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A Guide to Talking Books with Literary Agents

Conference season is upon us and with it lots of times to mingle and network with agents (although we prefer “mingling” over “networking”). It’s inevitable when meeting anyone at a conference that talk is going to turn to what you’re reading, in fact, it’s often the best introduction you can make. What forever amazes me is how often this basic conversation can turn sour, and how fast. To make it easy, I’ve put together some simples DOs and DON’Ts for talking books with agents.

DO: Ask the agent about what she’s been reading

DON’T: Scoff at the book/genre and tell the agent why you’d never read that book or anything in that genre

DO: Tell the agent about the last book you loved, including the author name and, if necessary, a bit about the story (its great practice for your own pitch)

DON’T: Act appalled when the agent tells you she’s never read (or heard of) the book you’re reading.

DO: Ask what kinds of books the agent represents

DON’T: Roll your eyes and ask if the agent would consider representing “real” books

DO: Engage in honest discussions about reasons why you’ve liked or disliked some of the books you’ve read, or some of today’s most popular books

DON’T: Tell the agent why all romance novels or genre fiction is awful and that maybe the agent just doesn’t like or understand “real books,”  “literary fiction” or “writing that makes you think”

ALSO, DON’T: Talk about why you “just can’t get into” reading books written by women, people of color, LGBTQ+ writers, or any other marginalized writers

DO: Recommend a book you absolutely loved or think the agent might like reading

DON’T: Tell the agent you can’t believe she could work in publishing having never read this book which is, of course, by another white guy

DO: Tell the agent about the book you’re writing

DON’T: Start the conversation by telling the agent your book is probably not for her because it’s very upmarket

DO: Treat the agent with respect

DON’T: Mansplain or comment on how young the agent is

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4 comments

  1. I love the “Do’s”, but I think I am slightly horrified because I’m assuming you’ve listed them because you’ve come across the “Don’ts” at conferences yourself. Wowzers.

    1. I know, right? I was thinking that too… Maybe there’s something wrong with us, that we can’t imagine anyone actually coming up to a literary agent and saying such things? It makes me want to go find a wall and headbang.

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