Is there a hierarchy of agents, per se? Are there some whose submissions rise to the top simply because of who they are? Are there some that are greeted with a frown when the envelope is opened?Absolutely. McIntosh & Otis, Writer's House, and Curtis Brown are among the heavyweights—agents who have a track record of representing talented people. Their sales often happen quite fast, too, so editors try to look at those submissions quickly lest they miss their chance at something great.
And yes, there are a couple of agents who I have on a personal blacklist (a very, very short list, that I'm not sharing with anyone) and those envelopes go into the trash without being opened. Those are agents who have shown such unprofessional behavior as to make me seriously doubt they're legitimate agents. I'm just waiting for them to show up on Preditors.
Most agents fall in between, and while they may be sending me stuff that doesn't suit my personal taste, that's not cause to think less of them. This is a subjective business, and you never know where the next great idea will come from.
What else might cause some manuscripts to get a quicker read than others when it comes to agented subs? How well the agent pitches it?I hear all about how hard agents work to pitch well. So I suppose it must be making a dent on some editors.
Not me, though. Just as I don't care how fabulous you think your manuscript is, I don't care how fabulous your agent thinks it is. In fact, I think I care less about what the agent has to say, because reading the agent's letter won't tell me anything about your writing skills, the way your letter would. So whether I'm looking at an agent's letter or listening to a pitch over the phone, I'm tuning most of it out. I'm listening for what the manuscript is about, and if it's something we publish, sure, I'll have a quick look. The point of dealing with agents, after all, is that you trust them to be sifting the slush a bit for you.
Otherwise, I'm afraid how quickly agented submissions get read is a matter of luck. They often pile up on my desk for two or three weeks before I find the time (or the weekend) to go through the stack. And that's really fast, compared to some editors.
Picture this: An editor and her assistant are in the editor's office and are moving piles of paper around as though playing a cramped and dusty game of tetris. One of the piles is too tall to pick up all at once, and when halved, reveals a manuscript.
"Hmm," says the editor, "I should probably have replied to this."
"Didn't that get published last year at [another house]?" asks the assistant.
"Oh, really?" says the editor. "How'd it do?"
"Haven't heard anything about it since."
"Dodged that bullet, then," says the editor, tossing the manuscript at the recycling bin.
(Assistant chants to herself, "This will not be me, this will not be me, this will not be me.")