November 1st, 2013

Agent Wisdom, Volume II: More Advice For Writers From Literary Agents

By Chuck Sambuchino

Writing on PaperLiterary agents are full of great advice for writers. That’s why, whenever I am concluding an interview with an agent, I always end the encounter by asking “Is there any other piece of advice you’d like to discuss?”

This open-ended question often draws a fantastic answer, as the agent’s most passionate advice will pour out.

That’s why I’ve gone through a whole bunch of literary agent interviews and cobbled together some of the best writing tips that agents have passed on over the years. There was so much good material that I had to break it down into multiple columns. This is Volume II (and you can see Volume I here), and you can check out agents’ helpful and inspiring advice below—then leave a comment for your chance to win a free book.


“Stay true to yourself. Be aware of the conventions of your genre, but don’t try and write something because it’s trendy. If your heart’s not in it, it’s going to feel forced. If you don’t write something that excites you—and if you don’t write from the heart—you’re not going to win anybody over.”

Rachael Dugas of Talcott Notch Literary


“If you pitch a project to me (or another agent), and my response is something along the lines of ‘this isn’t right for me,’ remember this: It isn’t personal. I’m not attacking you as a person, and I’m not even attacking your writing. There are plenty of books out there that I love, but that I also know I wouldn’t be the right agent for. More important than finding an agent is finding the right agent.”

Brooks Sherman of FinePrint Literary Management


“If an agent passes on your manuscript but tells you they would love to look at a revision, they mean it! They think you have talent and they want to see more from you. However, the flip side of a request like this is that they probably feel there is still a lot of work to be done before they could successfully market your project to editors. Give yourself the greatest chance by always sending agents your very best work.”

Shira Hoffman of McIntosh & Otis, Inc.


(Hi, everyone. Chuck here chiming in for a second. I wanted to say I am now taking clients as a freelance editor. So if your query or manuscript needs some love, please check out my editing services. Thanks!)


“Watch what you say online. I know it seems like common sense, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people who blog, Tweet or post inappropriate things online. It’s better to just not do it—if you post and delete, it’s still archived. An online presence is an agent’s or editor’s first impression of you—make it a good one.”

Kathleen Ortiz of New Leaf Literary


Spend a lot of time writing your query letter. Read a book about it, take a class on it, do whatever it takes. Your query letter is your first impression—don’t make it your last. You also want to take a long hard look at your first twenty pages. Cut out every sentence, paragraph, or word that is extraneous; show no mercy, because your readers certainly won’t. And lastly, don’t be afraid to quit and try something different. Not every project is going to be a winner, and you’re not going to make it a bestseller by willing it to be so. Besides, if you don’t sincerely believe that your next book will be better than your last, then being a professional writer is probably not going to work out for you anyway.”

Evan Gregory of The Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency


“Research! There’s an overwhelming amount of information out there on publishing.”

Sara D’Emic of Talcott Notch Literary Services, LLC


“Writing is rewriting—make your work the best it can be before you try to market.”

Kimberley Cameron of Kimberley Cameron & Associates


“Start marketing yourself right now.”

Bree Ogden of D4EO Literary (formerly Martin Literary Management)


“Join a writing group. There are few things more valuable to a writer than an honest and insightful reader. Family and friends are often too biased to give real criticism. A writing group can help give you a broader perspective on your manuscript, help you see what’s working and what’s not—all while providing support and encouragement. Even when the group isn’t meeting, the process of editing each other’s books will have made you better at self-editing.”

Adam Schear of DeFiore & Company


“I think there is a gap between what writers think is ‘market ready’ and what an agent or editor does. Without getting professional feedback, it’s difficult to bridge that gap. If you want to be traditionally published, use freelance book editors, preferably who have industry experience, to polish your work before approaching an agent or editor. Freelance editors can be costly, but I think they save writers time and money in the long run.”

Elizabeth Kracht of Kimberley Cameron & Associates


“Follow your dreams. Keep your fingers crossed—and try to have fun.”

Linda Epstein of Jennifer De Chiara Literary


“Don’t become a writer to get rich; it may happen, but it’s a long road to getting there and most of the ‘riches’ come in other forms. Write (especially fiction) because you feel you can’t do anything else, because there are stories inside you that need to find their way out.”

Melissa Sarver of Folio Literary


“My best piece of advice for writers is to keep writing. The more a writer writes, the better his or her skill becomes. And I also find that when an author derives joy from whatever he or she is writing, that joy comes through in the writing. So try to enjoy it and that pleasure might speak directly to your readers.”

–  Faye Bender of the Faye Bender Literary Agency


After you comment below for a chance to win a free book, check out Volume I of this Agent Tips series.


Chuck is excited to give away a free copy of either the brand new 2014 GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS or 2014 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET to a random commenter.

Comment within 1 week; winners must live in Canada/US to receive the book by mail.

Click here for the rest of Chuck’s posts here at WITS.

Do you have any questions you’d like to ask?

About Chuck

Chuck FW head shotChuck Sambuchino of Writer’s Digest Books edits the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS and the CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET. His Guide to Literary Agents Blog is one of the largest blogs in publishing.

His 2010 humor book, HOW TO SURVIVE A GARDEN GNOME ATTACK, was optioned by Sony Pictures. Chuck has also written the writing guides FORMATTING & SUBMITTING YOUR MANUSCRIPT and CREATE YOUR WRITER PLATFORM

Besides that, he is a freelance book & query editor, husband, sleep-deprived new father, and owner of a flabby-yet-lovable dog named Graham.

Find Chuck on Twitter and on Facebook.

photo credit: Fernando X. Sanchez via photopin cc

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