Agents Are People Too

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I never thought of literary agents as actual people until I went to Squaw Valley Writers Workshop this summer. Before then, I had imagined them as these dark forces who lived in these impenetrable towers, and in those towers they spent their days making paper airplanes out of query letters and dropping manuscripts off the tops of balconies. I will admit that I was actually afraid of them. That’s why I refused to look at the staff bios on the workshop website; I didn’t want to know who was an agent beforehand because I knew that if I encountered them I would begin to sweat, or apologize for sending them horrible query letters in the past, or worse, I would try and act über cool and pitch them my WIP which would have probably gone something like this: “So um, it’s about this lady, and she’s like getting married? And then um, this other woman comes to town? And then…well, a whole lot of other really cool shit happens but you’ve gotta read it to see how it all fits together. Here; I have a copy in my purse. And it’s so good I know you’ll finish it tonight so can you give it back to me tomorrow? It’s my only copy. Thanks! Muah.”

Fade In:

Int. Squaw Valley Conference Center — Day

A poor LITERARY AGENT goes running for her life. QUANIE, an aspiring writer, runs after her with a very heavy manuscript screaming come back here you shmuck.

Fade out:

So I didn’t want to know who was who because I knew that the conversation would go horribly wrong. Besides, what did I have in common with a literary agent? I planned to skulk around the conference keeping my ear out for those agent people, intent on not having an actual conversation with one. Well, imagine my surprise when, during dinner on the first night, I’m out on the deck with a group of very nice people and this guy starts yammering away. He was wearing a hat and looked innocent enough (I should have known; never trust a man who wears his hat at dinner), and someone says to him something along the lines of, “But you’re an agent.”

My heart rate sped up and I gave him a good look. He seemed surprisingly life like, and he was eating normal people food, did not appear battery powered, and tried his hand at a joke or two. He even asked me something. Well, he asked four of us that were sitting on one side of the table something about why we were there at Squaw. I swear every single word that I knew went running up the mountain. I sat there like an idiot while the other ladies gave very intelligent responses, and I, the queen of etiquette, tore into my garlic bread and managed to not make eye contact with Mr. Agent, who shall forever, unless he signs me, remain nameless.

There were other agents there at the conference, and some of them even led our workshop critique sessions! So imagine my horror when I realized that my piece was being facilitated by one of the literary agents! I called my mother (not near tears, but I did an enormous amount of whining), and said, “Mama! I went to her panel! And she represents literary fiction! I don’t write that! What if she tears my work apart?”

“Who is this?”


“Where are you?” I told her. “Well, I’ll be praying.”

I think her prayers worked, because I managed to get out of my critique session with all of my writer parts still intact, and I even had a conversation with the agent afterwards and guess what? She turned out to be a very normal, nice lady who got her purse from T.J. Maxx! She was a mother and an overall nice person who just so happened to be a literary agent.

I have to tell you that I saw agents in a different light after that. I think before I saw them as keepers of the gate (okay; vapid blood suckers who relished in making the lives of writers a living hell). I used to write query letters as if I were trying to get favor from the king: “Dear Sir, it would greatly appease me if you would bestow your eyes upon this manuscript. It is women’s fiction, 80,000 words, and should be very pleasing to thine eyes.”

But now I know: they’re just people! And they eat garlic bread, just like the rest of us! A lot of my query anxiety has subsided as a result of meeting some of them face to face, and although I know I’ll have some level of trepidation when sending out my first round of queries for this project, I’ll think of the man who wore his hat during dinner and how incredibly normal he was, and I’ll remember: agents are people too.


Me and myworkshop group at Squaw!

12 thoughts on “Agents Are People Too

  1. Pingback: Squaw Valley Writers Workshop « Quanie Talks Writing

  2. Pingback: The San Francisco Writers Conference « Quanie Talks Writing

    • Helen,

      It is absolutely worth going. Workshop groups are led by industry professionals, you meet great writers, and you also get a one on one with an industry person who will read a sample of your writing and give you feedback. I found it invaluable. I am actually planning to go again in the future.
      Quanie recently posted..Agents Are People TooMy Profile

  3. Great post and very identifiable. I can tell you this, having been on both sides… the agent needs YOU. Think about it. What are they representing if they don’t have a writer’s work. I think it’s how you spin it. Be brave, and be a wee smug and of course confident. Agents are salespeople and they need product. And they need talent. That’s us!

  4. You had me in stitches. I attended a small conference in May and I had this plan of pretending I had no vocal chords. I was horrified when I was drawn into conversation and half expected through the entire conversation I had thing stuck in my teeth or my nose was running,etc., I got through it like, a strong person. Given that I spend my days talking to clients I was amazed how terrified I was talking in the conference setting. I think the ‘person’ that lives inside of our writer bodies goes AWOL when dealing in the real world away from our keyboards. I’ll spare you the tale of when I insulted a big name.. He was offended I didn’t recognized him on sight. Really! Clearly, I’d never send him my book. Good post.
    Brenda recently posted..You Lost That Loving FeelingMy Profile

  5. Hey Quanie,
    Great post. I think most writers share the same kinds of fears about interacting with people from the ‘literary marketplace.’ But, we soon realize that editors and agents love what they do and are looking to connect with writers, not tear them down. Coach Eric Maisel, in his ‘Living the Writing Life’ has an excellent script for writers to practice their pitches and deal with anxiety when they have to go to writers’ conferences, etc.
    A few years ago, I did a pitch session with an agent and all I could think about is not wanting to be so nervous that I vomited all over him…you never want to be ‘that’ writer that agents discuss over drinks at the end of the day. Thankfully, I wasn’t!
    Congrats also on going the Squaw Valley Workshop. I’ve heard good things about them.
    Michele Tracy Berger recently posted..Sunday Surprise: Adopting the Creative, Romancing the Muse, and Patent Blue Wedge ShoesMy Profile

    • Michele,

      You are so right; they really are looking to connect with writers. And thanks for the Maisel recommend! I will definitely check that out. Yes, Squaw was really great. You should definitely go if you get the chance.
      Quanie recently posted..Agents Are People TooMy Profile

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