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A Literary Agent’s Mindset When Reading Submissions

Reading submissions is an interesting process because it’s not always as simple as sitting down and reading. There’s usually a certain mindset an agent has anytime she tackles her submission pile.

A few weeks ago I was hungry for something new. I wanted a certain type of book and my submission inbox was overflowing. Luckily I was traveling and while I packed a book to read for pleasure, I found what I wanted was a new client to get excited about. So before leaving I loaded up my Kindle and attacked my piles.

While reading I had two thoughts. The first was that I really wanted to clean house and catch up on some older submissions so I wasn’t so horribly far behind. In other words, I was honestly looking to reject things. Yes, often agents read with the hopes of just cleaning up. That doesn’t mean we’re going to pass up a great book, it means we’re looking to the author to wow us and make us change our minds. Sometimes I’m actually disappointed (in a sick and twisted way) when I start on a submission that excites me. It means I’m going to be reading the entire book and fewer submissions are getting read that day. Of course I use the term disappointed loosely. The truth is that I’m always excited when that happens.

My second goal was to find a suspense or thriller I could add to my client list. That’s what I was in the mood for (I was heading to Bouchercon after all). This meant that half of my Kindle was from the oldest submissions in my pile and the other half were thrillers or suspense.

Let’s say it was an amazing trip. Not only did I have a number of wonderful meetings with clients, editors and fellow agents, but I was able to give feedback to at least eight writers and I offered representation to a thriller author. In fact, I would say it was the perfect weekend.

After all of that excitement though I fell into a submission slump. With a new author on my list I wasn’t as hungry as before for another, and I had other things to focus on–editing the new client’s work, negotiating a few deals, and following up on my meetings. It meant that after an extremely productive weekend, I was about to go a week or two without getting any reading done.

So next time you’re wondering why an agent doesn’t get to submissions faster, think of how lucky you might be that she waits until she’s hungry.

Category: Blog



  1. First time I’ve commented since y’all moved blogs — I do like the new look.

    I get the mindset talk. I do the same, in fact, with adjunct faculty, admittedly for a somewhat different purpose. But when I have a definite need to fill, I’m looking through the “pile” — would the 21st Century Word be “e-pile”? — of applications differently than when I’m just adding to the existing bench.

    That said, I’m still struck by the attitudinal difference between this and the employment process. In the hiring process the randomness of the mood of the reviewer — the likelihood of a wonderful candidate going jobless — is accepted, shrugged off with very little disdain for the unselected, and those who choose to bypass it all and start their own business are looked up to. In writing, though, there’s still a fair amount of mileage of noses peered down when authors decide to go it on our own.

    Just an observation.

    As always, thanks for the insight!

    – TOSK

  2. Thanks for posting this.

    From time to time people tend to forget the responsibilities and time constraints of the other guy. I get frantic searching for more time to write, edit, and manage my blog. It can’t be any different for literary agents. You didn’t even list all your responsibilities.

    Unpublished writers need to be patience. And we need to master our craft.

    Have a good one.

  3. This seems like another reason for writers to not pass over querying newer agents. They’re nearly always hungry. 😉

    1. It’s very true. Hit up the agents that you think might be right for you, but make sure to query a few younger ones in there.

  4. Will have to keep my fingers crossed that when I query I’m hitting a hungry period, not a looking to reject period!

    It’s interesting to know what influences an agent when they attack their submission list.

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