The Puppy in the Window – Be Irresistible to Literary Agents


Day 4, Summer Writer’s Workshop.  My brain is seriously out of shape. I like to think I exercise it every day but clearly, I was wrong.  I make the hour-long commute from Humber College to home in a stupour – not the ideal state for freeway driving, let me just say.

I am going to focus on today’s lessons learned in lieu of today’s anxiety attacks (suffered by moi).  The anxiety attacks are neither educational nor are they particularly entertaining unless you’re watching them unfold firsthand.

The peeps at Humber seem genuinely interested in furthering not just our writing skills but our writing careers.  It’s lovely to drawl, “I’m a writer,” but to actually have people pay real live money for a published book is another matter.

So, having said that, we’ve had two days of sessions with literary agents – those intrepid souls who will likely be the first professionals to review a manuscript.  Your job as a writer is to attract one to your work, like a moth to a flame.

The raison d’etre of an agent is to place finished manuscripts with publishing houses.  These people wear so many hats I’m surprised they don’t have constant headaches.  Maybe they do. They are readers, often they are writers.  They know contracts. They know the marketplace.  They know the editors at publishing houses and what they are buying.  The good ones can be miracle workers.

One agent recited a list of things publishers want (not a complete list by any means):  a distinctive voice, a compelling story (not too long), authenticity but not necessarily originality.  Obviously plagiarism is forbidden but agents want something that will sell in the market.  A book that gathers dust on the shelves doesn’t do anyone any good.

Another agent – a lovely woman who spoke at about 200 mph – said that authors should strive to stand out however they can.  Exceptional writing, an authentic voice, a killer query letter – be the adorable puppy in the window that no one can resist.

Writers who spend ten years on a project, slaving over it until it is just right, do themselves a disservice by sending out half-assed query letters to the wrong agents. Getting the query letter right is almost more important than the manuscript itself, according to a couple of the agents we heard from this week.

Writing is an art but it is also a business.  Be as professional as possible, do good research, and only put your best foot forward – especially if you are using social media.  The literary agents who spoke to us emphasized Twitter as a “must have.”  Other authors, agents, and editors are all on board – at the very least you will see what’s happening in the biz in real-time.

If you have a blog, keep it clean and positive.  If you’ve been rejected 4,787 times, that is not the stat to post. One agent suggested writing book reviews as a way of getting some online credibility if you have no publishing credentials. Agents Google prospective clients. The chances of an agent or publisher taking a chance on a complete unknown these days is slim to none.  Have a presence online to increase your chances.

Make every contact you possibly can – be seen on the literary scene.  Yes, it is hard and uncomfortable but it must be done.  And above all, have faith in yourself and your writing.  Don’t get discouraged as writing with any “success” is a highly subjective enterprise.  It is very nearly capricious.

Practice, practice, practice.  Submit, submit, submit. Hone your craft and remember to breathe.




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