The Biggest Peeves That Will Put Off A Literary Agent

MYSELF, MEERA Sharma, I am a writer who has written her first English-language fictional novel and will be privileged if Sihayi will agree to publish it through your esteemed publication. I have spent last five years working on this fiction very passionaltely. Just last three months I got frustrated and went for self-publishing. It is even more frustrating now so I seek your help in finding a proper publisher. Please find enclosed complete manuscript. I await your reaction in bated breath.

I’m not kidding when I say that this is a standard query letter that we agent’s receive. Yup! So, let’s lay out the truth folks:

  • Stop introducing yourself as ‘myself’.
  • English-language is not hyphenated.
  • Check your cover/query letter for grammar and spelling mistakes.
  • Either call it fiction or a novel; not both.
  • Don’t misspell the name of the agency you’re submitting to.
  • Don’t call an agency a publishing house; do your research.
  • And, if you think that an agency is a publisher, then why are you asking us to find you a “proper publisher”? What does a “proper publisher” even mean?
  • If you’ve managed to extract the correct email ID from the agency website, then surely you can read the submission guidelines, which clearly state: “Please send the first three chapters.” Why are you then sending us your entire manuscript?
  • We will respond if you follow our submission guidelines, but not if you “keep bating your breath.” Which reminds me, we are not interested in your respiratory speed, only your writing.
  • It is only polite and really “proper” if you do not cc other agents and publishers on the same email.
  • It’s worse if you send us your submission on a bcc email.
  • It’s even worse if your email comes to us as a forwarded email.
  • Since you think the agency is an “esteemed organization”, do you also think it’s correct to stalk the agent on Facebook?
  • Oh, and if you submit to publishers simultaneously, you’re only reducing your chances of us getting you the big bucks.
  • By the way, we love hate mail!

As an agent, I open every submission with anticipation: Is this the book I’m looking for? It’s been over eleven years but the excitement hasn’t waned. But something happens to me when the opening lines of the first chapter are about the sun setting or rising, or the birds chirping, or the river rippling gently. NOOOOOOO. Don’t torture me. Then there are sentences when you know the author is thinking in Hindi and writing in English. For God’s sake, be honest and write in your mother tongue. The bottom line is that you have to be honest as a writer.

Still, I feel fortunate to add a pulse and rhythm to a book as an agent, and to seeing it out on a bookshelf. It’s like seeing your baby flash that toothless smile for the first time. It gives me that rush of maternal pride.

That doesn’t mean that it’s not frustrating and annoying to deal with publishers who take forever to read and revert, especially when you have to keep reminding your authors to get on with what they’re supposed to do best: write. But that’s the professional hazard that we opt for as agents. If I were to weigh my annoyances and joys, the joys definitely outweigh the peeves, and I am not saying this to be politically correct. I honestly admit that I groan inwardly when I see some names ringing on my phone––I am not admitting if these are publishers or authors–– and I have to grit my teeth in order to be sweet and polite.

Being an agent in India is not a business whopper. It is, in fact, quite the opposite. There are times when the commission is just enough to pay the monthly phone bill. It’s too late for us agent’s now––we are too deep into the commitment to our authors whom we love.

Publishing in India is throwing up new opportunities. It is experimental and challenging. Working with different languages is rewarding and it leads to discovering voices, old and new, which need to reach a wider readership. The roads are open, we need to journey on. 

Mita Kapur is the founder and CEO of Siyahi, India’s leading literary consultancy.

Excerpted with permission from Amazon’s #1 bestseller How To Get Published in India, Meghna Pant, Bloomsbury, available online and at your nearest bookstore.