Literary Agent Misconceptions

Picture 6New writers often think of agents as inaccessible gatekeepers.

With these perceptions come many misconceptions about what we do and don’t do:

  • Agents are fairy godmothers. It’s not our job to ‘fix’ things. Once you get an agent the work does not end, it just begins. You need to present your best work and we may help you shape it to get it ready to submit to editors, but deep editorial feedback isn’t technically our job. We aren’t fairy godmothers. We aren’t editors. We are here to sell your work and advise you on your career.
  • Agents sell everything they represent. We sign every project up with the highest hopes for it, however, sometimes we aren’t able to sell a book–for any number of reasons. It breaks our hearts when a project doesn’t sell. You see the rejections we pass along, but we see any number of rejections for all the projects we represent. Even projects that get sold have some rejections, too.
  • Agents live a very glamorous life. Most of the time we’re sending emails, making phone calls, or reading manuscripts in our pyjamas on a Friday night when everyone else is out. We do lunches and launch parties, but not as often as you think.
  • Agents like rejecting authors. In all honesty it’s one of the worst parts of the job. Crushing dreams isn’t fun. We’re actively looking for great material–not the opposite.
  • Agents chase trends. Actually, we’re looking for quality writing. From time to time we’ll see an opportunity and be first to the table with a trendy new project, but we want long-term clients producing great work. That’s where a sustainable business model lies.
  • Agents have assistants that pre-screen all queries. At some agencies, yes. But for most of the agents I know, we all look at our queries personally. We are the talent spotters so we look at each and every one.

Q: Any writers out there that have had their preconceptions changed about agents through the query or representation process? 

Published by Carly Watters

Carly Watters is a SVP, senior literary agent and director of literary branding with the P.S. Literary Agency. She is a hands-on agent that develops proposals and manuscripts with attention to detail and the relevant markets. PSLA’s mission is to manage authors’ literary brands for their entire career. Never without a book on hand she reads across categories which is reflected in the genres she represents and is actively seeking new authors in including women’s fiction, commercial and upmarket fiction, select literary fiction, platform-driven non fiction and select memoir. She occasionally represents children's book projects. Carly is drawn to emotional, well-paced narratives, with a great voice and characters that readers can get invested in.

13 thoughts on “Literary Agent Misconceptions

  1. I’m a lot more sympathetic to agents and editors, particularly after working as an editor myself. I used to put them way up on a unreachable pedestal, but now I know they’re just folks and I’m very grateful for all they do!


  2. I’m an independent author and I really do enjoy goingt this route, but my weakness lies in marketing & promotion. Are there agents that would help me solely in this area, or would I have to go through a pricey marketing firm?


    1. Agents’ jobs are not marketing and promotion. We assist, recommend PR firms, and help you network, but we wouldn’t be able to give the time to our clients that they need if we did all our clients’ marketing and publicity.


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