Can a simple comment on a submission make a literary agent howl with horror? Yes, absolutely, according to this agent's guest post:
Let’s start with the science bit – every day by email, post, carrier pigeon and osmosis I receive 10 unsolicited approaches from unrepresented writers out in the big wide literary firmament.
These come from all genres. There’s fiction (from coming-of-age to fin-de-siècle), non-fiction (from ‘My 38 Years As a Bank Manager’ to ‘Mucus – the bodily secretion that changed the world’), poetry (from love poetry to stalker poetry), cookery books and academic texts to verse drama – usually about earwigs taking over the world for some reason.
On one level I sit there excited about the wealth of creativity and on another I sit there silently screaming and wondering where the STOP button is!
The truth is that there are more writers than readers and almost all of this material will never be published in the conventional manner. But like a theatre critic sitting there as the lights go down night after night, one is always hoping that, as an agent, this is going to be your J. K. Rowling Moment. If only it were something that happened so much more often…
As one of the quality filters in the system, I am often asked how I sort the wheat from the chaff and the good from the evil.
The answer is that it really isn’t rocket science and that you, dear reader, could soon pick it up.
I start by reading the covering letter – if someone misspells my name that is never a good start and if they tell me that they have tried every agent in town and are now trying me, then that can, on a bad day, be a deal breaker. And if someone tells me they have analysed the bestseller list and created the ‘perfect bestseller’ in lab conditions, then I will most certainly run down the street screaming.
Funnily enough, screaming is not conducive to my taking on a new client.
Grumpy Old Agent*
*Grumpy Old Agent is Simon Trewin, a literary agent at United Agents. He tweets as simontrewin.