More Things Not to Say to an Agent

Wendy Lawton

Blogger: Wendy Lawton

Plenty of blogs tell you how to approach an agent, what to say and how to say it. A couple of years ago I chose ten things not to say to an agent and you shared with readers why these things make an agent cringe. In today’s blog I’m going to highlight another ten things not to say when seeking to impress an agent.


  1. I’d really like to write for the general market but I figured the Christian book market would be a good place to get my feet wet.
  2. Writing comes completely natural to me. I’ve never taken a class or attended a single workshop.
  3. I’ve written a fiction novel.
  4. My novel is actually my own life story. I haven’t changed a single incident or experience. I have changed the names but everyone who knows my story will immediately recognize the characters.
  5. My book is short by design. I’ve read that people are reading less and less these days so at 8,000 words I think it will be perfect.
  6. You’re going to love this. . .
  7. I’ve written a children’s picture book. My fourteen-year-old daughter illustrated it. She’s such a talented artist.
  8. My book, Breaking the Generational Curse of Mental Illness, charts new territory. Professional credentials? No, but we all know that real understanding comes from a combination of wisdom and experience.
  9. The best thing about my book is that it will not need to be edited. I’ve gone over it three times and it is flawless.
  10. I call it a memoir but I’ve enhanced all the events and changed several things here and there to make it more interesting.


Yes. Agents have heard all of the above and numerous variations of them over the years. Rather than offering these What-Not-to-Say comments and explaining why they illustrate potential problems to an agent, I’m once again letting you do the work. Pick one or two (or more) and explain to our readers why they should never ever say them.

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  1. Might these be included?
    * I’ve looked you up and found that our Zodiacal signs are complimentary. This relationship is cosmic fate, and can’t be denied.
    * The Blessed Mother came to me in a vision, and told me that I MUST seek you out, and I must NOT take no for an answer.
    * I experienced these in trying to vet grad students to work on projects. Seriously. I ended up carrying a cosh.

  2. Pursuant to #10; perhaps the exception that proves the rule…
    * In the 1970s Edwards Park wrote “Nanette”, a ‘memoir’ of his service as a fighter pilot in the Southwest Pacific during WW2. He called it “an exaggeration”, and admitted to changing details for dramatic effect, but he captured the essence of flight, and of life on the edge of death.
    * Twenty years later Park write “Angels Twenty”, a straight memoir. It’s equally engaging – he was a very good writer, and was emp[oyed by ‘Smithsonian’ magazine – but lacks the narrative snap of ‘Nanette’, as, perhaps, all true memoirs must.
    * I read ‘Nanette’ first, and Park’s fidelity to the basic truths – thought not the details – of his experiences stayed with me, and changed my life. I could accept exaggerations, and I was quite able to see, in his words, the raw veracity of our shared humanity.

  3. Flawless? Needs no editing? Even the inspiration of the Holy Spirit needs a second set of eyes (I’d love to take my red pen to the Apostle Paul’s run-on sentences).

  4. #1 might just be a weeeeee bit insulting. From what I’m observing is that the Christian market may be a little more difficult to “break into” than ABA because there aren’t as many “slots” for books with traditional publishers.
    *#5 seems to come from a lack of understanding about publishing and about readers. Again, making assumptions about the market will get a writer in trouble, every single time.
    *Can I admit I laughed at a couple of these and was left shaking my head at a couple other points?
    *Interesting post, Wendy!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      #1 reminds me of the writers who want to start with children’s books because they are “easier.” It denigrates children’s books which may be the most taxing kind of writing next to poetry.

      #5 shows that the writer has done nothing to find out that each genre or category already has “expected” word count parameters.

  5. I’ll take #2 and #3
    #2–When you just write when you feel like it in a rush of creative energy, it is wonderful. I used to write like this and only when I felt like this. But I was a beginner. Anyone who isn’t trying to improve themselves, who is still just writing only when the muse speaks, is probably a beginner who hasn’t learned craft, revision, or how to take a critique yet.
    #3–A novel is fiction, always. Saying a fiction novel is redundant and shows a lack of understanding of the lingo in the industry.
    A great list, Wendy. Thanks so much.

  6. Oh, my … #8 – No editing, Flawless:
    For starters, this is astonishingly arrogant. Now that we have that as our baseline, a writer never, wait … no … NEVER proofreads his/her own work. I cannot do so, because I already know what it says, even if it doesn’t say that. It says what I think it says because I think that is what I wrote! Thus, for me to try to proofread a sentence is pointless because my mind will read what is not there. Even after going over my manuscript 10 times, and two edits, it is still no flawless. Such an assertion is asinine.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Right! We are looking for clients who understand that creating an outstanding book is a team effort and editing is part of that equation.

  7. Wendy, how about offering bribes? Chocolate? Increased percentage? Two weeks at my time-share in South Philly (gotta love the ambience, or else)?

    • Andrew, I actually heard a podcast that recommended bringing chocolate as a bribe to a “pitch session” with an agent. I thought that was a bit over-the-top, and that it came off as … maybe desperate? I’m not sure, but everything about it feels wrong to me. Above all be true to yourself.

      • True to myself, Damon, I’d be bringing cigars and a six-pack.

      • Freshly-rolled Cubans? 😉 Remember what your teacher said. Bring enough for everyone!
        I did campus ministry for many years at Kansas University. A lot of it involved evangelistic Bible studies in the dorms, and it is not unheard of for a student to come to a Bible study with a six-pack of Bud. You just roll with it and thank God that he is there at all!

      • Actually, I’ll bring Nicaraguans…a box of Drew Estate Acid Blondie Bellicosos. Best-smelling and tasting cigar around, and the bellicoso size makes for a mellow hour or so.
        * I recently heard Bobby Schuller reminiscing that when he started evangelizing in high school, the good kids wouldn’t give him the time of day. His first convert was a drug dealer.

      • The people sitting IN darkness have seen a great light specifically because Jesus went TO those people rather than standing on the edge of the light in hopes that they would find him. Too often, we holy folks cringe at the thought of rubbing elbows with people who are not like us. That is the antithesis of the Jesus model.

      • Damon, that is so exactly right. C.S. Lewis said that we will be very surprised at whom we meet in Heaven…and perhaps even more surprised by the absence of those whom we would have expected.

    • I totally brought chocolate to a few pitch sessions. Serotonin is always welcome.

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      It depends on the agent and the bribe. 🙂 Some are just pure fun and demonstrate the writers sense of humor. Of course, woe to him if the agent has no sense of humor.

  8. “I’ve gone over it three times.” No. And no. I promise you it is still a disaster. Try somewhere around 100 times. And then it still needs help … it will still evolve. Ideas will still come to you on and off. And it still needs professional help. But maybe that’s just me. 🙂 On the flip side … and though I totally agree with your statement, Wendy, I might should be embarrassed to say that my daughter did illustrate my first fiction work, middle grade … she did it for me … just to help me … and it was the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. She did computer art, and it was like something a little kid would do because it’s really hard to keep a steady hand on the computer … anyway it was darling to me. She thought she did a terrible job, but I told her that’s what made it so sweet. And it’s something like what you’d see in kids’ books. But … I always knew if someone liked it, the art work would be changed. But again, it really helped me get my head in the game. It’s still on my computer, right where it’ll probably always stay. But wow, what a learning tool that project was for me. I bet my future grandkids, Lord willing, will hear it a thousand times. 🙂

    • You need to print it off and, save it somewhere else, just in case.
      I want to see this artwork!!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      It’s definitely a treasure, Shelli. The reason we don’t have anyone– even a professional illustrator– illustrate our manuscript is that those two elements, manuscript and illustration, are purchased separately. Offered together as a package you have twice the chance of being rejected– don’t like the writing or don’t like the illustrations.

      • I sure understand that. I think of all the advice you give regarding Debbie Macomber and homeschooling when I think of that season of my life. My daughter was helping me edit my work … and it really improved her grammar skills. I never have to edit her work. 🙂 And the drawing, or my love of it, really encouraged her and gave her more confidence. She loves to draw.

  9. Lori says:

    Number 4, can you say potential lawsuit from those characters who everyone recognizes?

  10. Jerusha Agen says:

    LOL! Seems to me these “no’s” are pretty self-explanatory–and hilarious! 🙂 Thanks for sharing these, Wendy.

  11. Things not to say:
    “I’m a pastor and I’ve made my sermons into a book.”
    “God gave me this book.”
    “God told me to give this to you.”
    “This book is unlike any other book on the market today.”
    “It’s the next Shack.”

  12. Wendy, thank you for continuing to teach us. I’m choosing #10 because memoir is one of my favorite genres to read and write in. It’s critical for writers to remember memoir is nonfiction. Any changes to protect identities should be mentioned in the introduction. Nothing is more disappointing and damaging to a publishing team (and author) than the readers finding out a supposedly true story is false.
    True life tends to be stranger than fiction. Readers need to know they can trust the story. Without trust, the title, the career, the tower—tumbles.
    Blessings ~ Wendy Mac

  13. Wendy, my latest book is sick, and you’ll go max facepalm if you miss it! With its #trending use of emojis, stickers, and apostate-friendly symbology, it’s destined to be every hipster’s ironic beard, and will bring an end to literacy as we know it!

    • Wendy Lawton says:

      Hopefully you are sending this query to a 23-year-old assistant agent or else you’ll need to include a translation.

  14. Linda Summerford says:

    Those are good to know. Can you share things TO ask the agent? These are most helpful. Thank you!

  15. #9- NO. Just no. You are CLUELESS, Miss Flawless!! The ONLY thing that is flawless is a Dairy Milk chocolate bar, anything else needs work.
    #5-A made-up fiction novel? How splendid.

  16. NOTE to the group:
    You people are funny. I love a good sense of humor!

  17. These remind me of seeing people try to pass manuscripts to editors and agents under the doors of toilet stalls. It’s hard to believe there are still people so ignorant about the publishing industry when all they have to do is look on the internet to find out what’s okay.

  18. David Todd says:

    So, from this post we have 10 things not to say. From the referenced post we have 10 other things not to say to an agent. That’s 20 things. Add in the suggestions in the comments here and there, I suspect we’re up to about 50.
    Everything else is fair game, then?

  19. Amy Collins says:

    Bwahahahahaaaaaaaa! Heard them all. Loved this.

  20. Laura Davis says:

    As a book reviewer, I am sad to report that because the above statements were repeated to an agent, the “writers” decided to bypass agents and publishers altogether and submitted their books for review. You think you’ve seen it all? I once had an author submit a book to me that was completely unedited and in the foreword of the book the explanation given was this, “I wrote it as God directed me to, so it has not been edited.”

    • Judging by the similar stories I’ve heard, it seems like God has dictated a lot of books, but He must have used up all his writing talent with the Bible.
      I’m glad to know He’s not really like that.