I follow quite a few agents on the vast eternal cocktail-party that is Twitter (I suspect they are eating all the canapés). At first this was in the hope of soaking up some wisdom and helping myself to bag one. Now it’s mostly because they’re interesting, fun, and bookish people. However, I’d never have dreamed of pitching to an agent via Twitter, or following them into the ladies’ at an event, or accosting them with a manuscript under my arm and the words, ‘Twenty years ago you asked to see the rest of this…well I’ve finally finished’. Yet these are all things I have seen and heard of being done.
Of course, when you’re trying to get published, agents are up there with St Peter as powerful gate-keepers. It’s tempting to fall to your knees and try to touch the hem of their clothes. And it’s true that when agents go to new-writing events, they’re usually looking for people to sign (‘building a list’). So you don’t have to slide nervously past them as if scared that looking them in the eye will turn you to stone. They do, generally speaking, want to see good work. But don’t leave your wits at the door. Trying to get published can feel like you’re going mad at times, but don’t actually, y’know, go mad.
Irritate the gate-keeper and you may find the gates swing ever-more tightly closed. Even if you can write, you might cause them to ponder if they really want a client who’s as mad as a box of frogs. Just remember, people who work in publishing are human beings, who have jobs, work in offices, have likes and dislikes, and good and bad days. You don’t have to do wacky or outrageous things to get noticed (this only works in rom-coms). What you do have to do is read their submission guidelines and follow them – it’s tempting to cut corners, but you’ll just be giving them an excuse not to look at it. Write a good book and follow the guidelines, and don’t hassle.
This doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of events and gatherings (see previous posts like ‘Stand at the bar and smile’). By all means chat, and say hello, and even mention your book if you feel the agent is receptive. Just don’t think that dogged persistence is the way to succeed, or making heartfelt speeches, or crazed stalker-like behaviour. Because you’re not in a rom-com. No really, you’re not, even if you have a best male friend who you love and who secretly fancies you, but you both keep falling for the wrong people, or if you’re addicted to shopping and drinking but you’ve got an amazing job by dint of lying and/or gross incompetency, and you wear Jimmy Choos though you work in a juice-bar, you’re still not in a rom-com. Because no one would ever make a rom-com about a writer. We’re just too unphotogenic.
To summarise, never do the following things and you’ll be just fine:
Pitch on Twitter or other sites where the agents are there to chat
Refuse to read the signs if you’ve been told not to pitch
Follow up submissions too soon (they might give guidelines on the website, but a month or so at least)
Phone up to ask for information that’s clearly available on the website
Try to stand out with ‘wacky’ paper, glitter, gifts, gimmicks, or pop-up covering letters
Send naked photos (yes, it does happen)
Pitch in the toilets
Hassle the agent at events where they’re trying to mingle and have fun
Forget the agent is a human being