Being an agent is about reading between the lines

reading on couchAgents are looking for projects that are as close to ‘ready’ as they can be. Of course we want a quick turn around on projects because that gets the enthusiasm moving right along from writer to agent to editor. However, we’re always doing edits and we’re always looking for potential in our query inboxes as well as finished projects.

The reason that this business is so subjective is that all agents have different taste and different ideas about what potential projects can be. I’ve passed on projects that I thought needed work, because I wasn’t the one that was going to be able to connect the dots on that manuscript. And I’ve signed up projects where I could see the potential screaming at me but it needed a bit of work to get it there.

What agents do for authors in the slush pile:

  • We look at what has potential
  • We look at what we can bring to life
  • What look for what we get excited about

This isn’t an excuse to send us less than ready projects. But, it does let you know that all agents are looking for something different.

If you are looking for a collaborative agent focus your queries on newer agents who have time and energy to give. More established agents don’t have as much time to edit and grow new writers.

What you can do as a writer to make yourself open:

  • Accept revise and resubmit letters with the intent to always make yourself better
  • Don’t take rejections as the ‘be all and end all’ of your writing career
  • When an agent opens the dialogue, whether by email or at a writers conference, take notes and listen objectively
  • Take time away from your writing so you came come to it with an open mind when you do get feedback

At the end of the day this is a very collaborative business. Your agent and editor will provide lots of feedback and things to think about. There is not one way of reading anything, not one way to make improvements. Listen to the agent that provides the notes that connect with you, not the agent whose notes push you in a different direction.

You are the writer and creative force behind everything you do, an agent’s job is to recognize and cultivate it so you can grow together.

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.

6 thoughts on “Being an agent is about reading between the lines

  1. Perhaps this is an odd perspective, but I tend to look at any personal rejections I receive as a success because if an editor takes time to personally respond to me, giving me positive feedback on my manuscript and even explaining why he/she is passing on my story, that says that I do have something of value. That encourages me to keep my eye on the prize.


  2. I just love your posts – simple, direct and full of common sense – not to mention honest. It all seems a bit like romance really – it’s a chemistry thing that you can’t quite explain but you know it when you meet it. I really get the ‘i need to fall in love with it’ angle, even though it is frustrating.


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