Yep, exactly.

Yes, often a publisher will pick up a “borderline” book - and for those they offer the “standard” ($5,000 - $10,000) advance and allocate no marketing budget. Authors that fall into this category are definitely in the “sink of swim” camp. So, yeah, for these people making sure you do a lot of pre-release marketing will be essential.


Yes, that is what I’m asking. Look at Harry Potter, if it wasn’t for the daughter reading the book we would have never been introduced to an amazing story.

I want Literary Agents to have more options.


I wasn’t saying you were. I was clarifying a statement someone else said.


Depends on the age of the teen, I guess. What teens read won’t necessarily reflect the high standards required by the publisher when it comes to publishing the work. A teen might think a certain story is great, but it might be so badly written it wouldn’t be publishable. I imagine that a certain amount of experience might be needed to get a job in a publishing house, even if it is only reading through the slush pile.

Read this.


Thanks for all the insight and time to write it up! You definitely seem to know a lot about publishing. It’s one of those worlds that can be hard to find reliable information on unless you yourself are published or know someone else who is published.


The reason agents don’t use “others” (teenagers or anyone else) to read their slush pile is ultimately they have to LOVE the work to represent it. It’s not something you can count on others for. And, yes, in the case of Harry Potter it was a kid who said, “This is great, you should read it dad.” But that doesn’t mean that it “almost” wasn’t picked up. If that agent hadn’t signed it…someone would have…because it ticked all the boxes (a) good story (b) well written © market potential.

They do. An agent can run their business anyway they want. The fact that they aren’t using teenagers (and maybe some are), isn’t because they don’t have the option, it’s because they want to read and decide for themselves what to represent.


You are welcome, and I’m glad to help shine a light…it’s exactly why I’m here.


Have the teens read through the slush pile. Have a meeting asking the teens which books they thought were the best, and then work with the author on polishing the book.

Listen, I am not saying that I am an expert in what sells, what is considered good writing, etc. All I am saying is that first time authors are handled like needles in a haystack. And don’t even get me started when a literary agent lists that they want this: I want a rebellious teen joining forces with an alien with one eye and one tooth in order to save planet purple.

I made that up.

Anyway, then a writer sends them exactly that to the T. And guess what–not a right fit.

What? HOW? Isn’t that what you asked for? Okay, so maybe they said no because the writing wasn’t strong enough. But how about the plot? Was that strong enough? Maybe take their good idea, take them under your wing, and HELP them perfect the craft.

Take a chance.

One of my author friends said her agent took a chance out of the slush pile. I bet she doesn’t regret that move. The book is doing great.


I’ve read stories as a beta reader that ticked all the boxes and the author was still told no. JK even admitted to querying under a different name and was immediately rejected. But as soon as they found out who she was, here came the offers.

What? I’ve heard that some use interns, and not every agent reads through the slush pile. That would give anyone a headache.


Most agencies have interns (I have no idea of the average age of interns, but most are young) who read the slush and hand books to the agents where they meet certain criteria. If agents think a book has potential but isn’t quite there yet, they will send out a R&R. Agents don’t get paid until a book sells and most won’t invest any time in working with a writer unless they have an exclusive and they believe the book has a high potential of selling. They are running businesses, not charities.


Thanks for the link.


Businesses where chances aren’t taken much. And charities? No one in the business is looking for a free hand, but I do know plenty that want the next big thing and everything that comes with it. And yet tell 100 people no, out 103. Remember, I gave them too much in stats last time


“Not a right fit” is oftentimes agent-speak for “not good enough.” They don’t want to crush your feelings by saying your stuff isn’t ready for prime time so they use “Not the right fit” as an easy way to let you down.

Now, sometimes an author will send them stuff that they don’t represent…for instance fiction to a non-fiction agent. So in that case “Not the right fit” is EXACTLY that…and the author is at fault because they didn’t do their research.

To be honest, most agents don’t get far enough into the piece to know whether the plot was strong or not. Most agents decide before the bottom of page 1 that it’s not good enough. That sounds like a ridiculously short period of time. But trust me it’s all that is required for 95% of the pieces. For years, I’ve offered a free “first-five pages” look for new authors. I’ve looked at more than 500 openings, and I think I found 1 (maybe 2) that I read beyond page 1. Ofttimes, I can tell in the first paragraph that more practice is needed. There are some times when I can tell in the first sentence. Have you ever listened to someone trying to play a musical instrument who aren’t yet skilled at it? Your ear picks up on it immediately. The timing is off, the notes are missed. It’s exactly the same way with writing.

If you’ve not heard this yet, you will…assuming you stay in the "publishing game long enough. “Ideas are a dime a dozen, it’s execution that counts.”

Agents often take writers under their wing…but it’s not to get their writing skills up to speed. That is something only time and practice can help, and until you have that mastered, they can’t help you…after all you may NEVER get to where you need to be.

Where they provide assistance is with fixes to the plot (or characters) that can make the book stronger. They might say…it lags in the middle, cut this scene or that one. Or they might suggest other “high-level” changes.

As I said, agents “take chances” all the time. The “risk” comes from the fact that most books fail to earn out (Only 20% do). But I’ll venture to say that your friend wrote well and had a good story to tell. If that wasn’t the case, she wouldn’t have been publihsed :wink:


I know a creative writing professor who was told no and ended up self-publishing. And her stories were amazing when I read them. The type that I thought about at night. No seems to be the old and new norm. No, no. no.

So, 500 openings and only one intrigued you? Is that what you’re going with?


Of course you have. Because you are not the agent. It has to TICK their boxes…and then the publihser’s boxes. And last it has to TICK the reader’s boxes. There is a subjective nature to this business.

Not quite. JK took a book to her publisher and said, “publish this under a different name.” They did, and it didn’t sell well. Then it leaked that it was written by Rowling and the sales skyrocked.

But regardless, JK Rowling is the ultimate outlier – so you really can’t base anything on her. What you need to look at is how the thousands of midlist authors do things. It is THEIR example you need to follow - because that is likely where you’ll initially fall. You can’t expect to do the same thing as the top-earning author (Rowing beat out prolific James Paterson in the 2017 & 2018 according to Forbes).

Some small presses use interns for slush piles. And before the big-five pushed querying down to agents…they used interns. And there are small windows when publishers open to unsolicited manuscripts - and those are generally read by interns. But the MAJORITY of AGENTS do the thumbs up or down on their own.

Now, keep in mind that for the vast majority of those “submissions” many are rejected on the query alone (in other words they don’t’ read ANY of the manuscript). If the query catches their eye, they’ll read the first few pages. And if that is good, THEN they’ll ask for the full manuscript. It may be at that point they turn it over to an intern (because reading an entire manuscript is time consuming), and if it gets a thumb up from the intern they’ll read it themselves. But I don’t think ANY agent will acept a mauscript from a debut author without THEM reading the whole book first.

I may be wrong on this, and please post me some links of agents who say otherwise. But I do think I have a good handle on the majority of agents and how they go through submissions.


To build off what both of you are saying:

I have heard that agents apparently care about the ability to have a strong narrative voice, AND to have a strong grasp on the English language (on a technical sense, anyway)

It seems to come down to they don’t want to have to spend hours teaching you to write better. Editors at publishing firms also don’t want to have to spend countless hours fixing basic mistakes.

Sometimes if you think your work is strong enough to get sales and succeed at reviews (official reviews, ones that people can’t take back) then you’re better off self-publishing. I take it as a good alternative, as it didn’t always exist!


Oh yeah forgot to mention that too! Query letters can be the ultimate destroyer in proposing a novel. If your story is amazing, but you’re average at querying, an agent will reject it before looking at your manuscript. I’ve heard it’s about, “If they can’t write this well, I don’t trust the work to be any different.”

They’re basically just SUPER busy and have the privilege of being terribly picky, so they are.


Just because I am not agent doesn’t mean I don’t know what a good story is. I read a lot.

JK Rowling is an author who comes off the top of my head. That is why I keep using her as an example. I follow a lot of authors that write in the same genre I write, and I look up to all of them. I am truly a fan of their work and I respect anyone’s hustle. At the end of the day, no one can deny that they want the next big thing.

You talk about going self-publish now, why is that?


The way I see it, agents and publishing houses are moreso looking for an opportunity where the work has already been done for them.

Whether or not the book is good is secondary. What they want is someone with an already established audience so they can save that much more time, money, and effort when it comes to advertising and promotion since it’s already been taken care of.

It’s far easier to sell a book by someone whom already has a following than “take a chance on a brand new author nobody has heard of yet”. And while it makes the most sense when it comes to business, it makes it that much harder for “the next big thing” to get discovered through new talent.


So let me get this straight, an agent helps with edits, and then sends the edits to an editor at a publishing house who continues to help with the edits?


I don’t know about this. One of my author friends, has one of the best agents in the industry hands down, and got her without having a huge following or using any marketing techniques. I remember her having like 400 followers on Instagram, but most of them weren’t people guaranteed to buy her book. Her following went up a little more once she told everyone she had an agent, though. Still, she’s just starting out and mostly does speeches about her book at her old high school.