Scary fact: there are more literary agents operating today than ever before. You'd think that this would be a boon to editors: better submissions, and more of them. Well, hahahaha. NO. While I'm all for finding a diamond in the rough, the crap-to-good ratio feels like it's reached a crisis point. Call me crazy (I'm sure you'll call me worse), but aren't agents supposed to be an anti-really-bad-crap tool? I guess some of them just get the 'tool' part right. And now that many submissions are emailed, even the quality of cover letters has gone downhill. Authors, you might want to ask to see your agent's cover letter before s/he sends out your project — the number I've seen where the main character's/author's/agent's own names are misspelled is pretty staggering. Being incredibly fair-minded, I always try to look past superficial flaws and give every submission the benefit of the doubt. Psych!
After the jump, some advice for agents who want to suck less.
Don't send out a manuscript if:
- You have not read it. All of it. Including that middle part that drags harder than Lindsay Lohan on her way to work after a night out.
- It is not formatted properly. That means double-spaced and with page numbers. If you don't know this, you deserve to have all your manuscripts sink immediately to the bottom of the pile. Or burned in a ritual fire. Either/or, really.
- It has been sitting on your desk for months, underneath 20 scathing rejection letters, and you threw a dart and hit Joe Editor's name in your weekly game of Why the Fuck Not.
- It in no way matches the kind of books Jane Editor works on. Like, if Jane's list is mostly comprised of women's fiction and straight-up romance novels, it's a safe bet that a book about two conmen in prison circa 1922 ain't gonna be her bag. (Not that there mightn't be romance in prison, but ...) If non-fiction is her thing, don't waste her time by sending a commercial coming-of-age novel about the child of a one-armed circus barker.
- It sucks. You know it, I know it. Let's just admit it and get on with our lives.
- It is clearly a half-assed mass of pages trying to capitalize on whatever the latest trend is ("it's the next Da Vinci Code ... plus vampires ... and elephants!").
- It will take a machete or some sort of Jedi mind trick to get into the package. It's paper. There's no reason to seal it with an entire roll of tamper-proof tape.
- You've already been rejected by someone I work with. Chances are, I've already heard about it. Don't think we won't mock you for being dumb enough to think editors don't talk to each other. Duh!
- You haven't proofread your cover letter. Not only should you get the protagonist's name right, but you'll probably want to get the editor's name right, too. If the editor's name is Christine, don't send it to Kristin. Even more important: Don't send a manuscript where the cover letter is addressed to the wrong person. Double check your letter and make sure it matches the mailing label (or make sure your assistant does), or get ready for some more mocking, lazypants.
- You're that agent who takes on everything, regardless of whether you actually like it, and sends it out into the editor ether, just seeing what will take. Why are you an agent? Just go to law school and make your parents happy already, please.
Now, be a good agent and send out some good manuscripts. We're waiting.
Unsolicited is an anonymous editor who still works in publishing. Aka, not Emily.