Sending Your Submission to an Agent

Submitting your work to an agent can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. A few simple steps will help you gain confidence, regardless of your method.

Unsolicited submission

This is when you are querying several agents and you have no connection other than seeing them on a list. I really don’t recommend the cold call submission, because it’s not likely you’ll find exactly the right agent for yourself just by choosing names from a list.

But if you do, it’s fine to ask for acknowledgement that the agent received your work after waiting until the agent’s posted and estimated response time has expired. That way, at least you know that it wasn’t lost and is still in the review process by the agent.

Submission based on some familiarity

Not every writer can go to a conference, but you can still establish some connection by following the agent’s blog, liking the agent’s business page on Facebook, and following the agent on Twitter and/or other social media. Be a friendly presence by commenting on blog posts and sharing the agent’s posts from Facebook, and retweeting Twitter comments. If you are uncomfortable following the agent on all social media, I recommend being a faithful blog follower and commenting when it makes sense to do so. This way, you will have some name recognition with the agent when you submit. An added benefit is that you’ll get to know the agent, too.

Requested submission after conference meeting

When the agent has asked to see your work, congratulations! Be sure to label your submission as requested and in your cover letter, remind the agent where you met. You can even refer to any special connection you may have made, such as a mutual interest in vintage jewelry.

When you do get the nod

Again, congratulations! I hope the nod is from your first choice agent. Regardless, if you have submitted to more than one agent, let the others know before you sign. No one wants to spend time on a submission, only to find it’s no longer available.

Happy submitting!

Your turn:

Are you in the process of submitting to agents? What has been your experience?

What advice can you share with authors who are submitting to agents?

51 Responses to Sending Your Submission to an Agent

  1. Michael Emmanuel February 4, 2016 at 5:11 am #

    ‘Commenting when it makes sense to do so’… I should believe it does now.
    Having being a faithful follower of Steve Laube agency’s blog for four months(not much), am I to conclude I have some familiarity?
    Also, what happens if the agent I’ve been following for a while, say Steve Laube, says no to the manuscript I send? Doesn’t that result in going on with an unsolicited submission? Or should I follow two or more agents concurrently?
    Apologies for the rather much questions.
    Thank you Mrs Hancock.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 4, 2016 at 8:08 am #

      Michael, I would imagine agents would recognize your name if you’ve been commenting. Yes, I recommend following several agents. There are lots of great agent blogs and writers can learn from everyone. Hope that helps!

    • Aimee Jones February 4, 2016 at 8:32 pm #

      Well, allow me to comment when it makes sense to do so. 🙂 I met you at a conference once in the elevator. I realize that makes me one out of thousands! I appreciate you’re advice and always look forward to your posts. I’ve added these tips to my ongoing note for when the time comes I peddle my wares. Thanks again!

  2. Dorothy February 4, 2016 at 6:25 am #

    Thanks for the great post.
    What is the best way to compensate for not attending conferences? I live in South Africa, so that is pretty much out of the question.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 4, 2016 at 8:10 am #

      Dorothy, getting to know us through social media and our blog can work. Follow our business pages on Facebook and on Twitter. Comment on our posts and give us retweets. That is the best way to go, in my opinion.

  3. Niki February 4, 2016 at 6:31 am #

    I struggle with this the most. Even after speaking at churches, to to women’s groups and to single grieving mothers; I still fear rejection. Even after so many people have encouraged me to tell my story.
    It would feel like a personal rejection because the books is not just pro-life, but non-fiction. It’s way more personal. Here my book sets, waiting to be accepted and published.
    I’ll need to be praying big time to gain more courage. ???

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 4, 2016 at 8:11 am #

      Niki, I pray you will find an agent who is passionate about your story! I feel certain you will.

      • Niki February 4, 2016 at 7:17 pm #

        God knows!! I just don’t. Lol
        He has the perfect plan. Soon. Soon I will send it out. Prayers are coveted. ?

  4. Jackie Layton February 4, 2016 at 7:08 am #


    I started following you online before I met you in person at a conference. One of your first comments was you recognized my name from following your blog. You were not interested in the book I pitched and asked if I had another story. I continued to follow you online for the next year. At ACFW when it was my appointment time you stood up and hugged me and asked how I was. Even if I never pitch a book you’re excited about, I’ll always appreciate your kindness. Thanks!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 4, 2016 at 8:12 am #

      Jackie, thank you for mentioning that. I always enjoy seeing friends in person!

  5. Nora Spinaio February 4, 2016 at 7:56 am #

    Have you ever had a writer insist you represent her book because she followed your blog or met you at a conference? I’m just curious. I’m also wondering if you have any cool or funny stories on that front.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 4, 2016 at 8:16 am #

      Nora, for some reason, I don’t often attract the “God’s gonna getcha if you don’t publish my book” crowd. But I have heard stories!

      The Lord truly has blessed me with wonderful, sweet-spirited writers. Just one of many reasons to praise Him!

  6. Rebecca Stuhlmiller February 4, 2016 at 8:04 am #

    Thank you so much for this post… for being so helpful in guiding authors along the path to publication. My question is, Tamela, if I have a 30,000-word nonfiction book, is there any point of submitting it to an agent? Is traditional publication even an option? If not, that’s okay, but I’d like to know.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 4, 2016 at 8:17 am #

      Rebecca, I would recommend lengthening it considerably before trying agents. A total of 50,000 or 60,000 words would work better. I also recommend using the time you are lengthening your work to continue to build your platform. Hope that helps!

      • Jaime February 4, 2016 at 8:57 am #

        If we have already submitted a non-fiction proposal that falls short of the word count, will it be automatically rejected because of the length, or would we be given a chance to extend it? (If the idea and writing are good, of course.)

        • Tamela Hancock Murray February 4, 2016 at 11:01 am #

          Jaime, it really depends on the reviewer. You might want to work on extending it now. Then, you can let them know you’ve extended it and then resubmit, particularly if the reviewer sent an encouraging note.

          • Jaime February 4, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

            Thank you! I am working on adding to it now and hoping I get another chance!

  7. Christine Henderson February 4, 2016 at 8:17 am #

    I recently received a response from an agent who represents authors of children’s books. He said my manuscript of 800 words was too long and needed to be cut Since he responded so quickly, I asked if he would be willing to review it again, if I did a rewrite. He agreed.

    I did my best to “punch up” the story and cut the word count in half. When I received his response of “Doesn’t that feel good that you did a rewrite and cut words,” I was dumbfounded. That reply was not helpful in the least, but it gave me the solid conviction he had no interest in the manuscript.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 4, 2016 at 11:02 am #

      Christine, what you did learn is that the story really needed to be 800 words. Keep trying!

  8. Carol Ashby February 4, 2016 at 8:53 am #

    I’ve only queried once (unsolicited) after I had finished and polished (ha ha) my first novel about a year and three quarters ago. I was so naive about the process. I found a list of agents and agencies on the web and prayed about which one (and only one) to send it to first. I sent it to Steve Laube. I got a formula email response that it wasn’t what he was looking for, but he sent a most gracious reply to a follow-on email I sent him with some questions.

    The real value of that query was discovering your agency blog when I was looking up proposal guidelines. (I was the queen of naive about social media and web resources for authors!) I’ve been an avid follower ever since. After a few months, I got brave enough to start asking questions and commenting. I have learned SO much here and at the Books & Such blog that I laugh in amazement at my ignorance. Best of all, I’ve gotten to know the agents and so many regular contributors that I can hardly wait to attend a conference where we might get to talk in person over a cup of tea or coffee.

    So that first submission wasn’t supposed to get me an agent. It was supposed to get me plugged into this great community of writers for all the help it’s given me and the pleasure of getting to know such wonderful people.

    • Cynthia Herron February 4, 2016 at 10:36 am #

      Carol, the writing life is one glorious learning curve. It never hurts to ask questions. I think when we can laugh at our own foibles, it eases the process. I try to see the humor in so much of life–like the time I fainted in college speech class during my first ever speech. Ahhh. Yes. *THAT* time. (Got an “A” !!!!!) 🙂

      • Carol Ashby February 4, 2016 at 10:57 am #

        Wow! You may have fainted, but the speech itself must have been very good. Was it about the effects of low blood pressure?
        The only similar story I know that tops that is the grad student at Auburn who gave his first required seminar in the chem lecture hall. He finished his talk, leaned over, and threw up in the demo sink. I think he went into industry instead of academia.

        • Cynthia Herron February 4, 2016 at 11:19 am #

          Ahh. That does top mine!

          Actually, I was getting over the flu, but I think it was more the fact I was 18 and a new freshman. The class was huuuge.

      • Tamela Hancock Murray February 4, 2016 at 11:07 am #

        Cynthia, this is a great story, too! Thanks for sharing.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 4, 2016 at 11:04 am #

      Carol, that’s a great story. You might want to share it on your blog if you haven’t already!

  9. Barbara February 4, 2016 at 9:13 am #

    I think the cold call submission is definitely a tough one. When I finished my first novel, I spent hours going through lists and trying to learn about each agent. There’s nothing more frustrating than a submission to an agent in the wrong genre (for both parties)! Although I was really proud of myself for sending out my queries, it’s been disheartening to receive no response (I actually tend to celebrate a “no” because it’s still an answer).
    I’m struggling to gain momentum for another round of queries.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 4, 2016 at 11:06 am #

      Barbara, I’m sorry you’ve been the victim of the passive no, but unfortunately, it does happen because agents and editors are so pressed for time. I’ll give you the same advice I gave to Christine: Keep on trying!

  10. Linda Riggs Mayfield February 4, 2016 at 10:59 am #

    Wow, Tamela–Your posts just keep on “checking my boxes”! I’ve written two children’s picture books, one YA, two contemporary mystery, and two historical novels; but everything I’ve had published was non-fiction: a literary magazine, Guideposts, Christian Home & School, and the academic press. Writing fiction always felt like I had a story I just HAD to tell, and once I had recorded it, I was free to move on, so I only made any attempt to publish about half of them, and not a very serious attempt at that. Two were accepted for purchase at the editorial level, then vetoed at the board level of a publisher (it was a new genre for them that the editors loved–the board, not so much), and I got a form rejection letter for the other one.

    In 2015, I finally decided to seriously try to publish my historical fiction. I did every kind of research and prep I could before attending my first conference in June, and received multiple invitations to submit formal proposals, two from agencies high on my wish list. I did, but neither agent ever responded in any way. (A publisher, however, responded that the theme was too controversial for them and invited me to submit another book). I mentioned not receiving any response from the agents in a Reply to one of Dan’s recent posts, and he said the time lapse I allowed between the conference and the submission may have been too long for the agent to remember me–I did a complete re-write between, based on things I had learned at the conference, before sending the proposals 6-8 weeks later.

    So all that prompts a question based on your post today: When is it too late to follow up and ask the agents if they ever saw and reviewed proposals? Is it too late for me to follow up from last summer’s submissions? One of those two agents is going to be at the next conference I’m considering. Should I meet with her again about the same book and ask why she wasn’t interested and if she could suggest changes, or would that be awkward at best and inappropriate and embarrassing at worst? (I cringe at imagining an “Oh, no! Not you again!” look on her face! ;-D) Thanks!

  11. Pamela Gossiaux February 4, 2016 at 11:17 am #

    I read the Steve Laube Agency blog nearly every day, but never comment. I guess I will start now, after reading your blog! 🙂 Last fall I sent you a non-fiction manuscript, which you requested to see more of, but in the end said wasn’t right for you. Your assistant encouraged me to send the romance I was working on. I sent it over earlier today!

  12. Tamela Hancock Murray February 4, 2016 at 11:17 am #

    Linda, I don’t think it’s too late to follow up, even though Dan is also correct in saying that the other agent might not have remembered you. Every agent is different, and I can only speak for myself when I say I don’t mind hearing from someone I met at a conference any time, even if it’s weeks or perhaps months later. One author sent me a proposal years later. I still looked at it.

    As for talking to the agent and revisiting a rejected manuscript, I would not recommend doing so. For one, an assistant may have answered the email so she may not have even seen it. But even if the agent herself responded, she still may not recall a rejected manuscript. She’s likely too busy working with her established clients. And two, she’d have to reacquaint herself with a rejected manuscript and try to answer your question. This process would likely consume all of your appointment.

    Instead, I would take the opportunity to approach her with a new project. See how she responds to that. If you two hit it off, send that manuscript. Then, if you end up working together, you can always talk about the rejected manuscript and ask about changes then.

  13. Sally Shupe February 4, 2016 at 12:56 pm #

    This post is so helpful. Thank you! I have finished a contemporary romance story that will be the first in a series and am preparing to find an agent. The second story in the series is almost completed and the third story is completed. While preparing a submission to an agent, I am working on the other stories in the series to get them ready. I am very nervous at this step. I am unable to go to conferences to meet agents. How do you recommend finding an agent that would be interested in what I’ve written? This is all new territory for me. I’ve perused agent profiles and what they represent, but I am unsure how to proceed. I am so glad I came upon this blog. I’ve gleaned so much pertinent information shared here. Thank you!

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 4, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

      Sally, congratulations on being almost ready to submit! And I appreciate you for researching many agents before doing so. This way, you are likely to get serious reviews at the agencies.

      I would look at the agent’s and agency’s reputation, blog, social media, and web site. Where do you want to be seen?

      Also, if you have made any friends in the industry, ask them about their agents. But if you have not connected yet, trust your instincts. What agent(s) do you feel good about? I’d submit to your favorite two or three. Let everyone know you are submitting to more than one agent.

      Happy submitting!

      • Sally Shupe February 4, 2016 at 3:03 pm #

        Thanks so much for your advice. I appreciate it!

  14. jude urbanski February 4, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

    I would say just be sure the agent/agency is interested in your type of genre/manuscript. Tamara has pretty much covered this basic, but it is an important factor.

  15. Samantha Evans February 4, 2016 at 2:44 pm #

    Tamela, Hi. The Steve Laube Agency was recommended to me by Chris Hudson. My cousin and I have co-authored a book have been looking over the requirements for submission. Our ducks are coming together, however, the thing that intimidates me the most is the platform. I also fear that the connections and experience I have may not be adequate.

    Can you please recommend a good article or blog that could help me format the platform?

    Do you have any encouragement to offer?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 5, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

      Samantha, I tried to answer you three times but the post wouldn’t go through. I think it may be because I was including a link. So I’ll just say, go to Edie Melson’s blog. She does a great job talking about social media and platform.

      Also, keep building your platform while you wait to hear from agents. And finally, yes, I can offer encouragement: sometimes a fabulous idea, executed well, can overcome a fairly weak platform. But do keep building!

      Hope this helps, although I may blog more about this in the future.

      • Samantha Evans February 10, 2016 at 2:15 pm #

        Thank you. And I will read the blog you suggested. I am currently working my way through Book Proposals That Sell and what I am learning (the curve has been huge) reminds me of 2007 when I tried to make a T-shirt quilt.

        I didn’t measure properly so there were gaps where many of my “squares” were supposed to meet. I proudly showed it to the quilters at our church. Their dismay was palpable. When they finally recovered, they told me I needed to take Every. Single. Square. apart, measure, and then put it back together. So I did. Then someone told me that because it was made of T-shirts it needed a certain kind of backing. So once again I took it apart stitch my stitch. I learned well “a stitch in time” and vowed that I would never make another T-shirt quilt. Ever.

        Now I am learning the same lesson as it pertains to writing. Michael Hyatt saying that the proposal comes before the book, tore apart some of my precariously stitched hope. At the current moment I am tempted to give up–but I won’t. I believe in the book. It’s worth reading and time invested has always played a part in determining worth. if getting a book published was easy anyone could do it. I will finish this and finish it well, just like I finished the quilt.

        And this discouragement will not prevent me from writing another book. But the next book that I write I will begin with the proposal. I know this, because several years ago I began cutting my husband’s old, ready-to-toss T-shirts into well-measured squares.

        Thanks for listening.

    • Anita Ojeda March 2, 2016 at 6:34 am #

      Michael Hyatt has a host of great information (including a platform building ‘university’). I, too, struggle with platform building, but I just keep plugging along and learning all I can and I’m slowly building platform.

  16. Hannah Currie February 4, 2016 at 4:13 pm #

    Thanks, once again, for this post Tamela! Your posts are always so encouraging 🙂

  17. Evelyn Wagoner February 5, 2016 at 10:15 am #

    I’m a new subscriber, and I’m so enjoying the posts. If an established writer meets an agent at a conference and then suggests I submit to that agent, should I mention the referring writer’s name when I submit to the agent? Or is that too much of a stretch?

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 5, 2016 at 1:22 pm #

      Welcome, Evelyn!

      You absolutely should mention the writer’s name. When I’m recommended by a writer, I want to know. 🙂

  18. Michael McMillan February 15, 2016 at 8:57 am #

    Hello Tamela,

    Thank you so much for writing this post! I enjoy reading here on this site and have learned so much. I have a question about this particular post. I mailed in a cold call manuscript submission at the beginning of October last year to Steve Laube. I included a return SASE for a reply, but I have had no reply as yet. The submission guidelines page says that six to eight weeks is about the normal response time, but it’s been twice as long as that now. What would be the proper way of making an inquiry about it? Needless to say, I have been concerned that my submission may have never made it to Steve Laube’s office, having gotten lost in the mail, or that any response that was sent to me was lost in the mail. Thanks in advance for any advice you can give.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray February 15, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

      Michael, yes, I think it’s fine for you to reply to Steve Laube.

      • Tamela Hancock Murray February 15, 2016 at 12:06 pm #

        Sorry, should have said, “send a status query” instead of reply.

        • Michael McMillan February 15, 2016 at 12:54 pm #

          Hi again! Thank you very much, Tamela. I will do that right away. 🙂

  19. Cindy Byrd March 13, 2016 at 4:15 pm #

    I have to say this was one of the most informational blogs I’ve read. It seems a lot of articles I’ve read on platforms seem to make it more complicated than it actually is. I also appreciate you addressing the issue of not being able to attend conferences. It can be very frustrating reading the “dos and don’ts” sometimes, but you provided a simple solution to something I’m unable to do at the present time, which is attending conferences. Thanks so much for your help!

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