Friday, April 27, 2007

EDoA, Day #3 (Agenting): Phone Etiquette Regarding Agents

This is going to be a slightly snarky post. In fact, this may end up being a very snarky post. Please be forewarned. Miss Snark has covered this topic numerous times, but somehow, it doesn't seem to sink into people's heads. So if you'd prefer to think that little old me really isn't snarky, just imagine that I'm channeling Miss Snark.


  1. If you are already the client of that agent, then you may always call.
  2. If the agent has specifically asked you to call them.
  3. If the agent is considering your partial or full manuscript, and you have received an offer of representation from a different agent, and would like to let the agent know this (always a polite thing to do!).
  4. If the agent is considering your partial or full manuscript, and you have received an offer on that book from a publisher.

Those are the only four reasons when it is acceptable for an author to call an agent.


  1. If you are calling to inquire about whether you can send a query or not. (Read the agent's guidelines, instead!)
  2. If you are calling to inquire if the agent has gotten your query. (We don't keep track of queries, by and large.)
  3. If you are calling to tell the agent you will be at the same conference they will soon be attending. (Find me at the conference, instead of wasting my time on the phone.)
  4. If you are calling to tell the agent how great your query is. (This is a quick trip to an automatic rejection.)
  5. If you are calling for any other reason than the four acceptable ones named above.

Why do I not like you calling me about queries, you ask? Why do other agents not like you calling about queries? Why shouldn't every potential author get to call and talk to the agent-of-their-choice on the phone?

Plain and simple: it's rude. It's intensely, insanely rude. Agents are busy people. Many of us don't have assistants (although Miss Snark does have Killer Yapp). If your query is sitting in the slush pile, you are not my highest priority.

My highest priority is the book deals I'm currently negotiating, followed a close second by the needs of my existing clients. Some days I spend all day on the phone with editors and my clients. I don't have the time to listen to someone tell me about their query on the phone, or ask me if I've read it yet, or try to convince me that it's the greatest thing since sliced bread. Telling me about your query means that you're a good oral storyteller, but I'm looking for writers. If I've read your query, I will have responded to it. But a phone call won't make me get to it any faster.

And really, what do you expect me to say on the phone?

"Oh, I've read your query, but I didn't like it." Obviously, I'm not going to tell you this to your face; that would be rude on my part.

"Oh, I love your query, and I think you're going to be the greatest literary star ever." I can't tell that from a simple query, even if I instantly remember who you are, and what you've written. Remember, I don't keep track of queries, unless I ask for partials from them.

"Oh, of course, you can send me a query! I am intensely interested in the mating patterns of Canadian geese, as well as the thesis on lichen that you're proposing." Can't you tell that that's just a plain lie?

Please use some common sense, people. Read an agent's guidelines. And remember, we're busy people, and we really, really don't have the time to talk to everyone on the phone.


Yahzi said...

I always like to call agents and ask them if it's alright to call.


Steve Zillwood said...

Just curious - one thing both TNH and Neil Gaiman have mentioned (and I do realize that neither of them are agents!) is that, should you receive an offer on a manuscript running through the slush pile, that that's a good time to call an agent as well. What would be your opinion on this kind of call: "TNH over at Tor wants to buy my novel - will you represent me?" Thanks for your time!

Jenny Rappaport said...

Steve Zillwood, that's what I meant by #4 in the WHEN TO CALL AN AGENT list. =)

Marva said...

Now, if I could just get this across to telemarketers. The only difference is there are no reasons to call me.

Ben S. D. said...

You know...I have this thing about common sense lately. I'm just wondering where it all WENT.

While I'm sure this post is very helpful to most, I really think most of it SHOULD be common sense. Even if you're a rookie when it comes to querying agents, you'd have to be completely nuts to CALL an agent about a freakin' query. It shouldn't be difficult to understand what a literary agent does for a living, and what it requires. Therefore, if you even remotely understand it, you should - presumably - know at least a bit about contacting an agent.

There are simple questions to ask yourself. Am I client? How many queries might this agent see per day? How much time does that agent spend on the phone per day? How much time does that agent spend dealing with current clients? You might have to guess-timate on some of the answers, but again, if you're even slightly familiar with the literary world, you can't possibly think it's right to call on agent about a query.

I understand how partials or things like that might be gray area, though. And it always helps to know more about an agent's daily practices and policies. I'm just on this "common sense" kick, and the smallest thing can trigger it. LOL

Katrina Stonoff said...

I don't think I would call even for reasons #3 and 4. I would e-mail instead (and follow up with a call if I didn't get a response).

But then, e-mail is my most natural form of communication.

Waylander said...

How about when an agent has had your full manuscript for over a year and isn't replying to e-mail queries about its status?

Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny,
On a completely different topic... Just wondering if you are going to announce the winners of the Sonnet competition - or is it private?

Ryan Field said...

You probably won't remember this, but back in the day (I'm 38; though my bios will remain 35 for the next five years or so :)before the internet, when I began querying agents and editors with work while I was still in college in the late 80's, the only way to get an address was through books like Writers Market. Very often those addresses were subject to change and the query would be returned. So it was not unheard of to call for an address confirmation (and I dreaded doing it, too).

But that was then. With all the information we have now, the four reasons you mentioned are the only reasons to call. I couldn't imagine calling for an address these days.

But here's a mean little trick you might want to try if someone calls you: Once, years ago, I called to confirm an address and the agent actually answered the phone. She said (with good intentions), "Just query me right now." I said, "Uh, well, right now? On the phone?" And she said, "Sure, why not?" Needless to say, it didn't go very well and I decided I'd rather risk having a query returned than go through that again.

Jenny Rappaport said...

waylander, I would write it off as a lost cause at that point. You could call them, but I don't know what sort of reception you'll get.

anonymous, sonnet contest results will be announced. I haven't been able to decide yet!

--E said...

I have the overwhelming urge to call you just to say hi. Oh, wait, that would be calling you in your "buddy" capacity, not "agent" capacity.

Durn those social relationships!

Anonymous said...

I agree with everything in this post except the "insanely rude" part...with the followup being "agents are busy people."
The implication of those statements together is always the same: an agent's time is worth more than mine is.

Not true.
Never true.
Not even close to true.

Sure, agents are busy people. So are writers. So are clueless writers, which is why they try to circumvent the process by phoning. But that's just people, mostly people who haven't been taught manners because their parents weren't taught them, either. Dealing with people is part of the that many blogging publishing pros seem to despise.

One wonders why at times.

Calling to ask any of the things mentioned may be a little stupid, but it's not rude. Rude implies intention. Rude implies "I know this is wrong, but I'm going to do it anyway." Thoughtless, maybe. Clueless, maybe. Rude, no.

My take...