8 Myths About Literary Agents

I. Agents spend all day reading.
Not true. Agents spend the majority of a work day doing any number of things other than reading. In fact, most of our reading is left to evenings and weekends—even work-related reading like manuscript requests or client projects. Being an agent means constantly feeling guilty for being behind on requested material and neglecting our personal to-be-read piles. Sometimes we wish we could spend all day reading.

II. Agents will only take on new clients if they have previous publishing experience.
Not true. Most agents are looking for debut writers to work with as they establish a writing career. Sometimes previous publishing experience is good, but sometimes it’s not. Every agent is looking for clients they can work well with, and 99% of the time having had a book published in the past has nothing to do with that.

III. An agent replaces beta readers and critique partners.
Not true. Agents still expect polished projects after offering representation. Keep your beta readers and critique partners. Those relationships are valuable in your career—both now and in the future.

IV. You need an agent based in your own country.
Not true. Many agents are happy to represent clients outside of their own countries. For example, I’m based in Canada but the majority of my clients live in the United States. Just make sure the agent you’re querying deals with the market you’re interested in. Once you’ve figured that out, nationality shouldn’t be an issue.

V. No response from agents means they don’t want to represent your book.
Not true. Sometimes emails get lost. Sometimes agents take months to respond. Read the submission guidelines and agency websites. Try to sort out just how long it should take for you to receive a response. If that deadline passes, send a friendly nudge. (There are some agencies that simply don’t respond to submissions they’re not interested in, but this information should be clearly listed somewhere.)

VI. Agents don’t read query letters.
Not true. Agents always read incoming query letters. Even if an intern or an assistant sorts through the inbox, no agent will ignore the queries completely. No one knows our tastes better than ourselves.

VII. Agents share your queries with other agents behind closed doors.
Not true. Agents respect the time and effort it takes to send out query letters for manuscripts. While we may discuss prevalent issues with one another (usually for one another’s safety), we always leave out the specifics. And some agents will share query letters with another agent from the same agency, but that’s usually to see if they’re interested in reading more. Remember: The confidentiality of conversations is important for both agents and writers.

VIII. You need an agent to get your book published.
Not true. Some people do just fine without an agent. Others do not. It’s your responsibility as a writer to decide which publishing path you want to take. Does having an agent fit in with your writing goals and dreams?