How to Lose a Literary Agent

Five tips for sinking your career before it starts and making a name for yourself in the worst possible way.

Zach J. Payne
6 min readFeb 6, 2019


If you’re a writer looking to be traditionally published, finding an agent is key. It’s also one of the most difficult parts of the process, especially when you’re looking for your first agent.

At least, that was my experience.

I had written this thing that I loved dearly, had poured years of my life into creating, and I was about to send it out into the world where it would be judged by others, by professionals in my chosen field, purely on its merits — none of the emotional baggage involved.

At the same time that I was querying, I was also reading as a query intern for Pam Howell Victorio at D4EO. My job was to go through the email inbox, and to pick the stories that I thought would jive best with Pam and her tastes and what she could champion, and either send out a rejection or request pages, accordingly.

So, during the entire time that I was querying, I was sitting, essentially, on both sides of the desk. And, boy, was it illuminating.

There were good queries. I will start by telling you that. There were definitely some good queries, great stories by new writers who were professional and interested in pursuing a professional relationship.

But there were also the more memorable people, those who had forgotten that soliciting an agent is the initiation of a business relationship, that the purpose of a query letter is to get an agent to want to read more of your work, and not to send them running to the hills.

It seemed to me that, as I was preparing to query, that you couldn’t turn a corner in the writer’s department of the internet without finding some well-intentioned guide with query tips or advice for swinging an agent.

These people had not only not read those guides, but were doing the exact opposite of what was recommended. In short, they were doing everything humanly possible to make sure that they would never get an agent.

Here are some of my favorites — five things you should absolutely do if you never want to be represented.