re: Which Comes First, the Editor or the Agent?

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Dear Editor…

I’ve heard that the only way a publishing house will even consider looking at a manuscript is if it’s submitted by a literary agent. Is that true? And if so, how do I go about finding an agent for myself?

Sincerely,

Mary

Dear Mary…

It’s true: most signed manuscripts reach editors through agents. Frustrating, yes, but it cuts down on editor response time with submissions. Agents essentially screen manuscripts for editors, who know that if an agent shows them something, that project is likely of interest. Reviewing random submissions means losing time sifting through manuscripts that aren’t even in the editor’s realm of interest, hence the popular “no unsolicited manuscripts” rule.

To get your agent, go to writers’ conferences, retreats, and regional meetings, because the agents who speak at those events usually extend open submission invites to attendees. And when you go, always pay for critiques with the agents. Face time is invaluable. Be polite and firm but not pushy. That means no shoving manuscripts under toilet stall doors. Don’t laugh, that really did happen to me when I spoke at a conference. Ever polite, I called through the door, “How about if I wash my hands first?” I’m happy to say, the writer let me.

Happy writing!

The Editor

3 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I’ve been a bit reluctant to go to conferences so far, in part due to the cost (as a struggling writer). But, it sounds like a valuable experience that deserves the effort.

  2. I agree with the Editor. I met my agent at a writer’s conference during an Open Pitch session. The conference was expensive (about $500) but I met dozens of other writers that I keep in touch with. I also was inspired and educated at the many different sessions I attended.

  3. I’ve heard a few stories about editors and agents getting manuscripts under the stall, and often thought it was a myth. Guess not. I’m sure you many other tales to tell!

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