Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Rookie Mistakes to Avoid When Submitting to Agents

In life we all make mistakes, but with mistakes come consequences. If you make a rookie mistake when submitting to an agent, you may have blown your chances with her. What better way to avoid this situation than to review a list of rookie mistakes and make sure you don’t make any of them.

Mistake #1: Pitch a novel before you’ve finished it. Agents are busy people. If they get excited about your query and ask for more, they don’t want to hear, “Oh, can you wait six months? Maybe a year? I’ve only written the first fifty pages.” By the time you get around to finishing the book, the agent may no longer be at the agency. Or she may not be accepting queries. Or the market may have changed and what she once loved about your book is no longer unique. Pitching to an agent before the novel is complete is a big no-no. Some agents will remember you after this and because they don’t think you’re professional, won’t take a second look at your book once it’s complete.

Mistake #2: Query multiple agents at one agency AT THE SAME TIME. This should be obvious, but it isn’t. Agent Jane doesn’t want to get excited about a book only to discover Agent Jill in the office has just offered representation to that same author. Or worse, neither one of them have contacted the writer and now there’s competition between two agents in the office. Some agencies will go as far as to say once you’ve queried one of their agents, you shouldn’t submit to any of the others. The reason behind this is their agency is run as a team. When Jane gets a query that she doesn’t think is a good fit for her, she’ll consider the other agents on her team and, if she believes there’s a fit with one of them, she’ll forward the query to her teammate. If she hasn’t done this, it’s because she doesn’t feel the book is a good fit for anyone in the agency. Not all agencies work this way. Read their website to discover their policies.

Mistake #3: Pitch multiple books in one query. I know it’s exciting if you have more than one book ready for submission or if you have a series planned out and want the agent to know all the details. Please take a deep breath and refrain from sending more than one idea per query. The agent expects all the information including the blurb and your bio to fit on one page. How can you possibly describe more than one book in that small amount of space and still do both projects justice? Here’s the trick. Hook the agent with one book and when you’re discussing representation, you can talk about the other books. Or, if she rejects the first book, send her a query for the next book, unless that’s the second book in a continuing series.

Mistake #4: Send exclusive queries. Do you realize how long it’ll take you to get published if you do this? There’s no reason to send exclusive queries to anyone. Agents know when you’re querying, you’re sending queries out to many agents. However, if the agent asks for your full and wants an exclusive, she’s not being unreasonable. She realizes it’s going to take quite a bit of time to read the manuscript and doesn’t want to waste her time if someone else, who might be a faster reader or have more time to read, could possibly snatch the prize from under her nose. How much time you allow her to have this exclusivity is up to you.

Mistake #5: Call an agent. Never call an agent unless you have permission to do so, like you’re her client or she’s left you a message. You’re wasting your time otherwise because the receptionist won’t put the call through. However, she may take note of your name and if you’re persistent, could put you on a “black list.”

Mistake #6: Email an agent to ask her questions that could be answered if you had read her submissions page on her website. It’s your responsibility to find out what she’s looking for or whether or not she’s accepting submissions. Do your homework or you’ll look unprofessional.

Basically, this list all boils down to the fact that you need to understand the industry before you submit to agents. Rushing to send out queries before doing your homework could bite you in the butt.

What other mistakes can you add to this list?

Lynnette Labelle


  1. Not doing your homework, i.e. pitching your great love story to an agent who doesn't do romance.

  2. LD: Yes. Agents don't like that. Thanks.

    Lynnette Labelle