The Lowdown on Multiple Submissions

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Confession: I’ve been out of town visiting family this weekend and am feeling a little travel weary! So, I decided to share an expanded version of one of my articles from our NLA newsletter archive.*  It answers a question I often get from writers: can you submit your project to multiple agents at the same time, and if so, is there any etiquette to follow?

shutterstock_138099389The answer to the first part is yes, absolutely! In fact, I’d call it a mistake not to. If you wait to hear back from each agent on your list before approaching another, you could end up waiting months or years for an offer of representation. But  there is a protocol to follow. Here are some things to bear in mind as you get ready to launch your submissions:

  • It’s not necessary to say, “This is a multiple submission,” in your query letter (though there is nothing wrong with doing so).  Unless you tell an agent she is your one shot and you can’t possibly see yourself working with someone else, the agent will assume that as a savvy writer you are not putting all your eggs in one basket. However, if you’ve already received requests from other agents or editors for your manuscript, it’s a good idea to mention this; it may bump you up in the agent’s reading queue and it shows that others thought you had a hot concept.
  •  After you send your query, keep agents posted on any significant interest you receive for the project. Check the agent’s website or social media venues for guidelines, but in general that means an offer of representation from an agent, or an offer of publication from an editor at a publishing house. If you receive a request for a partial or full manuscript, it’s okay to send an update to other agents in order to gauge their interest, especially if several weeks have passed and you’ve heard nothing back from them. Just be very sparing with this type of correspondence—you don’t want to be “that writer” who constantly pokes and prods.
  • If you receive an offer of representation from an agent, you have two choices: (1) let him or her know that you’re waiting to hear back from other agents you submitted to and ask for a reasonable period in which to make your decision; or (2) accept the offer because the agent was your first choice and you feel comfortable closing all of the other doors. Either way, send an update to all of the other agents immediately. It’s very frustrating when an agent has just spent hours reading your manuscript, only to learn that it is no longer available.

There’s definitely a balance to strike with multiple submissions. Approaching only one or two agents decreases your chance of success, but firing off dozens of queries will only cause headaches as you try to keep track of where you are in each agent’s submission process. Focus on a handful of your top choices, and if they turn you down, go to your Plan B list, and so on. My other top advice? Be courteous and considerate throughout the process. You may sign with an agent tomorrow, but life is unpredictable—your agent could retire or leave the business, or your visions for your writing career could diverge. You never know when you might be agent hunting again, and it’s a lot easier if you haven’t burned any bridges.

*Nelson Literary Agency Newsletter, June 2012.

2 responses »

  1. Thanks for the tips. I’ve never queried so they’re really helpful. I’ve heard that you should start with agents you’re not as excited about to see if your query is working. I’m wondering how fast to submit to your whole list when you start getting requests for partials and fulls.

  2. Hmm…that’s an interesting point. I hesitate on the idea of sending to agents you’re not really into–as the person who reads our slush pile I know that agents have such a huge reading load and that just seems a little unfair! But I could see sending to your “second choice” agents before your “I’ll die if they don’t sign me” list. : ) And before you do either, I’d recommend running your query by a few trusted readers, your critique group, or a professional editor who has experience with queries. If you start getting requests from agents for your partial or full, you should definitely send the materials right away, and take it as a sign that your project has real potential. Hope this helps!

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