I said in yesterday's post, when my frustration at the economy was discouraging me to the point of wondering if I should keep writing, I said, "I'll write whether or not my stories become books." That settled things for me.

    To prove it, I'm not only writing like a wild fire, but I bought my winter's supply (six this time) of how-to books on writing and am increasing my knowledge from the comfort of my home.

  27. Timothy Fish on January 4, 2011 at 1:55 PM

    I’m sure you’re right. For that matter, I very much doubt James Fenimore Cooper thought much of Mark Twain’s essay on all that was wrong with his work. I certainly wouldn’t have enjoyed receiving such a lambasting, even if it did come from the great Mark Twain. In reading his essay, I sometimes think he went too far. But we can be negative without being nasty. I believe that if negative comments are voiced with the right attitude, they can help the publishing industry improve.

  28. Maria I. Morgan on January 4, 2011 at 1:39 PM

    >It's so important to keep the proper perspective. Agents and publishers are people with jobs to do. I agree that there's an appropriate time and place to air concerns. Negativity doesn't win friends or influence people! Good post!

  29. Kerri M. on January 4, 2011 at 1:38 PM

    >Great post Rachelle!

    The thing that keeps me positive is never taking anything personally. I try REALLY hard to take a step back and divorce my emotions from my work.

    Is it easy? No way Jose! If I do get upset, I allow myself to have a pity party for ten minutes. Then I brush myself off and get back to work.

    And if that fails, there's always chocolate…and wine.

    Plus – there's way too much negativity in the world already. I'd rather lighten the mood, instead of being a cranky 'Negative Nelly'.

  30. Dorci on January 4, 2011 at 1:18 PM

    >Re: Timothy's and Jill's comments-I'd say a person would have to be an exceptionally gifted author in order to earn themselves the leeway of speaking out negatively and have publishers and fellow authors be willing to overlook it.

  31. Wendy Paine Miller on January 4, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    >Being negative is easier than being positive. I like a challenge. I strive for the latter.

    I can learn from anything.
    ~ Wendy

  32. Jill on January 4, 2011 at 12:28 PM

    >I'd have to agree with Timothy Fish that we have a long history of negativity amongst writers. They debated. They blasted each other. They blasted publishers. They wrote negative reviews. If a journal didn't publish their opinions, they'd start their own. They definitely didn't play nice.

    On the other hand, Rachelle is right. Who wants to deal with a whiner? I've got four kids, and I know how annoying whining can be. Let's not shut down debate and play too nice, though. That's boring. Let negativity be the driving force that spawns creative action rather rather than bad attitudes that eat away at the soul. That's my best advice to anyone! 🙂

  33. Sarah on January 4, 2011 at 12:25 PM

    >This really does hold true for any industry. Most people wouldn't go to a job interview and complain about their past employer the whole time. They know that would be stupid.

    But, the process of writing books is so personal that maybe some of those… smarter business inclinations… get tucked away in a dark corner of the brain.


  34. David on January 4, 2011 at 12:16 PM

    >Great post! Thank you for saying this out loud.

    We speak and teach at several conferences for writers. We always end up hearing this kind of negative energy; it's depressing.

    We've been blessed to work with four Christian publishers so far. All four have been courteous, professional and Christ-like in their behavior toward us and others. All four have been decidedly "author-friendly."

    Perhaps some of the negative remarks we hear are birthed from unrealistic expectations — but even so, what a turnoff.

    Thanks for posting this. Please consider re-posting it about once per quarter or so. 🙂

  35. T. Anne on January 4, 2011 at 12:01 PM

    >I agree. There may be books out there we find less than desirable, but lamenting over it shouldn't be our focus. We should strive to be the best writers possible with a great attitude to match.

  36. Katie on January 4, 2011 at 11:56 AM

    >This is great advice, thanks!

  37. Melissa Alexander on January 4, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    >To me, it just comes down to understanding the industry. I read blogs and forums, and I learn what other people's experiences are — I learn what "normal" is:

    Normal for the publishing industry is *slow*, so I just put my big girl panties on and wait. No reason to get negative.

    Normal for the publishing industry is competitive, so I work on my craft and my story until I'm good enough to *compete*. No reason to get negative.

    Normal for the publishing industry is professional, so I act like a grown up. Publishing is a business. Rejection happens for any number of reasons, some of which are because the work isn't ready and some of which are completely out of the writer's control. No reason to get negative.

  38. B.E.T. on January 4, 2011 at 11:16 AM

    >Well, I admit after getting a form rejection I'm not that happy. So, I have my tantrum, then remind myself they are busy people and the industry right now is tough, not impossible, and keep on trucking.

  39. Erin MacPherson on January 4, 2011 at 10:10 AM

    >I've had such a wonderful experience with my publisher/editor/agent that I haven't really struggled with bitterness/a bad attitude. I think I have the opposite feelings… I'm scared that my publisher/editor won't be able to work with me again because they've been so great, I'm afraid that any future experience won't measure up.

  40. Tracey Neithercott on January 4, 2011 at 10:07 AM

    >This was a great post that I think applies to many industries. It's silly to think publishing is any different. Besides, this is what family is for: To vent frustrations that are inappropriate to publish online.

  41. Anonymous on January 4, 2011 at 9:57 AM

    >"And of course, all that negativity begs the question: why are you trying so hard to be part of an industry that you clearly disdain?"

    Maybe people wrote a book they want to publish.

    Just because I want to drive a car doesn't mean I enjoy dealing with the DMV.

  42. Christine on January 4, 2011 at 9:34 AM

    >I only have control over two things: writing and submitting. I love to write and it's what I do. I tell myself that every "no" is a "yes" to having more time to become a better writer and craft a better story. Failure is not an option. And I feel like a success in that I'm doing exactly what I want to do, I have amazing friends in this writing world, and I have grown as a human being because of this crazy obsession.

    I like being a part of the writing community. I am a writer. I've got more than one complete novel under my belt and tons of stories in my head. There isn't room in my heart for bitterness. I'm too busy building my future.

    Thanks for a great post!

  43. Yvonne Osborne on January 4, 2011 at 9:08 AM

    >My mother taught me a long time ago not to gossip or talk about people in a disparaging way. I'm sure I stumble on occasion because that's what people do, but negativity has never been a problem for me. How do I deal with the frustration of rejection? I open up my Word program and bury myself in a manuscript. I leave the room and enter the vivid, continuous dream. I'm a postive person and I know one day I'll be a published author, not just a writer.

  44. Sue Harrison on January 4, 2011 at 7:57 AM

    >Two times during my writing career, the company publishing my novels was purchased by another company, leaving me a great deal of uncertainty about the future.

    My agent and editors were incredibly supportive. They taught me to work hard despite the uncertainty. With their encouragement, I found that immersion in the joy of writing – like Michelle said – was an incredible balm.

    Later, when the care required by my mother-in-law (Alzheimer's) took most of my energy and time, I found that even five minutes of writing in a day (or maybe during a week) and an attitude of "walking prayer" carried me through the bleak times.

  45. Timothy Fish on January 4, 2011 at 7:38 AM

    >It’s easy to say that we should avoid negativity, but I’m not sure if history has ever born that out as true. At some point, we have to call a spade a spade. All patting each other on the back will get us is a bunch of friends who fall in the ditch together. I realize that some of the negativity comes from there just being way more people who want to have a published book than what there are publication slots available, but the publishing industry is far from perfect and I believe some authors are expressing concerns that should be addressed at some level. Nothing is more frustrating than to have one’s concern ignored and to be told to fall in line and pat the great and terrible publishing industry on the back like everyone else.

    Ironically, the goal of the author is supposed to be to get noticed. Historically, the most memorable authors are those who refused to fall in line and chose to speak out against something. Charles Dickens spoke against the aristocracy. Mark Twain was not one to fall in line either. Had he not chosen to write a negative review of a fellow author’s work, we wouldn’t have the benefit of his rules of writing that so many of us authors have studied.

    But I do think we need to be careful. While being negative is sometimes a good thing, expressing negativity as a result of our frustration can cause us trouble. When we are frustrated, it is difficult for us to stay true to the goal of pointing out the problem and avoid verbal vengeance against the people who has caused our frustration.

  46. Dorci on January 4, 2011 at 7:37 AM

    >Thanks for the reminder, Rachelle. I do a pretty good job of keeping my attitude in check most of the time. And then sometimes it feels like all sides are crashing down around me and I have a moment of weakness when I spew some ugliness. That’s not fair and that’s not fair to anyone in earshot, or eyeshot, if you will. I need to keep the prayers going up and my mouth shut. Thanks, again.

  47. Gary Baker on January 4, 2011 at 7:12 AM

    >The name Pat Kavanagh (RIP) may not mean much to you but I remember sitting with her at a large publishers around 2002 as she ‘did her thing’. I was in awe of her and flabbergasted these highly intelligent, highly motivated people should be discussing something plucked from the ether by a nobody. I felt honoured. Anyone who’s disrespectful of people prepared to invest time and effort on an unknown author’s behalf is … well, it’s just rude.

  48. Mike Koch - Protect The Risen on January 4, 2011 at 7:10 AM

    >I tend to agree that negativity will not get you far in any industry and neither will burning bridges. Nice read, thanks.

  49. RobynBradley on January 4, 2011 at 6:58 AM

    >Great post, as usual. There’s no room for negativity. It’s the lowest form of bad energy. Feeling discouraged and depressed at times is normal, I think, and different from negativity, which is just mean spirited-ness. As for coping with depression, my panacea is usually a movie, preferably one with George Clooney. 🙂

  50. Michelle on January 4, 2011 at 4:45 AM

    >After 50+ rejections, sometimes it really is hard to not be bitter. My faith and love for my work keeps me strong against it, mostly. If I’m feeling angry or sad that nothing’s going anywhere on the agent front, I work myself into HUGE writing outbursts. The product might not be great, and I might bury it in my files somewhere no one can see, but it helps me feel so much better! And I come out of it feeling energized and ready to push on. Great post!

  51. Abigail on January 4, 2011 at 4:36 AM

    >I was wondering. If you give a negative review of a book (not like “this book is terrible, blah blah blah rant rant rant about how book is terrible”), like an honest review, even though negative rating, about the book, would that hurt the chances of the writer getting an agent and/or publisher? What I mean is not a poor review, but an actual review, like you would for a book that you give praise to, that you truly love, just…opposite if you dislike the book (lol, why would you say the book is amazing if you don’t think so to begin with?).Edit to clarify and fix a typo. :p

  52. Lisa on January 4, 2011 at 3:52 AM

    >Thank you so much for this blog entry, This is very interesting, I had a friend that was a author and he had written over 41 books and he taught me a few things that I didn’t know about writing, I didn’t even know where to begin. I value readings such as you have posted. Keep them up I love to read and learn, hopefully one day soon. I will have enought to put together a book. I’m working on it.Happy New Year!Lisa