Bryan Mitchell asked, “What is the max number of submissions you should send at a given time? I’ve heard ten but that sounds off; to me, it seems it should be less than that if you are carefully considering the agents you reach out to.”
When approaching agents I encourage simultaneous submissions, as long as you let us know you are doing so. But, as Bryan answered his own question, there is no magic number. The number should include those you think are the best fit for your project based on what you’ve discovered in your research.
Please do not ever send your proposal to multiple agents in the same agency at the same time. This happens to our agency nearly a half dozen times a week and it is annoying. It is almost guaranteed to receive a rejection.
There are some services on the Internet who will sell you a list of agents and make it simple to hit them all at once. We can often tell when this happens and it is not a good thing for the author.
Why Simultaneous Submissions to Agents?
Since each agent has a backlog of proposals to review it can take time to properly evaluate them all. If you send it to Agent ABC and it takes two months to get a “no thanks” then you send it to Agent DEF and it takes two months… By the time you get to Agent XYZ it could be a few years.
Better to target your first group of choice agents and send to them all. That way within a couple months you can find out if any have interest. If they all say no or let your proposal languish in the inbox (a form of benign rejection) then you can move to the next group of agents that you have researched.
A simple sentence at the end of your letter can say “This is a simultaneous submission.”
Where Do You Start Looking?
The Christian Writers Market Guide has nearly 60 agencies listed with around 100 agents from which to choose. That is a good place to start your research.
You can also go to any number of quality writers conferences and meet with the agents who attend. I was at a conference at the end of July and there were six agents in attendance.
If you are a part of a writers group or a larger association like RWA or ACFW or AWSA you can ask for referrals from those who you trust in that network.
Do Your Research, Please
I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating. A book proposal is like a job application. If you are looking for employment I suspect you would research the company to which you are applying and would customize your application to that organization.
The same thing applies when approaching an agent. We try to make it relatively easy to contact us and we do not hide our names. Why then does the occasional writer think they can get away with the salutation “to whom it may concern” or “dear agent”?
What about meeting with multiple agents from the same agency at the ACFW conference? When I had signed up, I had requested a meeting with both you and Tamela.
That is fine. We want to meet you!
Imagine if BOTH of us want to represent you. Then you could watch us arm wrestle in the foyer over who gets the privilege!
I would recommend that you mention this dual appointment briefly during your meeting. That way we aren’t surprised when we talk later about our appointments to discover that you talked to us both.
Yes, we do debrief after a conference.
If I had known having agents arm wrestle over you in the lobby was a possible outcome I would have made more agent appointments in my life….
😀 😀 😀
If you ever see a sad-faced agent rubbing their shoulder you will know what just happened…
How ironic! That is the exact plot of my novel! It is very romantic. Just kidding… unless that is what you are looking for 😉
Damon J. Gray
Steve, I have long been curious, but never asked any agent, given that you are constantly flooded with submissions, and each of you has an aggregation of clients you are servicing, why do you make yourselves available at conferences? I am pleased that you do, and have enjoyed my encounters with agents at conferences, but it seems you have a near-overwhelming workload as it is.
The other question I have is, at what point do I conclude that a manuscript is not gaining traction such that I toss it in a drawer and focus on a different manuscript? There is a tension between not wanting to concede defeat in that arena, and the desire to not invest my time and energies in an endeavor that is not going to bear fruit.
A good question. I wrote a post about that last year:
As for the other question? Only you can decide when to abandon that particular story. But if it continually gets rejected, even after rewrites, it may be time to lay it aside and start with something new. It might be the writing craft. It might be the story itself. There are any number of factors.
Bryan Timothy Mitchell
Thank you! I look forward to reaching this step in the process. But first I’ll need to edit, edit and then edit some more after I edit.
Also, don’t forget to edit! That is the most important step (or twenty steps), in my opinion. I hope all goes well with the revisions!
It’s a good question whether we should send simultaneous submissions or not?
I found value in your answer.
Your example from Bryan Mitchell’s question about the max number of submissions touches something central. I’m aligned with you that 10 seems to be in the upper end. As you suggest it seems fair to approach the topic considering fewer agents.
Playing with open cards is absolutely the best way because the risk is too big if the author bumps into a conflict later. Your example of receiving the same manuscripts at several desks in the same company makes a bad impression.
A submission needs to be angled very precisely to a specific recipient.
It’s a totally different situation if you – as you say – send out the second round after some months.
My experience is that those who manage to ask for proper referrals stand much stronger.
It’s helpful to use your example of a book proposal being the same as a job application.
I always say to those I work with that writing the book is just a little part, the selling/marking part is the big part, and by doing the research so the authors know how to approach this is crucial for a successful book launch.
If the readers take notice of the guidelines you give in this blog post, my impression is that they’ll be much better of in the future.
As David mentioned in his comment, you must get a lot of submissions every day, so I just wanted to thank you for taking your time to maintain the blog as well.
It’s a pleasure reading it.
I’ll share this blog on Saturday on my social media accounts.
Thank you Edna.
We get a few new submissions each day. We’ve learned to manage the flood waters.
If a proposal gets buried with all the rest of an agent’s rejects with no notice, how can an author figure out whether the problem is a proposal that lacks pizzazz or platform, a mediocre or worse manuscript, or an agent who simply doest want a new client in the author’s specific genre at that time? Without any clue about which case apples, sending the same thing to the next batch of agents seems like an exercise in futility.
Kudos to your agency for at least sending the rejection!
Please be sure to understand that there is no obligation on the part of the agent to respond with any sort of critique.
We state on our site that if you’ve not heard from us within two months or more it is likely a “no thank you.”
Given the hundreds, if not thousands, who approach us we simply cannot provide customized critiques for each person.
I do understand that’s the policy of this business, Steve, and your actual “no thank you” instead of simply ignoring sets a high bar here.
I worked in a field where proposals were requests for funding for research (high risk with no guarantee of pay back), and anything from a few 10K to many 100s of thousands or even more than a million dollars were in play. Feedback was was a standard part of rejection, and it helped us improve the next proposal. I’m sorry for those seeking representation that the same isn’t true of the publishing business.
W. Gail Langley
This is a question. Will agents work with a writer on a self-published book?
The short answer is “Yes.”
The tiny bit longer answer is “It depends.”
The long answer is found in a blog I wrote awhile ago:
I think you should get a tombstone prepared far in advance of you passing away that says:
(birth year) — It depends.
A picture of the cemetery hillside:
Steve, is it safe to assume most agents/agencies feel similarly about simultaneous submissions?
Always check the agency’s guidelines. If they specifically state “NO simultaneous submissions” then don’t break their guidelines.
But, like us, most agencies assume authors are sending their proposal to multiple agents.
Are we permitted to submit one manuscript to you and a different manuscript to Tamela. I have one that has more romance which I thought was in her area of interest. I also have another one more Christian/mainstream which I thought was more in your area.
Not a good idea.
Imagine the outcome.
Steve loves your manuscript and wants to represent it.
Tamela loves your OTHER manuscript and wants to represent it.
Now you have two agents in the same firm with different projects wanting to represent you. That may seem fun…but imagine the next step.
Steve shops your novel to editor at BigTime Publishing. Editor is thrilled.
Tamela shops the OTHER novel to editor at BigTime Publisher, Editor is now very confused because they can only publish one at a time.
“But!” you shout, “one book is better for BigTime and the other is better for RomanceMe Publishing.” Granted. But you are now in a situation where you are competing with yourself in the marketplace. BigTime Publishing will have a contract with a non-compete clause in it. And RomanceMe Publishing will also have a contract with a non-compete clause in it.
You have two agents, two publishers, two contracts, and a disaster on your hands.
The general rule is that should have only one agent for all your work. There can be career conversations based on your whole body of work. Your agent can determine which of your books is the best place to start your career and whether the OTHER manuscript is better to release at another time.
Or if you should publish the first under your name and the OTHER under a pen name to keep from confusing the market.
Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D
Thanks for the info, Steve. Though I am with an agent who I met at ACFW conference last year, it was good to talk with four different agents, to see who was the best “fit” for my projects.