Before I get to this field guide to the rare and colorful species Literarius Agentia, known popularly as “literary agents,” allow me first to address some of the yelps that tend to arise whenever I start spelling out some of the customs and norms of the publishing industry.
- No one is going to reject you solely because of a mild faux pas.
Don’t let these guides to etiquette result in crippling paranoia. Try to get things right, do your best to know what’s customary, but don’t sweat it too much. If you’re generally ethical, well-intentioned, and diligent, you’ll be fine.
These aren’t hard and fast rules, just what is customary from one veteran’s perspective.
- It increases your odds to know the customs of the business and act professionally.
Think of a literary agent like a venture capitalist and you’re pitching a business plan. You’re asking someone to invest their time and money in your book in the hopes that it’s an eventual success. (Remember: the agent doesn’t get paid until you get paid).
Would you honestly go into a pitch meeting with a V.C. with no idea whatsoever how those normally work and a shoddy business plan? (Well. Maybe you would. But don’t.)
In this post I’ll cover:
- Following submission guidelines
- Querying multiple agents at the same agency
- When to tell an agent about different nubby situations
- When to call agents or drop in
- When to follow up with agents
- How to handle an offer of representation
Following submission guidelines
No matter what you see in this post or elsewhere around the Internet, an agent’s submission guidelines trump everything.
As you’re researching literary agents, make a note of how they want to be queried and then…just do that.
Seriously. Follow them.
For more general advice on how to submit to agents, check out:
Can you query multiple agents at the same agency?
Unless otherwise specified in the submission guidelines, it’s fine to query different agents at the same agency, provided they represent your genre.
However, in order to avoid conflicts, I’d highly recommend only querying one agent at a particular agency at a given time, and waiting a bit after receiving a rejection before trying another agent. Sometimes agents share assistants who do the first pass reading queries, and it’s best if they’re not seeing the query again first thing after they just sent a rejection.
When to tell a literary agent about X
When you’re writing a query letter, it can be tricky to know when the appropriate time might be to discuss manuscripts in the drawer, other offers, your absolutely true alien encounters.
Here’s a rough guide:
- You had a previous agent – I’d mention this in the query — it shows that someone had invested in your work, even if it didn’t work out for whatever reason.
- You’re writing under a pen name – Query as your real name, but feel free to mention the pen name if you want to.
- Editor(s) at a publisher are considering your manuscript – Mention this in the query.
- You received a manuscript request from another agent – No need to mention this to the other agents.
- You are previously published or self-published – Mention this in the query.
- Your age – If you’re under 18, mention this in the query. Otherwise no need to mention.
- Your other book projects – Wait until you receive an offer of representation, then discuss how the agent would like to approach those.
A good rule of thumb for anything I didn’t cover above: If the information is relevant to the particular project you’re querying about, mention it in the query. If it’s a general question about your career, wait until the agent is interested.
When should you cold call a literary agent or swing by to drop off an unsolicited submission?
When to follow up with literary agents
Check out this guide to agent follow-ups:
How to handle an offer of representation
Check out this guide to handling an offer of representation:
Did I miss anything? Disagree with a custom? Let me know in the comments.
Need help with your book? I’m available for manuscript edits, query critiques, and consultations! And if you like this post, check out my guide to writing a novel.
Art: Gesellschaftsszene by Hieronymus Francken the Younger