Agents Are Browsers

Lately on Twitter, I’ve seen many hopeful authors announcing they’ve finally gotten some kind of request from a query. Though the most excitement stems from “full requests” (meaning an agent has requested to read the full manuscript), even partial requests are a cause for celebration. And… Yeah. I think authors need to embrace even small victories. But I fear, based on the elation I’m witnessing, that many of these optimists believe that the full request will surely lead to an offer. And realistically, that’s just not the case.

Here is the thing: agents are like library patrons. They go through the queries the way we might browse the stacks. Some books they pass by immediately; maybe these books aren’t genres that interest them, or there is just something about them that is an automatic “no.” They don’t merit a closer look. Some books, though, might have an eye-catching title or cover* or premise. The agent will pick it up, read the flap or blurb, maybe skim the first page or so. If the book shows promise, they add it to their pile. This is the request, either partial or full. But it isn’t a commitment to the book or author. That’s the glory of libraries: if you don’t like a book, you just return it. You’re not out anything but time and an overburdened arm from carrying more than you probably should.

So think of a request from an agent as them “borrowing” your book. If they really like it, they’ll go buy a copy for themselves. That is, they’ll sign you and your book. But you can’t be surprised if they don’t. Because, when you think about it, you may love a lot of the books you borrow from the library. But you’re probably limited in shelf space or budget on how many you could own. Agents likewise have limited time and bandwidth. The majority of the books they “borrow” will be returned without the agents feeling the need to own them.

I’m not saying this to bring anyone down. It’s will always be exciting when an agent borrows your book, so to speak. And, you know, when you’re shopping a manuscript, you only need one agent to want to buy a copy. After all, you only have one copy to sell.

I realize I’ve overstretched this metaphor, but you get my drift, I hope. By all means, do that dance of joy when you get a request for pages, but don’t pin all your happiness on the outcome of that request. More often than not, your book will be returned to the querying library and go back into circulation.

*Yes, I know that manuscripts don’t have covers yet, but I’m talking about a metaphorical library, in which books would have covers… What reasons do you pick up a book for a closer look?

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