Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The etiquette of submitting to an agent

Last week, I was left in a rather difficult spot on a submission. The author hadn’t given me the entire history of the project from before my involvement, and my approach to the proposal would have been quite different had I known more. Our job is to represent the author, but we can’t do that effectively without having all of the necessary information. It was a frustrating situation, only because it could have been avoided.

I began to think that we really need some kind of a list -- an etiquette list, if you will -- of things authors should and shouldn’t do when looking for and then signing with an agent. Here is what my colleagues here at Dystel & Goderich and I have come up with:

- First and foremost, read the agency’s submission guidelines. You can easily find these on their website. If they don’t have a website or guidelines, consult other resources.

- Make sure to query one and only one agent at each agency. A pass from one agent will be a pass from the agency as a whole but if all of us get the same query, we all will turn it down without reading it. (This is true for most, but not all agencies. Again, be sure to consult submission guidelines for each agency.)

- Please tell us up front in your query if you have been recommended by someone we know.

- If you have had books previously published, give us the title, publisher and year of publication.

- If you have previously submitted the material to publishers either through another agent or directly you must tell the agent you are now submitting to. This information is critical.

- Be sure to include all of your contact information with your query. Nothing is more frustrating than reading something great and not being able to contact the person who sent it.

- Unless you have an offer from another agent, do not follow up on queries. If you haven’t heard from us in six to eight weeks, please resubmit.

- Do let us know if you have queried us before, especially if we have read a manuscript of yours. The more we know, the better.

- Conversely, if we turn down your work more than once and haven’t asked to see the next submission, it is probably not a good idea to submit to us again. We remember names of those who submit to us and you will probably be wasting your time by continuing to send us material (unless of course we have encouraged you to do so).

- If we pass on your project, please don’t ask us to recommend other agents. If we think someone else is more appropriate, we’ll let you know in our response.

Most of what I am saying here is common sense, but I am glad to have spelled it out. Following these simple rules will make our jobs – yours and ours – easier and probably more successful.

- Jane

20 comments:

  1. Clarity is a very cool thing.
    I like being in the know.
    It keeps my on the path of less destruction. Well said.

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  2. I actually like reading these. If you keep pounding it into my head, it may break through the dunce cap.

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  3. Now tell us how the etiquette of the Agents is going to change...

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  4. "...if we turn down your work more than once and haven’t asked to see the next submission, it is probably not a good idea to submit to us again. We remember names of those who submit to us and you will probably be wasting your time by continuing to send us material (unless of course we have encouraged you to do so)."
    Okay, I'm dense but does this mean if you have requested two partials or fulls on two different books and have then passed on those that it is likely a writer shouldn't query you on a third new project unless you have indicated you would like to see the writer's next project in your last rejection?

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  5. "Make sure to query one and only one agent at each agency. A pass from one agent will be a pass from the agency as a whole"

    Fair enough, but here's your part of the bargain:

    "Make sure to be EXPLICIT about what types of books you do and don't handle, so that smart, hardworking writers don't spend years writing a wonderful book, and then come to your website only to be forced to throw a dart in the dark."

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  6. Nice to have it all laid out in one place. Thanks

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  7. I think it's funny how often you find these posts on agent's blogs, as if all these silly rules about submitting and querying and not wasting a moment of one's time are the key to finding great writing. Good luck

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  8. The unpublished writer-agent relationship is a dance that is all about supply and demand. Obviously many agents view the never-ending supply of aspiring writers as their opportunity to abuse power like the blonde cheerleaders did to them in high school. This is a game and the rules must be followed until you’re published and successful. Use this as yet another character building exercise, keeping in mind that if you are driven, and good, the tables will turn soon enough and you will be able to exact revenge in the form of being a needy, self-absorbed celebrity who can abuse at will and expect a never-ending supply of ass kissing from your humble agent who could never do what you do.

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  9. So glad I'm a writer and not an agent. That just sounds so much like work.

    Like fun? Got no time to read?Follow my two-month twitter tale from August 1.
    There be pirates.
    http://twitter.com/Louise_Curtis_

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  10. It's Jane Dystel's agency and she can run it however she wants.

    All that we, the unpublished writers, can do is look on - sometimes blinking in disbelief.

    The English agent, Ed Victor, attended a conference for writers a number of years ago, and gave a short speech, at the end of which there was a brief question and answer period.

    A young, unpublished, male writer, who had been living in poverty for nearly a decade in order to teach himself how to write fiction, asked Mr. Victor how he chose his clients, and Mr. Victor responded that he would often meet people randomly at dinner parties, or through friends, and then help them to get their work published - but only if he knew them.

    The young writer asked, well what if I don't know you then?

    And Mr. Victor responded with a smile: "Then you don't get published."

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  11. "A pass from one agent will be a pass from the agency as a whole..."

    This is often true, but maybe not always. Some agencies will instruct you to "query only one agent at a time," which seems to imply that you can sequentially query more than one.

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  12. - If you have had books previously published, give us the title, publisher and year of publication.

    Why, SO YOU CAN LOOK UP HOW MANY SALES I MADE AND BAES ACCEPTANCE ON THAT RAATHER THAN THE WORK?!?!?!? I DON"T THINK SO!!!!!

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  13. I just read a similar list on your website and I'm going to read it carefully and DGLM will be my first submission. Often times, publishers are not clear in what they are looking for, so knowing this information is helpful. We're all eager to get someone to read our work and it's nice to know how to proceed.

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  14. Thanks for taking the time to put this list together. Etiquette carries a lot of credence in the life of this southern girl ;).

    The comments that you have been getting are just as enlightening and you need to know that there are writers out there that appreciate the effort and time agents put into what they are doing.

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  15. Professionalism is important in any profession, be it business, finance, or publishing.

    Professionalism includes honesty in one's business deals, proper etiquette, and common sense.

    Why should writers act in a professional manner? Because no one -- no agent, no editor, no one -- wants to begin a working relationship with someone who isn't professional.

    A good article.

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  16. Wow. This blog generated some emotions, I see. To those frustrated writers who are so, so tired of being rejected and therefore chose to vent here, I'll just say that I've had good experiences dealing with Dystel & Goderich. They are prompt, kind, and encouraging. This is exceedingly rare among publishers and agents, but I have found it here at this one agency.

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  17. Wow, I wrote a comic piece on my blog interviewing a “Seeker of Agent / Publisher” aka SAP, but it’s *honestly* intended as bawdy humour, as I think is evident. (Note to self: Notify all the helpful agents’ blogs I linked to, like this one, so they won’t crucify me!)
    I, for one, am grateful any agent would put their neck out to tell us what they think when reading 10,000 plus queries a year. Writers can use it or not. Ultimately the written word must sell itself.

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  19. I have a question about the agent process. Lets say that you are an agent that works in a respected agency, and you have a manuscript in your hands that you are seriously considering. Does the agent of that agency decide alone to take on that client, or must that agent first confer with others in the agency before taking on that project/client? And when the agent gets a percentage, what does the agency itself get?

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