Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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November 1, 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

113 comments on “Agent Wisdom, Volume II: More Advice For Writers From Literary Agents”

  1. Writing advice from agents is the best advice there is. Thank you, Chuck, and best of luck on the sleep deprivation from the new fatherhood.

  2. Great post--getting writing advice directly from agents is invaluable. Just participated in Agent Reads the Slush Pile with Kristin Nelson--and yes, my submission was up for critique, and no it didn't pass muster--but Kristin's comments and advice have already spurred me to go back and re-re-re-revise and improve my work. Any time you can get advice like this, take it and internalize it.

  3. I've definitely heard and been told the same things. I think these are great rules of thumb for writers to remember and go by. Especially the advice about minding one's online presence. Times are changing. These days I just assume that "nothing is truly private" and "nothing is protected" when I post things online. It's difficult to remember in this day and age, and though personally I don't think it's fair, "it is what it is," as they say.

  4. These tips are fabulous. It's one thing to query your manuscript, and another thing to query SMART. Thank you for helping your followers to do the latter.

  5. I went to a writers conference over the summer and was overwhelmed by all the stuff I didn't know. You have taken that information, or a good chunk of it, and condensed it into information packed bites. thank you.

  6. Chuck -- Just found your blog today after trolling around hesitating over signing up for NaNoWriMo. Thank you for the inspiration. I'm going to hop over and sign up because the world is a pretty dull place without good writers.

  7. Thanks so much, Chuck. A great deal of this resonates, but one comment in particular touched me:
    “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.”

    It's true that some forget why they put themselves to the task. Yes, indeed ...this is a true labor of love 🙂

  8. It seems there is always so much more to learn! Thanks for putting this together, it was interesting and eye opening.

  9. So much information I have to bookmark this page to come back to it over and over again. Thank you for sharing it all!

  10. Thank you so much for compiling this list. I'm enjoying the wisdom quite a bit, particularly since the world of queries and submissions is still very new to me. Thank you for doing this!

  11. I am a sucker for good writing advice, and there certainly is lots of juicy morsels here! I especially loved this piece of wisdom:

    “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

    Thanks for sharing these, Chuck! I will be following you on Twitter and Facebook to read more from you. Cheers.

  12. I find that the writing is very easy for me. The marketing, however, seems to be the torture. I am very grateful for these articles since most of us need all the help we can get. Thank you and I look forward to learning more and more.

  13. Great advice! I joined a writing group about a year and a half ago and it's one of the best decisions I've ever made. Thanks for posting this!

  14. I've come to the conclusion that I'm just writing for myself. but that's better than not writing at all.

  15. Thank you very much for putting your advice out in the world. Many new authors, such as myself, really appreciate it.

  16. That is always the best, last question to ask "is there anything you'd like to add, anything I didn't ask?" In an interview, of a doctor, any professional... Thanks for gathering this great advice.

  17. I loved this article and I'm very grateful for the advice. I certainly felt like I learned something new from it, thank you!

  18. Hearing what the agents have to say is extremely helpful. As I re-write and edit I say over and over, "I'll never give up!" Thanks!

  19. Interesting collection of advisory tools. I will certainly take them into account as I approach submission readiness. Thanks. 🙂

  20. Some useful info here. I particularly liked the advice about being yourself - we get too much info on markets and not enough about finding our own inner voice

  21. Thank you so much for the wonderful information, I enjoyed going through and reading the great advice, and will come back again soon 🙂

  22. I'm currently in the last stages of editing and ready to query, but I think I might be procrastinating out of fear! I've done my research, I've taken a seminar and I know Now I have to take that last step. The compilation of advice here is very motivating to do so.
    Good Luck, Chuck! The sleepless nights will end, but other lovely things come with that... Like whining and temper tantrums!

  23. It's always to hear what editors have to say. I just finished my first draft of my first MG novel. I know I have a lot of work ahead, but that's what it takes.

  24. I'm taking these tips to heart as I finish up my first rewrite. A few more and I'll be ready to send it to my writer's group, then a professional editor, then....gasp...an agent. Miles to go but that's what it takes. Thanks for the sage advice!

  25. […] Literary 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.  […]

  26. This is something that beginner writers need. I've recently begun working with a publishing house, and as an aspiring author, I know that this is going to be an invaluable experience; however, I anticipate that even with my foot in the door with a publisher, I'm still going to have to do a lot of the in-depth research on my own. That's what makes this book sound like such a great resource.

  27. Great article!! Love it!! “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.” this is my favorite! 😀

  28. I paint with words and write with pictures. I would like to find an agent who sees they are the same thing. I believe the 2014 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET would be very helpful.

  29. I really enjoy hearing the agents' perspective on the submission process and on rejection, Thanks for compiling this list.

  30. My debut novel was self-published after two publishing companies, one who wanted to publish my book but went bankrupt, and the other that held onto the manuscript for seven months and I respectfully withdrew my submission. After sending it to a Toronto publisher for an opinion only, they highly recommended that I keep looking for the right publishing company with the right budget which is hard to find for an author who writes for tweens/teens and the genre is ghosts. Your helpful blog is priceless! I am now searching for a literary agent - my second novel is completed. Thank you so much, Chuck. You are generous.

  31. When I read a good book my mind gets lost in what I'm reading and I have trouble leaving that world behind for the real world. I feel the same way when I get into my writing mode. It's difficult to come back to the present when my mind is still intertwined with my fictional charters that I've been interacting with in my writing.

  32. All of the above advice is awesome. Write because you can't live with out it. Be seen online in an appealing way. Hone your craft. Competition is fierce. Push yourself into uncomfortable places such as blogging, classes, writing conferences, library author talks, writing groups and reputable organizations like SCBWI. Be respectful to agents who pass on your work. It will be better for you in the long run to find an agent that's as excited about your project as you are. Be patient but tenacious. Thank you Chuck!

  33. Some good advice there; I will have to read more as soon as I get away from my "day job" -- the one that supports my writing habit. Thanks for the blog!!

  34. All comments are right on target, especially the one about a rejection not being personal. When an agent or publisher tells you that your project isn't right for them it's so very difficult not to take it personally.

  35. I have been writing my entire life...have journals, notebooks and sticky notes of ideas, (mostly poetry and children's books) all over the place! A friend shared this on FB so I had to read and comment. Excellent advice! I'll have to pay attention to this blog! Thanks!!

  36. There are countless ways for writers to get advice. To me, the advice from agents carries the most weight. They are often the gatekeepers; they see good and they see bad. And it's their job to know the difference.

  37. Everyone says you should write because you love to write, you have an overwhelming need. I don't feel that, yet there are some things I am working on and want to complete. Does that mean I am doomed to fail?

  38. Thanks for the info! Glad I found this ....As a writer and illustrator I hope to be able to use your advice to further my search for an agent and finally become published. The 2014 CHILDREN’S WRITER’S & ILLUSTRATOR’S MARKET would be most helpful as well.

  39. I have so much to learn still. After reading this and Volume 1, I will make sure to make the most of any Agent I have access to in the future. In the meantime I am greatly appreciative of your writing on this subject. Thank you.

  40. Thanks for culling these tips. I agree with them all & have learned so much from following folks like you, Chuck, in my journey. Cheers to writing!

  41. Thank you so much for sharing this Chuck. I have been getting loads of rejection for my manuscript and know that I may still receive many more. I am learning to get better with each rejection and will mot give up no matter what. This was very inspirational. Thank you! 🙂

  42. OOH! I truly like the quote about doing your own thing and not following trend or it will feel forced. It reminds me of those singers who try to copy Mariah Carey and totally suck! Or singers who try to sing like Beyonce, or someone who does gospel, but their voices aren't cut out for it. It's AWFUL to listen to, and embarrassing too! Reading is the same thing. Let us use our OWN voices and speak out!

  43. Thank you very much for an interesting mix of comments from various agents and genres. Each one had something to offer those of us looking for an agent to help ferry us writers through the some time rough publishing waters. I always enjoy your articles and insight.

  44. Thank you. I'm learning more every day about publishing, and look forward to learning even more.

  45. You have advice from 2 of the agents I am most excited about in here! It's good to have some of this information reinforced. As a new author, it can be difficult to put the money in for a freelance editor, but the more I read (and write), the more I agree.

  46. You're so wise, but then again, we already knew that. That is the standard last question I ask when I'm doing interviews as a newspaper reporter. It often elicits the best answers.

  47. Great advice, especially about being market ready. I've done numerous edits and still know there'll be more once (if) I find an agent!

  48. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. *knee slap* Random thought/question for a random comment for the random commenter. Serious note: thank you for both volumes. For an aspiring author, it helps tremendously to get a peek inside the agents thoughts.

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