Such is the lure of Twitter's ability to enable instant updates on agency news, releases, and changes to submission policies, that even those literary agencies not savy with social media are gradually being drawn to tweet.
Yet for every agent still learning how to utilize their timeline to their advantage, there is a literary agent for whom Twitter is an extension of their consciousness. They are tweeting juggernauts who demonstrate daily how to express their personalties in a timeline. It is this aspect which makes Twitter indispensible for a writer: getting to know an agent's personality prior to submission. Knowing what genres they represent is all well and good, but it means nothing without the ability to understand if an agent's personality is one the writer can sustain a career with.
Given a specific start time in advance, these open sessions enable writers to tweet any question about agenting, submissions, or the publishing industry in general. Addressing the tweet to the agent with the hashtag at the end of their question allows other writers to filter by hashtag and follow the Q&A. Whatsmore, fellow literary agents can join in by picking up some of the hashtag tweets to help out their colleagues, and of course the writers themselves.
An example of a correctly formatted tweet for this is below:
@usernameofagent Should I submit to an agent based abroad? #askagent
Most literary agents set a limit of between 30-60 minutes for their Q&A. Although there are some agents who regularly do extensive two hour sessions every week. But no matter the length of the sessions, the guidance given by agents during them can help writers immeasurably.
However, the aspect often overlooked is: what exactly do the literary agents themselves gain from particpating in the #askagent sessions? They frequently devote their time to hosting these weekly Q&A's when it would be far easier for them not to. Furthermore, many conduct them from home long after they have finished for the day.
Since my early days of Twitter I've been using #askagent. For me, it's the perfect way to connect with authors in a fun and conversational way. For six years I ran a very popular blog where I dispensed publishing advice and my own insights into the business, but times had changed and after hundreds of posts I felt the blog didn't have as much value as it used to. People had moved on, to places like Twitter, to learn about publishing and connect with professionals. For me, #askagent provides those things I miss most about the blog, the camaraderie with authors and other professionals, but it doesn't take up nearly as much time as writing blog posts did.
One of the most rewarding things about being an agent (outside of working with my clients) has always been teaching. I love helping authors and dispensing advice that can guide them. And while I don't view #askagent as a way to gain new clients, it is how I discovered both Sharla Lovelace and Michelle Painchaud, two incredibly talented authors.
My #askagent sessions are usually pretty quiet. I do them at odd, early, hours and only when I have a chunk of time where I know I'll be able to answer the questions that come in. I don't tend to schedule my sessions or announce them in advance and they usually only last about 30 minutes, or until other things need my attention.
I like the simplicity and immediacy of #askagent and encourage authors to check it out whenever they have a chance. I think there's a lot that can be learned.
Eric W. Ruben
I first started participating in #askagent at the request of a twitter friend who became a client. We both saw it as a way of helping people learn about the business in a quicker, less painful fashion.
I tend to schedule my sessions at different times to allow people in various time zones to participate. They are truly international events. I try to do them once a week, depending on my schedule. I hold #askagent sessions whether or not I’m accepting unsolicited submissions. My sessions last from 1 to 2 hours depending on several factors. I’m happy to do it, I only ask that people be respectful and ask agent-related questions and not waste time with silliness or issues that can be discovered easily using google. After all, it’s not just my time that’s being used. Many writers “lurk” or participate.
Generally, I’ve found people to be kind, considerate and intelligent. I find that agents benefit because writers get a sense of our personalities and philosophies. That way they can be clearer about who they should seek out when they are ready to submit their work.
I really enjoy taking part. It's important to be accessible, friendly and helpful to the writers that we want to potentially represent, and I try to ensure that no one believes the agenting world is peopled by callous monsters or elitist gatekeepers, but by a set of perfectly normal (well, most of the time) and approachable people, who simply want great books sent to us. A lot is said about the publishing industry that is inaccurate or misleading - so I hope in some small way we are proving that we're nice people and we're very interested in hearing from new writers, and that we’re always excited about the promise of new fiction and non-fiction.
I also participate in #askagent because I never over-estimate how little people might know about what we do and how to submit a book to us. We can use the forum to chat about our tastes and encourage smart submitting. And if we can help the process of querying agents wisely, we’ll be doing everyone involved a favour!
It’s fun, free and frenzied, and hopefully everyone benefits. What's not to like?
I discovered #askagent sessions just as I became an associate agent in 2010. At that point they were great for me to see what questions writers had and how agents handled them. I started jumping into them in 2011 and sharing my answers too. What I love about them is the energy that writers have and how desperate they can be for correct, authoritative information. What I cringe about when I see an #askagent session is when someone gives incorrect information which can circulate like wildfire. That being said, 99% of the time it's great, qualified, long-time agents who are providing honest answers to interesting questions. I don't jump into #askagent sessions as often as I used to. There are more of them now, started by one or two agents, when it used to be a big group of agents would start going (5+) and the questions would come firing at you and it felt like you were really helping. Now that I've been on Twitter longer and been doing #askagent sessions longer I don't get involved as often because I feel like I've said so much already to my same followers.
What's great is that there is always groups of new writers joining Twitter and there are always lots of questions to be answered to help them in their journey to finding representation and publication.
I use my blog to answer questions more frequently now because I have more than 140 characters to share my opinion on a topic.
I am all for helping writers learn and grow as well as answer the questions they're not finding elsewhere. But more importantly I feel that my blog is a place where I can really get into the answers to questions someone might ask on an #askagent.
Molly Ker Hawn
I’ll often do an #askagent session when I’m procrastinating (am I allowed to admit I procrastinate?) or waiting for a phone call—so it’s usually a spur-of-the-moment thing for me, and it lasts for as long as I have time. Sometimes I’ll gatecrash my friend Juliet Mushens’ regular Sunday-night #askagent; it’s more fun to do it with other agents, and I like seeing how our answers differ. And I don’t always have all the answers, so it’s more useful for authors if they get a few of us participating at the same time. With very few exceptions (it IS the internet, after all), participants in #askagent sessions are there to learn, and the more they learn about the publishing process, the better their queries are.
#askagent sessions have led directly to me signing one client, who asked if I was considering her project’s genre, and queried me as soon as I said yes. I always appreciate it when a querier mentions if we’ve interacted on Twitter, and if that interaction was during an #askagent session, it’s a little tick-mark in her favor: it tells me she's researching how (and to whom to) sub her project. And #askagent can be like a mini-audition: if an author says something funny on Twitter, I’ll usually remember when I read her query. This is such a personal business, and such a personal process—taking part in an #askagent can give authors a better sense of who I am, and whether I might be a good match for their work. It also chips away at the idea that agents are faceless rejection machines. Most participants realize that taking part in an #askagent isn’t a substitute for following my submission guidelines, and I always see a spike in queries after an #askagent, which is terrific: I’m always looking for the next great writer.
Carol Mann Agency
We here at the Carol Mann Agency are relatively new to the social media world. We are always thinking about ways to extend our ability to build relationships within the literary community. We find #AskAgent to be one of our most effective tools of communication.
We participate in these sessions because it is a unique way for our agents to personalize and extend their voices to unpublished authors who may not know the Carol Mann Agency, or what we have an interest in representing. It gives us a chance to provide advice, find out what unpublished authors are working on and make new literary friends. We like to imagine that our advice, however small, could potentially help an author to tighten their book's query, climax, ending, plot development, or what have you. Our interns, assistants and agents spend a lot of time reading unsolicited queries hoping to find that diamond in the rough so we are very aware of the usual struggles and confusions authors have when querying us. We also like to provide hints on things that turn us on and off when reading a query, not only does this help authors, it improves our ability to properly assess and enjoy the submissions we receive.
It never hurts for the author to mention these communications in their query, but authors should always keep social media etiquette in mind. While we personally have never had a problem, we've heard through the grapevine of authors who have inundated the agent who responded to their #askagent question with personal messages on Twitter and Facebook. We love to help, so when asking a question assume that you are the representative for all the other unpublished authors out there… because in some ways, you are. We love #AskAgent and are always happy to answer questions whether we have announced a session or not.
I really believe in the idea of being a good steward of the community. If I am going to take, I need to give back in equal measure. Even though I am not a writer myself, I think of the writing community as my community and over the years I have drawn a lot from it: information, support, fellowship. #AskAgent is one way for me to try to be that good steward; it allows me to share any specific agenting knowledge/insight I may have so that perhaps someone can benefit. Sometimes you give, sometimes I give but hopefully we can all learn and be/do better. Beyond this, if any agent's #AskAgent sessions help querying writers avoid common mistakes, that is in everyone's best interest. Maybe I will get that improved/better-aimed submission because of another agent's #AskAgent session, maybe some other agent will reap the benefit of the submission informed by my advice, in either case increased submission quality is fundamentally a good thing.
My #AskAgent time is entirely dependent on the ebb and flow of my daily schedule. Some months/seasons I do more of it and other times I really struggle to carve out any time for it. I have a difficult time limiting it to small blocks of time so it has a way of taking up more time that I usually plan for. I will usually try to open up the session to questions for 30 minutes or an hour but then I like to stick around and answer every question that came in with the hashtag during that period. So I may take 30 minutes of questions but it could take me 90 minutes to answer everything. It all depends on how much lead time I give people before starting the session and whether I open up my session during high traffic times during the day. I tend to be pretty spontaneous about my #AskAgent sessions ala "hey everyone, I will take questions for #AskAgent starting in 10 minutes." If I have an unexpected free block of time, sometimes I just drop #AskAgent into it. It is always nice if people who are participating follow the hashtag and see what questions others have asked so I don't end up answering the same 3 questions over and over and over ("How long should my synopsis be?" "What are editors looking for right now?" "What do you think the next hot trend will be?").
Rarely do I ever come away from an #AskAgent session feeling that I can draw a direct line between cause & effect on the old cost/benefit analysis. I am not sure I've ever received a submission that I loved and offered on and signed because of a specific #AskAgent session. I think the benefits on the agent side are more nebulous but still very much there. It isn't a bad thing for my work if my participation in #AskAgent illustrates my knowledge, my personality and my willingness to help in general to writers who may at some point query me. Participation can certainly increase an agent's visibility and that definitely has its benefits. It is all kind of a win-win all the way around.
I think the #AskAgent hashtag is a fantastic resource because it connects authors and aspiring authors to agents! With Twitter and other social media, I think it’s become much easier for writers to get information, especially with how the publishing industry always seems to be in flux.
While there is information available online regarding querying and other questions writers might have about the process, the #AskAgent hashtag allows for direct interaction between authors and agents, which I think really helps to build a rapport. If an author is on the fence about querying an agent and they see the agent is doing an #AskAgent session, having his/her question answered might encourage them to go ahead and query.
I would also say it definitely helps to connect writers, and I love that because then they are able to help and learn from each other as well. For example, writers who meet through #AskAgent might team up as critique partners or provide other connections and support. Also, because Twitter allows Retweeting, the hashtag is very discoverable (if people don’t learn about it by word of mouth).
I first came across #AskAgent when I saw the hashtag mentioned in a tweet from someone I follow or one of my followers. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the chance to participate as much as I would like. However, I do try to join in two or three times a month. When I have a chance to do an #AskAgent session, I usually spend about an hour following the hashtag and answering questions.
I first saw the #askagent hashtag in a tweet from a writer I followed, when I was very new to Twitter. I didn’t understand what it meant, (I was still getting a handle on using hashtags), but I ended up scrolling through the #askagent feed, answering a bunch of questions, without realizing another agent had already answered them hours before.
What I like most about #askagent is that it lets me interact with authors and answer questions about a wide variety of things, from how to submit to agents to publishing trends to my particular interests. I believe that the more authors know about the nuts and bolts of what I do and what I’m looking for, the more professional and polished their submissions will be, and more likely I am to find a book that’s perfect for me. The other great thing about #askagent is that it helps me branch out and spread the word about my agency to writers who may not know about it.
I do #askagent sessions on a pretty sporadic, impromptu basis, whenever I have a slow day and a free 30-60 minutes to kill. I really admire the agents who plan their sessions way in advance, so I may do that more in the future.
The only #askagent etiquette I’d advise is to remember to use the #askagent hashtag. Sometimes writers will ask me questions without it, so I’ll end up bouncing back and forth between the #askagent screen and my @ Connect screen, which is a little annoying. Also, don’t pitch your book during #askagent. Apart from specific pitch events, like #PitMad or #AdPit, Twitter is not the place to pitch your book.
My other advice is for authors to feel free to ask anything during #askagent, no matter how stupid they think it might sound. Sometimes it seems like authors are so worried about making a good impression on an agent that they’ll hold back their burning questions, waiting for someone else to ask them. To those authors, I want to say, #askagent is not a job interview, it’s an informational interview. You’re not being critiqued by the type of question you ask. There’s no way you can possibly damage your potential relationship with an agent by asking the wrong thing. So #ask away!
I became aware of the #askagent hashtag over a year ago and typically run a session every Sunday evening. Sometimes it can be over and done with within 30 minutes, at other times – when lots of interesting questions are batted around – it can last for well over an hour. I think it’s an incredibly useful resource for writers as it helps them understand what to focus on in a submission and how to write a targeted cover letter – and also reminds them to finish their book first! I’m passionate about demystifying the process for writers and helping them understand that we are people too, and that we love finding and growing new talent.
I have signed and sold books by two authors this year who submitted to me after #askagent sessions, having liked how I came across. I think it’s very useful from an agent’s perspective when attracting new talent as it makes people aware of our individual tastes and personality. I also find that cover letters and submissions from most people who follow the hashtag are more polished, which shows that people really engage and learn from the process. I also think that #askagent can also be helpful as a warning sign to agents… sometimes people can be rude/aggressive when using the hashtag, so it’s important to remember to be professional when speaking with us. When I get your submission I want to remember you for the right reasons, not the wrong ones.