What We Cannot Overlook

Last week, I wrote about mistakes we can overlook when considering submissions. However, some mistakes we cannot ignore. Please avoid these:

The wrong word count. Sending submissions with an inappropriate word count is the most common mistake we see in the slush pile. We have no current market for a 35,000-word novel or a ready market for books of 250,000 words. The only exception would be for the author to say, “I met Maizie Editor at Big Conference, and she asked me to submit my eight-volume set of 500,000-word books through an agent, so I’m querying you.” Otherwise, please refer to publishers’ guidelines, write accordingly, and let us know what market you are targeting. We know which editors to approach, but we like to see what the author has in mind.

Spam. When we see several other agents’ names in the “To” field, we don’t feel special. We delete these queries. However, it is acceptable to submit to other agents outside of our agency when you’re looking for the right agent. Please let us know, and tell us if another agent offers you representation while we are considering your work. That knowledge gives us a chance to bow out or perhaps to offer you an agency contract as well.

Sending work that needs editing. We appreciate the honesty of writers who tell us, “I need an editor.” However, while some literary agents also work as freelance editors, we do not. If you need a freelance editor, please hire one, then approach us with your edited work.

Submissions for categories we aren’t pursuing: In the past, I wrote many books for publication. I understand the temptation to say, “I’ll submit to Agatha Agent even though she says she doesn’t take children’s picture books because my book is THAT good.” Your book may be that good. However, an agent who doesn’t have a list of editors ready to contract for books in your category is not the right agent for you. Better to submit to agents currently seeking your type of work.

We hope to hear from you!

16 Responses to What We Cannot Overlook

  1. Andrew Budek-Schmeisser March 18, 2021 at 6:16 am #

    I have a spear-and-sandals epic,
    with dragons, Spartans, catapults,
    an Amish hero who’s prophetic,
    good summer fare for Young Adults!
    I finished first draft yesterday,
    and just know this is what you seek;
    word-count is 300k,
    and half is writ in Ancient Greek.
    It may well need an editor,
    for grammar’s quite beneath my station,
    but I trust this is no chore
    as you read this query with elation
    that I’ve sent with love and kisses
    to over a hundred addresses.

    • Peggy Booher March 18, 2021 at 12:35 pm #

      Thanks, Andrew, for the laugh.

  2. Roberta Sarver March 18, 2021 at 7:31 am #

    Thanks, Andrew, for giving us a smile this morning. And thanks, Tamela, for your practical advice.

  3. Kristen Joy Wilks March 18, 2021 at 1:12 pm #

    Thank you for the great advice, Tamela! Yeah, it is tempting to submit to agents who don’t specialize in your genre, especially when you write for children as there are only a few agents who sell to the CBA who will look at them. But I will persist with those few!

  4. Kristen Joy Wilks March 18, 2021 at 1:12 pm #

    Represent authors in the CBA, rather. Ooops!

  5. Sheri Dean Parmelee, Ph.D. March 18, 2021 at 1:52 pm #

    So, Tamela, you don’t want my epic poem of struggles with (fill in the blank) in the wilds of Mars in the days of Aristotle. But it’s so good……a mere 500,225 words and is on track to be the next Gone with the Wind. Oh, well, such is life.

  6. Carol R Nicolet Loewen March 18, 2021 at 2:57 pm #

    Thanks, Tamela. Good tips in both articles about what you can and cannot accept. It’s helpful to know and follow the parameters expected by an agency.

  7. Loretta Eidson March 18, 2021 at 3:29 pm #

    Great information for writers. Thanks, Tamela!

  8. Stacy Simmons March 19, 2021 at 9:55 am #

    Excellent advice, thank you, Tamela. Have a beautiful weekend.

  9. Laura Kirk March 23, 2021 at 2:53 pm #

    This is a bit off-subject, but may I ask a quick question? If you send a submissions package to an agent, failing to state simultaneous submissions, how long should you wait to do additional submissions to other agents? I want to make sure I’m considerate and professional.

    • Tamela Hancock Murray March 24, 2021 at 6:33 am #

      I’d nudge the first agent and see if you get a response in a few days of at least, “I’m sorry I’m behind on submissions,” or a definite answer. Then you can decide how to proceed. Crickets? I’d go ahead after a few days and continue your search. You tried — that’s all you can do.

  10. Stephan March 26, 2021 at 1:30 am #

    An editor can be costly – for an unpublished writer :-). I have my first 50 pages edited, which I suppose is generally the maximum average required by agents for the first submission and request for more material? If more material is requested after that, there is a possibility of presentation, I think? Then I’ll ask my editor to do the rest. How does that sound, Tamela?

  11. Judy Wallace March 27, 2021 at 10:14 am #


    I’m working on a novel I believe would fit in the suspense category but doesn’t have the romance aspect. It’s about a woman with an abusive husband. She finally escapes, with some incrementing evidence that could put him in prison, but may not live long enough to use it. Do you think this would within the category of what you’re looking for.

  12. Dustin Jordan March 29, 2021 at 5:35 am #

    There are a lot of great ones, but right now I can’t think of any of the titles. I was going to suggest King’s book, but I see someone else beat me to it.

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