BOOKS
08/24/2011 12:57 pm ET | Updated Oct 24, 2011

Writer Wednesday: What NOT To Do If You Get A Literary Agent

From Writer's Relief staff:

If you’re an aspiring writer, you’ve probably got an “I’d like to thank the academy” speech ready and waiting for those big career successes that you know are on their way. You already have plans for the first person you’re going to phone when you get “the call” that you’re about to be published.

We at Writer’s Relief think those things are important: If you find yourself rehearsing your victory speeches while you’re in line getting coffee, then you’re in the mind-set for success! Hooray for you! You’ve got the enthusiasm and optimism to make things happen. You’ve thrown open the windows and doors of your life so that success has no barrier if it wants to come in.

But because we’ve worked with so many writers over the years, we have seen a few newbies whose exuberant happiness caused them to botch what would otherwise have been a really big break. They let emotions get in the way of good sense.

So no matter how happy you are to have landed your literary agent, here are some things you should NOT do. Consider these tips now so that when you do get your agent, you’re prepared.

1. Getting an agent may give you the sense that all your old manuscripts—you know, the ones that got rejected a trillion times—are viable again. But don’t dig out all your dusty projects and mail them to your agent as soon as the ink on your contract dries. Agents generally work on one book per client at a time. Don’t overwhelm them! You can drop hints that you have other manuscripts, and if the agent is interested in seeing them, he or she will let you know. Otherwise, sit tight. One thing at a time.

2. Don’t treat your agent like your best friend. Don’t call to talk about your gout or your dog’s fleas. Be friendly and warm but also professional.

3. Every writer wants to believe he or she will be the next big thing. We all want foreign rights deals, movie deals, action figure contracts, great placement in bookstores, a fabulous multi-city book tour, etc. But again…one thing at a time. Your agent knows the best way to go about these things. So before you ask, “What about this, what about that?” too many times, make sure you’re not being annoying. You are your agent’s newest client—and you may be the lowest on the proverbial ladder.

4. The joy of getting an agent can deflate quickly once you get a request for revisions. Again, take care that you’re not ruled by emotions. If your agent asks you for revisions, be as professional as possible. The agent doesn’t want to hold your hand and take you through every line-by-line revision. He/she also doesn’t want to be ignored. If you don’t agree with your literary agent’s revision requests, take a moderate and thoughtful tone in the conversation and talk it out. Take the revision process very seriously; if your revisions don’t jive, you might lose your agent. We’ve seen it happen more than once. It stinks.

5. Let’s say your query was strong. Your book is strong. Your initial conversation with a literary agent made you appear knowledgeable and strong. And you landed your agent. Woo-hoo! Smooth sailing, right? Maybe not. We’ve seen strong writers who turn into quivering, needy crybabies the moment there is an agent in their corner. An agent’s job is not to be strong for you; it’s to be strong with you. Don’t think that having an agent is an excuse to quit standing on your own two feet.

6. Agents will expect you to ask them some educated questions before signing a literary agency contract. But they’ll also expect you to have done your homework and be very familiar with their work, client list and successes. They assume that because you sent your manuscript to them, you already know that they are a good fit—reputable, appropriate and trustworthy. If you start asking oddball questions that make an agent think that you doubt his/her integrity, the agent will begin to have a negative view of you. (And if you DO doubt the agent’s integrity, you probably shouldn’t have submitted to that person to begin with.)

Just because you have a literary agent on the hook doesn’t mean you’ve reeled one in! So play your hand carefully, even after you’ve signed your contract. If you land a great literary agent, do a happy dance, open champagne, call your mother and go out to celebrate!

Then, be professional, friendly and cool—like you knew it was only a matter of time before somebody saw how great you are. That’s why you’ve been rehearsing your acceptance speech, right?

QUESTION: If you were called to the stage to win a major writing award, what would say in your acceptance speech? Post it here!

To read more from Writer's Relief, click here!