Masters Review editor Andrew Wetzel is no longer an agent, but he has some seriously valuable experience acting as one (he was also a literary a scout for years in the field). Writers, you could learn a thing or two about what new writing looks like through the lens of an agent. Take a look at our Q/A below:
What did you enjoy/not enjoy about being an agent?
I loved that I was free to pick whichever manuscript I liked. I was picking projects according to my tastes and wanted to champion the type of books (literary fiction, pop nonfiction) that I would pick up at the bookstore. That freedom didn’t always help, though. It was clear a few months in that handbooks on modern feminism weren’t going to make me a millionaire and that any memoir-ists I signed had better be celebrities if I wanted anyone to return my emails. I also did not enjoy trying to start or maintain relationships with editors who were thousands of miles away.
I did enjoy getting to talk with so many authors (scouts have almost zero direct interactions with authors), especially at conferences, where you’re treated like a visiting dignitary.
What do you think is the most common mistake new writers make when looking for an agent?
I found that a lot of writers felt an urgency to start looking for an agent as soon as they finished their book. So they write a slapdash query letter and send it before their book has gone through another draft or two.
Take your time. You usually only get one chance with an agency, so you should be very careful not to send anything you think can be improved. And if that query letter doesn’t jump off the screen, it is unlikely that an agent will request to see the manuscript itself. There’s no shame in shelving a book that agents aren’t responding to. It is important to see your manuscript and the time you put into it as a stepping-stone to becoming a better writer.
You mention on your website that it pains you to see so many great queries backed up by lackluster manuscripts. Can you elaborate? Why do you think this is the case and what can authors do to narrow that gap?
If someone writes a kickass query, I get my hopes up that they have spent as much time and energy crafting that one page as they have for every page of their book. But on occasion, you’ll find that an author has faced so much rejection that they’ve put more thought into honing their query template than redrafting the book they’re trying to sell.
To you, what makes a query particularly special or noteworthy?
Noteworthy is any query that skillfully combines economy and context.
Economy = Don’t write too much. Maybe a brief sentence or two about why you’re contacting the agent and what it is you’ve written, then two or three sentences of description. Finish up with a sentence or two of bio.
Context = How long is it? Does your book have a genre? Why are you contacting that specific agent? For extra points, are there any bestselling authors or titles that you would compare it to?
If you haven’t heard from anyone in eight weeks (or six months, or whatever the agency website mentions for a response time), feel free to send a brief follow-up.
Name three things authors can expect when signing with an agent.
This all depends on who you have found to represent you, so I would hope you’ve done your research about the agents you contact. Anyone who represents you will hopefully share their game-plan, whether that is how they will prepare your book (some agents tend to go into edit mode with their new projects before they submit the manuscript to publishers; others want their books to be submission-ready), when they will go out with the submission, and which editors/houses they will submit to.