Agent Advertising

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Dec 02 2008

I’m not sure if it’s a recent phenomenon or a coincidence, but in the last few weeks I’ve received a number of questions about agents who apparently include advertisements for their books in with rejection letters. Two questions specifically asked what I think of this practice and what I think of these agents.

Well, I don’t like the practice. It seems sort of odd to me. While I haven’t written any books on publishing or literary agents, I’m not sure I would advertise quite that way. I might put the title of the book in my signature line in both email and snail mail letters, but that’s the most I think I could comfortably do. It just seems like a double hit if you’re getting a rejection letter and then an advertisement. I also wonder what’s next. An advertisement listing all of the agent’s clients? Would that be as bad? And what about the fact that they are using your postage costs (SASE) to send you an advertisement? Does that bother you? Ultimately there is probably not a right or wrong answer to these questions, but what’s right or wrong for you.

As for what I think of these agents, I was never given the names of any of the agents who follow this practice, but I think I’ll leave those impressions up to the readers. If it leaves a bad taste in your mouth then I think that’s enough for you to know how you personally feel about the agent and whether or not you want to work with that person. If the advertisement doesn’t bother you then continue to query this person. Putting an advertisement in your SASE doesn’t necessarily say anything about a person’s ability to be a good author representative. It might however say something about her ability to be your author representative.

I would imagine anyone who has received an advertisement might have their own opinions, and certainly I’d be interested to hear them.


47 responses to “Agent Advertising”

  1. Avatar Kimber An says:

    Not good marketing. Think about it. You club a person over the head and then ask him to buy a cookie from you pretty please? Well, he might if he’s afraid you’re going to club him over the head again if he doesn’t, but otherwise he’s just get more upset than he already is by the rejection letter. Remember, his story might have been crap this time, but the next one might be a bestseller. You don’t want him never to query you again. Or to tell people you’re a scam agent.

    (By ‘you’ I mean a hypothetical agent.)

    Spam is irritating. I imagine this would just be infuriating. It’s never happen to me. If the agent had a good reputation otherwise, I would assume it was a mistake.

  2. Avatar Ann Victor says:

    This doesn’t sit well with me. Too much potential for conflict of professional interest, although that would depend on the agent and the situation. Dare I say it feels a bit tacky as well?

  3. Avatar SpaSlave says:

    Hi Jessica,

    I queried about 20 agents in the UK (and was rejected by all of them). Three sent me advertisements for books on how to get published. Let’s just say I wasn’t impressed. Being rejected is enough of a slap in the face, but when they include adverts on how to write/get published, it’s like kicking someone when they’re already down. Using your own money (the SASE) to deliver that kick is just pure evil!

    I should add that these agents were all high calibre.

  4. I don’t like when agents shove their books in my face. Recently I stopped reading an agent’s blog because the agent consistently talked about the agent’s own book. It doesn’t seem to me that such agents will work as hard as they “should” for their clients.

  5. Avatar Jess Granger says:

    Ooooh, I wouldn’t like that. I wouldn’t like that at all.


  6. Avatar Susan says:

    Well, I must admit I laughed when I read that: if it happened to me, I’d think ‘fair play’. After all, I sent them something unsolicited, and they’ve only reciprocated.

    So no, it wouldn’t bother me. In fact, I’d like it, because then I’d feel better when I *didn’t* buy the book, a lame little way to fire back LOL.

    We all hear stories about the frightening amount of manuscripts editors and agents receive these days…perhaps they’re only trying to discourage us?

    Interesting anyhow.

  7. I have never requeried someone who sent me an ad in a rejection letter. It is in poor taste.

  8. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    Although I’m pretty much to a point in my career and life where I don’t take agent or editor rejections personally, this seems totally ridiculous. Most unpublished writers tend to feel either stung or hostile to a rejection, so that will probably apply to the advert as well.

    The other thing is, in marketing circles, it’s really recommended that you set up a way of monitoring the effectiveness of your marketing efforts. There’s no way to do this with junk mail (oh, did I say that? I mean, direct mail). Seems like a waste of paper to me.

  9. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Getting an ad in the mail is bad enough, but how about getting an “ad” during a pitch session?

    At my very first conference, I had a pitch session (which I paid for, by the way) with a fairly big name agent. After I gave him my pitch (admittedly, pretty lame), he shoved a copy of his book across the table and started pitching it to me!

    You can be sure I never queried him! The only thing bigger than his audacity was his ego!

  10. Avatar AC says:

    Ugh. It’s the height of tackiness and reflects poorly on the agent. I’d NEVER requery an agent who did that and would count myself lucky to have dodged a bullet if they rejected me!

  11. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Sending advertisements for their books with rejection letters??

    THAT is desperate.

    I’d question their legitimacy as an agent in gereral. Think of how many of those letters are met with outrage, curse words, and general disbelief. It’s bad enough that the rejections are more than likely form letters, and the person has been rejected a hundred times, but they’re supposed to be excited about purchasing your book? Ick.

  12. Avatar Anonymous says:

    As a writer looking for representation, I would look at it as tacky beyond belief. And yes, that would immediately make that agent a no-go for me. There are lines that shouldn’t be crossed. And that’s one.
    As one who has worked in advertising and pr for many years, this strikes me as wildly counter productive. It would, I think, engender more negative than positive responses from the recipients. A really lousy marketing approach.

  13. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I did receive an SASE from an agent that inserted a slip with an advertisement for his own book on how to get published. It floored me. This boy has a special place on my DNQ (do no query) list.

  14. Avatar Inez Kelley says:

    I received one of those BUY MY BOOK things included in the body of a form rejection letter and it was a true WTF moment. Okay, You aren’t interested in representing me but you’ll gladly take my money to read your book?

    Uhm, no.

    If it was any good, I would have heard about it in the numerous other writer’s loops I am on.

  15. Avatar AmyB says:

    I’ve never received a rejection letter that included an ad, but I would think it’d be counterproductive. The rejection comes with a jolt of negative feelings for the recipient–and the agent wants those negative feelings associated with whatever he/she is trying to advertise? Bad idea.

  16. Avatar beckylevine says:

    This hasn’t happened to me, but I’m pretty sure my first reaction would be anger. It would feel like the agent almost didn’t realize they’d sent me a rejection, which would feel like they REALLY hadn’t bothered with my writing. I’ve gotten rejections that made me keep an agent on my list for later submissions, either after a major revision or of another project. I’m pretty sure getting an ad would get me to take that agent off my list. And certainly NOT buy their book.

    Tacky is the word that comes to mind. 🙂

  17. Avatar Kim says:

    I agree with everyone above and add one thing – to me, it’s a slap in the face – “I’m published, you’re not” kind of thing. Regardless of how it would be meant, that’s how I’d feel and no, I most certainly WOULD NOT buy the book and would “warn” all my writer friends in the query stage. I especially agree with those that said it seems it would be a conflict of interest and I’ve also removed one agency off my list because the main agent spends so much time on her own books I wonder how much she does on her clients.

    Good thing I query professional agents like Jessica and the agents at BookEnds as I’ve not had this happen yet.

  18. Avatar helenf says:

    I agree that in the main this seems a very tacky thing to do.

    I have received one of these ads from a well-respected agent (I’m in the UK) for her book – which I already owned!

    However, it is a good book and I wonder if part of the justification for it is that they might genuinely feel their books could help the writers they reject.

    Of course extra buyers for the book is probably the main goal.

    As to whether it would put me off requerying, I’ll take it on a case-by-case basis. This agent is reputed to be very good, so I’d probably try again, even if I would just get another ad.

  19. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    I know a couple of agents who are also authors of the same genre they represent. While I know they have gotten excellent deals for their clients, I would still wonder if an agent facing the same deadlines and promotional pressures as I face would be available to represent me with as much energy as one whose main focus was their client–not their own career as an author. An ad in a rejection letter would be horribly tacky.

  20. Avatar Elyssa Papa says:

    I’ve had the slip in my query and also a rejection letter advertising the agent’s book for me to buy. I’ve also had an e-rejection where the agency offered to critique my work for money.

    For each of these instances, there was a stunned angry reaction. Then I laughed. Trust me in that those agents were written off, and that I would never want to work with them seeing that I thought the behavior was unprofessional at best.

  21. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    Yes, unprofessional. Absolutely. Junk mail. Toss it out.
    Giant ego at work.

    I would never resubmit because this agent is saying, “It has to be done my way. There is no other way.”

    And we all know that’s a lie, right?

  22. Avatar Dave F. says:

    I once had an editor of a small journal reject a short story and in a subsequent e-mail beg for money to pay the printer.

    It’s only slightly tacky, slightly in bad taste.

  23. Avatar Diana says:

    I have an image of taking that extra step and promoting the books of clients. Perhaps the ad could say something like, “I won’t represent your book, but here are some books that DID make the cut!”

  24. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I work in the advertising industry as a copywriter, and I think this practice is extremely tacky and unprofessional.

    From a pure marketing perspective, how effective can an ad be if it’s delivered with bad news?

  25. I don’t think I would be too upset about it, but it’s definitely in poor taste. If I query an agent, it will be because I’m interested in a business partnership with that person. It would seem a bit tacky for them to reject me and then basically proposition me to buy their book(s).

    (That’s not to say I wouldn’t buy any book represented by an agent who rejected me, but it should be totally separate from querying.)

  26. Avatar Jenna says:

    I wouldn’t get in a tizzy if an agent said in a rejection that I needed to read up more on the biz, and here’s a list of books they suggest. If their book is on that list, that’s tacky but not a dealbreaker.

    However, an agent that listed ONLY his or her book is removed from my options, period. They just don’t get marketing enough for me to want to deal with them, although they do get points for ruthlessness.

  27. Several years ago, this happened to me. It was a book written by the agent himself. You can probably guess who–he runs workshops all over now. I just laughed and wondered if he promoted his clients that aggressively.

  28. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I had an editor do this to me on a rejection letter. I thought it was weird, had nothing to do with the rejection, AND (most importantly) it backfired because to this day I don’t like that author or her books because it just reminds me of that rejection. Dumb way to advertise if you ask me.

  29. Avatar Ray Rhamey says:

    This happened to me. It was Al Zuckerman, Writer’s House. I resented the hell out of it, and complained to the assistant who sent the rejection letter. He didn’t care a lot.

  30. I’ve gotten a few of these. And if there’s one way to ensure that I’ll never, ever buy or read a book, it’s this.

  31. Avatar spyscribbler says:

    Hah! That’s hilarious!

    You know how you can watch TV for free online if you accept the advertising? You know how cable used to be no advertising because you paid for it, and regular TV was free as long as you were willing to watch the commercials?

    Well, I think we should apply the same standard. You have a choice: you can include an SASE if you want no advertisement. But if you’d like to save money on an SASE, then you can receive an advertisement instead.

    A consumer should be paid for viewing an advertisement, not rejected, LOL!

  32. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I’ve never received one and I know we really can’t do this since we don’t want a ‘bad’ name but…I’d be hard pressed not to send back a rejection letter to the agent letting he/she know, it just wasn’t right for my home. Perhaps another house will love it.

  33. Avatar Anonymous says:

    *shrug* I got one of those once. Didn’t really bother me. I advertise my books in my sig line too.

    But I would never query an agent who also writes in their genre (the occasioanl nonfic book on publishing doesn’t bother me either). Not ever. Total dealbreaker; either you’re going after publishing slots for your clients or for yourself; you can’t do both.

  34. Avatar green_knight says:

    I’d hate it – hasn’t happened to me, but it would be an immense turnoff – this agent is more interested in flogging his book/services than in representing my book? Fail.

    The other aspect is that when you’re a writer who has just been rejected, for whatever genuine reason, the last thing you want to hear is an agent sneering ‘the only things we reject quickly are abysmally written queries’ (yes, I had that happen – it would have been a bad fit for more than one reason, but my carefully-crafted, correctly-formatted not-for-agent query did not deserve that slur); and ‘you wouldn’t have been rejected if you’d read my book, you loser’ would arrive in most writer’s minds in a similar fashion.

    A line in your .sig is fine. Rubbing it in (ok, ‘agressive marketing’) is a turnoff either way. And as I don’t want an agent whose methods and demeanous might put off potential buyers, I’d pass either way.

  35. Avatar Anonymous says:


  36. Avatar Keri Ford says:

    Ugh. Can we say tacky? I wouldn’t get fussy over it, but my nose would certainly be doing a little wrinkling.

    If it was in the signature line, that wouldn’t bother me at all.

  37. Avatar Connie says:

    Yeah, I’d be offended if someone used my SASE to send an advertisement. But the worst I’ve ever had was when an agent requested a full, and then in the rejection letter offered to mail me the reasons for the rejections–for a fee!! And this was a highly recommended agent.

  38. Avatar AstonWest says:

    Reminds me of college professors who pawned off their books on us, as their students…except in those cases, you were *forced* to buy their books.


  39. Tacky is definitely the right word!

  40. I’ve been taken aback by advertisements in rejection letters, even from established agents. They were early in my querying days and I thought it was common practice.

    Today, I find it in bad taste.

  41. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I don’t care how big an agent’s name is, or what established and prestigious house he established or works for, I can’t bring myself to respect and query someone whose ego has complete disregard for newbie writers. Self aggrandizing is so gauche in an agent. He/She is obviously interested in self-promotion and not helping a writer’s career. What good is an agent like that?

  42. Tacky maybe?
    I’d probably think the agent weird and maybe they won’t be on the top of my “send out” list next time.

  43. Avatar Janet says:

    I would seriously question the business acumen of an agent who includes advertisements in rejection letters (other than a quick line in the signature of an email). If they are that clueless as to the probable reaction, I would wonder seriously how good a job they would do of marketing the book to editors. I do not think I would care to have an emotionally illiterate agent.

    Of course, it might be a ploy to reduce the excessive number of queries they receive, but you’d think there would be a better way of accomplishing that end.

  44. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Connie: Sounds like that agent discovered a steady source of potential income…he/she doesn’t even have to read the manuscript unless he/she gets his ‘mordita’…sort of a back-door reverse with triple axle reading fee. Yassuh.

  45. Avatar terri says:

    Oh my . . . so tacky. While I can take rejections in stride, they hurt at the moment of administration – sort of like a vaccination. No big deal in the long run, but at the moment . . .

    So, to be told, ‘you are a loser, however, I do have clients that are not losers and they would like your business . . . ‘ would most likely poison those authors in my mind forever because they would be associated in my mind with their extremely gauche agent.

    Yes Virginia, there is such a thing as bad publicity.

  46. Avatar Dal Jeanis says:

    Wow, Connie – I’d report that guy/gal to editors and predators.

    Ray – I love Zuckerman’s book, and I think it’s useful information. YMMV.

    On the other hand, I think it’s lousy positioning to connect your agency’s name, plus the name of a book, to the negative feeling associated with a rejection. It would take a *very* personalized rejection letter to make that work.

  47. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I’ve received advertising enclosed with the SASE. At the time, I was a little annoyed. On one level it was as though the agent was saying, ‘I don’t want your book, but why don’t you buy mine?’ Insult to injury… I gave them points for clever: Free advertising, but was rather glad they did reject me.