Tips for Successfully Approaching Literary Agents and Submitting Your Manuscript or Book Idea

Having completed your manuscript or book proposal and query letter, you can now use the prioritized agent file you created to begin approaching agents. (Refer to the article “How to Select a Literary Agent to Pitch - Who is Right for You” if you have not yet created a prioritized agent file.) 

Approaching Agents

Acquiring an agent has as much to do with thorough research as it does with approaching a high number of agents. The more agents you approach, the better chance you have of successfully finding an agent. Your agent file should have a minimum of 40 to 50 agents to approach, each ranked in order of their desirability based on your specific requirements.

To make the submission process manageable, you will want to divide your list into groups of eight to ten agents to approach. For example, if you have a list of 40 agents divided into groups of eight, you will have five groups of agents to approach. Approach your dream agents in Group 1 first. If you do not land an agent in the first round of submissions, do not become discouraged - simply go on to the next set of eight to ten agents to pitch.

Create a file to keep track of when each agent was contacted, when you expect to receive a response, the result of the response, and any follow-up notes. It should not take any longer than four weeks to receive an initial response to your query letter. If you have not received a response from an agent within one month and he is one of your “dream” agents, consider submitting a brief follow-up note. If you still do not receive a response, move on to the next set of agents to query.

Simultaneous Submissions

Submitting query letters to more than one agent at the same time is standard practice in the literary world, and it benefits the writer. An agent may take two to four weeks to review your query letter and respond. The response will either be a rejection letter or a request for further material, in which case the agent will need an additional four-to-eight weeks to review the proposal or manuscript. If you only query one agent at a time, it could take years to find an agent. Querying multiple agents simultaneously should land you an agent within six months, as long as you are approaching the right agents (which you should be based on your extensive research) and pitching them effectively.

The Submission Process

It is imperative to follow each agent’s submission guidelines. You can find agent’s specific guidelines on their websites, and in their online and print directory listings. Agents say the number one reason they reject a submission is due to the writer not following the guidelines. Why risk having your query discarded or dismissed because of a technicality?

It is easy to follow instructions and will greatly increase the chance your query will be considered. It shows you have taken the initiative to research the agent and are conscientious of the agent’s time, tastes, and needs. Many agents feel a writer who cannot follow directions during the pitching process will be a difficult client, so they will not even bother reading the pitch.

Requests for Exclusivity

If an agent is interested in your project, he may ask to read your manuscript or book proposal on an exclusive basis. A request for exclusivity means the agent wants to be the only one allowed to read and consider your work. He is asking that you do not share your proposal with any other agent. This can create a dilemma for an author, as it will put the submission process on hold. However, receiving an exclusivity request is a positive sign that an agent is serious about representing you.

Most writers handle requests for exclusivity by placing a limit on the time the agent has to review the material, so they are not waiting indefinitely for a response or holding up subsequent requests from other interested agents. Let the agent know that you are giving him exclusivity for a set period of time, usually two-to-four weeks for a book proposal and four-to-eight weeks for a manuscript. If during the exclusive time period you receive a request to review your book proposal or manuscript from another agent you queried, you will have to wait until the exclusive time period is over before sending your material to the next agent. The best policy is to be honest and explain the situation.