Q4U: Your Tips for Agents & Editors

Yesterday I gave you some tips for making a great pitch at a conference. But as blog reader Karen pointed out, we agents and editors could use some tips, too. So tell us… what would make you more comfortable pitching to us at a conference? What do you need to hear from us?

And let’s open it up beyond conferences. In all your dealings with agents and editors, what can we do to make things easier for you?

Now’s your chance. We’re listening!

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. Fivezone on December 11, 2011 at 2:07 AM


    Great blog post, saw on…

  2. Pam Halter on July 6, 2008 at 1:53 PM

    >Camille, you asked: So Pam, I’m curious…. if you (or your friend) were asked to send a ms, is it possible it wasn’t to spare your feelings, but rather because there was genuine interest?

    Sure, it’s possible the interest is genuine. But I’ve served on a conference staff for several years now, so I hear behind the scenes stuff. By the third day of a conference, editors and agents are exhausted. And, like Rachelle said, they are hesitant to make one more person cry. So, they take everything they’re handed.

    Some take everything from the beginning of the conference. I’m not sure why, especially when they’re already loaded down with luggage and all.

    Mostly, I believe editors and agents would like to give everyone a fighting chance. They can look a little closer at a submission when the author isn’t staring hopefully at them. 🙂

  3. Anonymous on July 5, 2008 at 5:21 PM

    >Hi Rachelle —

    I have a question — you mentioned that the CBA isn’t all that interested in ms. with Catholic protagonists. I’ve just finished a 350-page ms. with a Catholic hero and heroine. Is there any hope for it now? Are there non-CBA publishers who would look at an inspirational romance?
    Thank you,

  4. Cynthia Moe on July 4, 2008 at 10:58 AM

    >I understand what Timothy is saying. Due to some financial setbacks this year (my husband broke his back in a car accident) I won’t be going to any conferences. And I am sad about that because I live about two hours north of Minneapolis.

    That said, I have never had a lot of extra money for conferencing, but I don’t believe my first book would have been picked up by NavPress if I hadn’t met an editor at Faith and Writing face-to-face.

    To me the real benefit to conferencing–beyond networking–is that it reminds me that I am a writer and affirms that the struggle to write is valuable and worthwhile. It fuels the fires to keep writing. I spend a great deal of time alone trying to bang out pages, and I need the encouragement to come home and keep working.

    I know of “writers” who spend more time and effort going to conferences than actually working. Yikes.

    I do think conferencing is worthwhile as long as spending that $1200 does not mean my kids don’t eat for a month :o0.

    Cindy Moe

  5. Timothy Fish on July 3, 2008 at 10:51 PM

    >While I don’t want to discount the value of meeting face to face, I can’t help but wonder about the true value of conferences and whether they are a justifiable expense for the typical writer. Consider the ACFW. The cost of attending the conference is about $1,200. “To try and get to a conference each year” could get very expensive and there is no guarantee that it will ever pay for itself. It is much easier for people who are making their living through the publishing industry to justify the cost of attending a conference than what it is for who are only hopeful that one day they will make money through publishing.

  6. Rachelle on July 3, 2008 at 5:56 PM

    >Anon —

    While we can’t discount the value of meeting face to face, I think the bottom line is what’s on the page. The decision will always be made based on that.

    However for many authors, that “yes” only comes after years of building relationships with other writers, and with editors and agents they meet at conferences; so that when their work finally gets to the “ready” point, they’re already familiar with the players. And the players are familiar with them.

    It’s extremely valuable to try and get to a conference each year; but not necessary.

  7. Anonymous on July 3, 2008 at 5:47 PM

    Just wondering. Do more people get a yes or a ‘I want to read your ms from sending sample chapters per your website’s guidelines or by meeting you in a conference?
    I’m someone who lives in a rural area, pretty far away from the big cities that host most conferences. So my chance to meet you in person is kind of slim.
    If my work is something you’re looking for, does it matter whether I meet you in person or have to look it over per your guidelines? Thanks

  8. Marcie Gribbin on July 3, 2008 at 3:44 PM

    >Um, wow. I’ve never seen or heard of an agent asking writers for tips. Impressive!

    I agree that asking questions puts the writer at ease. Even if the project is not right for you, asking questions will set the writer at ease at their appointment with you, so they might feel more confident and/or more receptive to feedback at their next appointment. And also, asking questions might help the appointment feel less like a painful tooth extraction for you, too, I imagine, or at least it will help the time pass more quickly for both of you.

    Plus, the writer will go around saying how nice you are – always a bonus (unless that’s not what you want 😉 ).

    And then the word will spread of your excellent agentness, and your inbox will have 999 queries a day, everyday, and you won’t have time to write on your blog or make up contests for us.

    Forget it. I’d miss that. Don’t ask questions to those poor nervous souls.

  9. Rebecca LuElla Miller on July 3, 2008 at 1:59 PM

    >For me, the best advice I could give is, Please consider representing fantasy. 😉

    As more and more houses begin publishing the genre, I would hope that more and more agents would represent authors who write fantasy. I’ve heard some agents say in the past they don’t know who to sell it to, but it seems that point is no longer as much of an issue.

    As to these other points, I know editors and agents aren’t in the manuscript critiquing business, but some manuscripts clearly aren’t ready. I would love it if an editor or agent would say that.

    The “not for us at this time” answer has meant just what it says but also “you can’t write yourself out of a paper bag, so don’t call us, ever again.” Well, I suppose it has meant other things somewhere in between as well.

    The point being, a writer doesn’t know whether to scrap the whole project, revise it, or keep trying with another editor or agent who might find it right. A professional’s opinion could help make that decision: “not right for us, and I mean just what I’m saying.” LOL

    One more thing. I don’t know if anyone who hasn’t been through it can appreciate what 15 minute interviews all day long can do to a person. (I know from the days of doing parent-teacher conferences). Add in shop talk over lunch and dinner, on the way to lunch and dinner, before and after church, in the hallway to your room, and just about any other time a writer and editor/agent are in proximity. Needless to say, it is exhausting.

    So how about, in those formal 15 minute get-togethers, starting with prayer. Seems to me God alone can give the energy and insight and emotional strength (for both people), but so often we don’t have because we don’t ask.


  10. Beosig on July 3, 2008 at 1:40 PM

    >To back what Heather said about spilling coffee…

    Be human to us. I have never done a pitch, or even attended a writing conference. However, I used to work for a company that did a “speed dating” kind of thing to arrange for inventors to get their products in front of people that can arrange for production, marketing, and selling of the invention. The “sellers” (inventors) had 10 minutes to pitch a “buyer.” That’s not much time, but there were so many pitches to be done, we never could expand the time slots.

    Pitching a book is not much different from trying to get someone to buy into a new gadget.

    The buyers were a wide variety of people. A few of them were arrogant, rude, and snobbish. A few were open, honest, gregarious, and eager. Most were somewhere in the middle, leaning towards the nicer end.

    I could tell from the way a seller would walk away from the table how they had been treated. Even if the answer was “no”, they would walk away with a smile and a bit of confidence if the buyer treated them with honesty, respect, and integrity. If the buyer berated the seller, and still bought the invention, the seller would walk away distraught even though the ends were positive.

    I guess the whole point to my rambling is to treat us well. A smile, a good handshake, and some genuine warmth exuded in our direction goes a long way. We’re there trying to take a creation that comes from the depths of our being and exposing it to a total (or at least mostly) stranger.

    Like I said, I’ve never done this, but the prospect of doing something like that scares me more than getting a rejection does. I can handle rejection. Can I handle baring my soul to a stranger? We’ll see in a year or so when I have something to pitch.

    Great question!

  11. Lea Ann on July 3, 2008 at 11:48 AM

    >I love the shopping analogy, Rashelle! Makes a lot of sense. To add to that, some of those clothes that you said no to will be bought by someone else as the “perfect” thing!

    So, as with shopping, just because a few editors, agents, publishers passed a ms by, doesn’t mean it won’t be right for someone else.

    So much of it is a matter of preference and personal taste. What’s “in fashion” now is sure to change down the road, so keep trying.

  12. Kate H on July 3, 2008 at 11:16 AM

    >If it’s an actual pitch session and not a manuscript critique where you’ve read the MS ahead of time, it would be nice to start out by telling the author exactly what you perceive the session to be about–what you want from the author. I had an appointment once that I expected to be a pitch session, but the agent didn’t want to hear a pitch–she just wanted to take general questions about the business, which I didn’t really have because I’d already been to her panel.

    Basically, I would just like the agent or editor to take the lead and say something to make the writer feel more comfortable, because it’s a very scary situation for the writer. And yes, give specific feedback and don’t give false hope.

  13. elaine @ peace for the journey on July 3, 2008 at 10:58 AM

    >Be fully present in that 15 minutes. I know…it’s a long process for all of you who are sitting on the other side of the table, but as a writer, I’ve gone through a great deal to get to a conference (both financially and emotionally, etc.) and I always appreciate those publishers/agent who give me the courtesy of my 15 minutes.

    I try to offer the same, anytime I’m having a one-on-one conversation with anyone. For the most part, my experiences have been good in the this area. But this one particular kindness is a gift for those of us who’ve worked so hard to get to the opposite side of your table.


  14. Rachelle on July 3, 2008 at 10:39 AM

    >Camille, Pam is right. Sometimes agents/editors take the proposal with them because they are emotionally exhausted and just can’t risk making one more person cry. Or because they are so mentally tired that they don’t feel like they can make a good decision in that moment. Or because they know the writer would not understand how they could be so sure about the “no” so quickly. So they try to make it easier on the writer by taking more time to communicate the “no” to them.

    Tough truths.

    However, the majority of the time, most editors find a way to say what they mean, whether it’s no, yes, or maybe.

  15. Camille Cannon (Eide) on July 3, 2008 at 10:32 AM

    >I may be way wrong, but I didn’t think there were agents or editors who would ask for an entire ms just to be nice. I’ve heard that they – in general – are insanely overworked and not too shy about saying no thanks if it really is a ‘no’.

    So Pam, I’m curious…. if you (or your friend) were asked to send a ms, is it possible it wasn’t to spare your feelings, but rather because there was genuine interest?

  16. heather on July 3, 2008 at 10:07 AM

    >Spill some coffee on me. Or perhaps just water.
    An editor accidentally spilled coffee on me at a conference.
    Hey, I realized, editors are human. They have accidents, too. That simple act instantly set me at ease.
    Okay, so maybe it’s not prescriptive (that be a whole lotta wasted Starbucks), but it worked for me.

  17. Nicole on July 3, 2008 at 9:50 AM

    >P.S. I like Catherine’ suggestion. Questions are easier to answer than a practiced few sentences/ideas.

  18. Nicole on July 3, 2008 at 9:46 AM

    >When you first “advertised” for submissions as a new literary agent, I sent you a haphazard, too casual, query. You rejected my ms. within 24 hours but were gracious enough to tell me it wasn’t about the query–it was because you weren’t able to represent the story itself at the time. Although it was the fastest rejection I ever got, it was the best because it was straight up, kind, and left no doubt as to why you were rejecting it. Now with so many submissions coming your way, this kind of response is probably less doable, but at a conference that kind of response would be meaningful.

  19. Rachelle on July 3, 2008 at 9:41 AM

    >Okay, I’ve been thinking more about Inspire’s comment, and my response. I know it must be hard to understand or accept the truth of what I said, and certainly impossible to like it. But here’s an analogy I think will help.

    I went shopping this week for some new clothes. I pored through racks fairly quickly. “No, no, no, no… ” Then I would stop at one thing. “Hmm. Maybe.” And I’d grab that item to take to the fitting room and try on.

    I noticed how quickly my eyes and hands could take in a LOT of information about each item of clothing I was rejecting. Color, style, size, texture, pattern, fabric… so many things about each item of clothing registered in my brain in a millisecond. It was easy to instantly reject the ones that didn’t fit what I was looking for.

    But the ones that looked, in a glance, to have something I WAS looking for, those I needed to spend some time with.

    And here’s the kicker. I would not have been able to tell you “exactly” what I was looking for, except for some basics: business clothing, my size. Other than that, it was wide open. I couldn’t explain it, but I’d know it when I saw it. And I’d know when I wasn’t looking at it, too.

    So that’s kind of how it is when we look at those proposals and one sheets and first pages, and listen to the verbal pitch. It sometimes feels harsh from the other side, but the thought process is something like, “no, no, no… hmmm, maybe.”

  20. Rachelle on July 3, 2008 at 9:27 AM

    >You realize, of course, that it’s not necessary for an editor or agent to read a whole manuscript to determine if it’s a “no.” Usually a few pages will do it. It usually does take a read of the entire thing to determine if it’s a “yes,” however.

    So really the only two things we can say after a brief meeting and a quick read of a few pages is either “no” or “maybe.”

  21. Inspire on July 3, 2008 at 9:22 AM

    >What can you do to make things easier for me? Please read my manuscript, and then determine whether you want to give me a rejection.

  22. Catherine West on July 3, 2008 at 8:55 AM

    >My best appointment experience was with an agent I was hoping to get before Rachelle made her big announcement of stepping into the agenting world – I was nervous as usual, but she immediately took my one sheet and read it through and started firing off questions. This was actually better for me than having to sit there and stumble through what I planned to say. She also picked out a couple of plot flaws right away and asked if I would consider re-working parts of the story. That appointment was the catalyst to improving my manuscript in ways I never thought possible – so I have to agree, if the agent or editor takes the lead, I’m much more comfortable. If they just stare at me with some glazed over expression, then I panic.

  23. Karen on July 3, 2008 at 7:31 AM

    >I’m with Pam. Don’t hold out any carrots. On the other hand, passing out chocolate has eased some of the pain.

    I want to know something more about the rejection because that’s where I learn. Is it my marketing skills–giving you something that doesn’t fit? Does my ms need more work? Is there something in my bp that would make it stand out more?

    If I’m paying for a conference and not finding anyone to take my work, then your help as an agent/editor to see where I need to improve will help justify the cost and time spent.

    Don’t know how agents/editors survive some of those grueling marathons of appointments. Thanks for doing it!

  24. Pam Halter on July 3, 2008 at 6:38 AM

    >Please don’t take our manuscripts just to be nice. I’d rather be told, it won’t fit with our line or it’s not ready. Most conferences only allow 15 minutes, which goes by quickly, but if you could tell us (in a nice way) why you can’t take it … like, if we really need to continue to work on the craft … I could take that.

    I know writers’ egos are sensitive, but if we don’t know we need to work more on the craft, we’ll just think it’s your opinion and keep trying … to the detriment of our reputations.

    Although I know you never stop working on the craft … most new authors don’t.

  25. Gordon Carroll on July 3, 2008 at 4:49 AM

    >Two things I believe helps the writer in deciding who might be best for him or her to pitch to are: 1) What genre and voice are you specifically looking to market right now, and 2) When possible be on a panel or give a class or workshop, prior to pitch sessions, so the writer has a feel for whether or not our styles will mesh.

    At PPWC 2008, it was a tremendous help being able to see you both on a panel of agents and editors, as well as an actual class on Christian Writing. Being able to see your conviction and love for both Christ and writing, as well as your professionalism and expertise helped me immensely.