Agents and Publishing

DragonCon notes continue: this is a combination of:

  • Publishing YA w/Alexa Donne, Sarah Beth Durst, Moe Ferrara, AJ Hartley, Cat Scully, & Lou Anders
  • Agents & Editors w/Claire Eddy, Vanessa Dejounta, Moe Ferrara, Toni Weisskopf, Steve Saffel, and Tony Daniel

What Is An Agent?

  1. We are friends, therapists, supporters, handling submissions, query/slush piles, and contracts. Our jobs vary from day to day. – Ferrara
  2. An agent is in your corner. Look for one with similar work–they’ll have connections and are vetted. Agents don’t get paid until you do.- Durst
  3. We don’t feed on your tears (except during High Holy Days)- Ferrara
  4. If you need someone to be an asshole, you can delegate it to your agent. – Anders
  5. You’re not getting an agent to sell that book, you’re getting one to manage your career.- Hartley
  6. Agents want to feel like you picked THEM, not just that you had a niche to fill. – Ferrara
  7. Be wary of enthusiasm and vet their business side. Be wary of agents that say “don’t use Critique Partners” or “don’t compare emails” (with other clients). – Scully
  8. It took Hartley 20 years and 8 books worth of rejections to get an agent. After getting the agent, it took another 3 books before he had something accepted on submission by a publisher.
  9. A personal touch can help. – Hartley’s agent went to the same college and he mentioned that in the query letter.

Why Agents Do What They Do

  • Not for the money, it’s a higher calling. – Weisskopf
  • I get to brings the dreams and the worlds to people. – Eddy
  • I wanted to know what happens to the stories I pitched. – Ferrara
  • For the health insurance. (j/k) It’s the most meritocratic place. – Weisskopf

Finding Your Agent

Query Do’s

  • Be specific
  • Read back-cover copy for ideas – but don’t skip the plot or the emotional beats!
  • You can mention themes in the query section where you list your title, genre, and length.
  • Query explains the emotional journey, more than anything else.
    • WHO is the story happening to
    • WHY should the reader care. Why does the character care
  • [a publisher, not an agent] accepts unsolicited queries. (The senior editors are the ones who sort through the non-email submissions once a month.)
  • [a publisher, not an agent] accepts unsolicited queries. (No YA)

Query Don’t’s

  • Write the pitch like a movie plot
  • Use rhetorical questions
  • Have the bio longer than the book description
  • Query unfinished work
  • Query as though the Main Character wrote it
  • Query Agents who don’t cover your genre
  • Query more than 1 person at an agency at a time
  • Argue with the agent
  • Shine up the agent too much
  • Say ‘ask for the end’

Weisskopf once got a mailed query letter that smelled bad. When she read it, she found out why. They guy had worked on his novel for years, then decided it was shit. So… he wrote the query letter in shit.


Biggest Mistakes Made In Revisions

  • Skipping revising, polishing, and editing altogether.
  • [I] get 100’s of manuscripts a month. If I’m picking between a polished manuscript and one that needs work…. – Anders
  • It’s good to have a variety of Critique Partners, some ahead of you in the publishing process and some right there with you in the trenches. – Scully
  • If you find a Critique Partner that works for you, that’s great. You don’t have to. Feel free to wait to critique until later. – Durst
  • Pay attention to whether suggested changes are making your story a different book, instead of a better book – Durst

  • When you get a rejection letter, if the reason resonates with you, go with it. Otherwise…wait. See if it’s a consensus.  You should agree with 80% of professional edits. But, [you don’t have to go with their suggested fix.] if they want to cut a scene, you can rewrite it better, to try and convince them it’s worthwhile.

What To Do While Waiting and After Rejection

  • Don’t stop writing
  • Chocolate and wine help (and whining)
  • Remember that Agents get rejected just as much as writers by Editors/Publishers. And Editors get rejected/denied by Marketing.
  • Don’t take it personally
  • If they send anything other than a form letter, it never hurts to SEND A THANK YOU NOTE. It was a courtesy and took a lot of their time they could have spent on other things.
    • It makes it more likely that they’ll look at your next book
    • They enjoy the letter–do NOT expect any response.
    • Don’t use it to ask if you can send a revised draft. If it wasn’t ready, you shouldn’t have wasted their time with the original query.


  • Make sure your book is being rejected for reasons OTHER than the writing, itself
  • Know once you’ve self-published, you can’t be marketed as a Debut Author, and that’s something Agents like
  • Some people do it because it’s easier than Traditional Publishing. If you’re doing it because it’s easier, you’re not going to get better. [Master Thieves don’t master their thievery by walking through open doors. You’ve got to challenge yourself.]- Anders
  • Sheer pigheadedness is the most important trait for a writer

Closing Thoughts

  • There’s no silver bullet and many, many different paths. Don’t force it. – Weisskopf
  • If it’s authentic, it’s going to be real. Don’t chase the market. – Eddy
  • Your journey is your own. Don’t compare yourself. You WILL get rejected. Then, horrid reviews. – Ferrara
  • You need to put words on a page. That’s an accomplishment and why we do what we do. [Because of] YOU. – Saffel
  • Find where your strengths match what your readers like. – Weisskopf
  • All rejections are just one more out of the way [on  your way to publishing]. – Dejournta




  1. Good, solid information. As writers we tend to be all “ready, fire, aim,” AND then figure out what we did wrong. o.O Or, is that just me?

    Liked by 1 person

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