One of the main reasons that talented authors don’t get top literary agents, publishers, and book deals is that they don’t understand the best strategy to use when coordinating their submissions to literary agents. As a result, those authors often get confused and overwhelmed–and eventually give up.
This article explains a different way to approach the process of submitting your work to literary agents. It’s based on my experience helping approximately five dozen authors get offers for representation from literary agents as an author coach. And it will give you the greatest chance of being successful quickly.
What’s the fastest, easiest, and most efficient way to send out queries to agents? How many query letters should you send out at one time? How long should you wait to hear back from agents before you send out more? And, how many submissions will you probably need to send out before you get an offer for representation?
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Reality Check Regarding Literary Agent Submissions
Don’t put too much weight on stories you might have read about those fortunate authors who sent out their first round of queries and got a top literary agent, publisher, and/or book deal in 90 days or less. You might have seen some of those success stories on my website.
They’re real, it happens.
It’s also rare—so don’t get too excited.
You’ll probably have to send out many rounds of submissions before you get an offer for representation (if you get an offer at all). And, most likely, you’ll have to send out 5-10 times more queries than you think… before you get an offer for representation. IF you get an offer for representation. Some of my coaching clients have sent out hundreds (sometimes many hundreds) of submissions before getting an agent.
Don’t be delusional or overconfident.
Instead, be cautiously optimistic and be willing to do the work. Of course I hope you get a literary agent in 90 days or less without having to send out hundreds of submissions. But, odds are, you’ll have to send out a LOT of submissions and that process will take somewhere between 3-9 months. If you can deal with that, and stick with my process, there’s a good chance you’ll get an agent.
A More “Comprehensive” Approach to Literary Agent Submissions
There are two ways to approach the process of submitting queries to literary agents. The first method is to try to put the least amount of time and effort into the process and hope and pray that you “get lucky”. I’m not a fan of that approach. It’s lazy. It tempts fate. And it rarely leads to success. The publishing industry is too competitive for that. Most good to great literary agents get 1,500+ submissions each month.
So the better approach is for you to decide you’re going to do everything you can (regardless of how much work it requires, or how long it will take) to give yourself the best chance of getting one or more offers for representation. That approach will give you the best chance of being successful.
The Benefits of Sending Out a Lot of Query Letters to Literary Agents—Quickly
Obviously, the more submissions you send out to agents, the more likely it is you’ll get positive feedback, requests for additional material, constructive criticism that helps you improve your work, and an offer(s) for representation. However, there are also other important benefits (subtler benefits) that you might not be aware of.
First, if you’re willing to do the tedious work of sending out a high volume of submissions it’s going to increase your confidence, which will have a positive impact on your progress. By fully preparing or possibly somewhat “over preparing” you will have a greater expectation of positive results, which may positively impact your outcome.
Second, if you send out a lot of submissions during a shorter period of time (instead of dragging out the process), it’s going to give you momentum and make it easier for you psychologically and emotionally. In other words, if you send out one round of submissions and get a couple requests for more material, you certainly can/should celebrate. But that is NOT the time to sit back and simply see what happens next.
If you get “comfortable” like that, you’ll probably wait months to hear anything, start getting depressed, and then get really depressed when one of the agents sends you a rejection letter and the other one never gets back to you at all. Why? Because that’s usually how it works. For the same reason that you will probably need to send out several dozen queries to get 1 or 2 requests for more material… you might need to get 4, 6, 10 (or more) agents requesting more material to get one or more offers for representation.
That’s why you shouldn’t wait months to see what happens next after one or more agents request additional material. If and when you get one or more requests for more material, in most cases, it’s a sign that you should begin to aggressively send out more submissions… in the hope that you’ll be able to get more agents reading. That way, if the first agent(s) to request more material go silent or send you rejections, you’ll already have more good things happening.
The third reason to send out a lot of submissions quickly is that it gives you greater leverage. Remember, if you’re confident about your work and educated about the publishing industry, your goal shouldn’t be to get one agent interested in you and your work. Your goal should be to get multiple agents interested.
It’s rare that an author is able to get multiple agents interested (even when he or she is working with me as a coach/consultant), but getting multiple agents offering you representation should be your goal. That approach will increase the chances of you getting ANY agent offering representation. And it will give you options if you get more than one.
So, that all sounds great, right,
but how do you do it, exactly?
First, get over the idea of querying a small number of agents, getting a quick and positive response from dream agent, and riding off into the sunset with him/her.
It might happen that way for you.
But, probably not.
This Is How You Should Send Out Queries to Literary Agents
Think of the query submission process as something that should happen in two phases. Before I explain the two phases, however, make sure you make a note that each time you send out a new round of queries… you should always do so during the span of just one day, a few days, or, at most, one week.
That’s because each time you send out a round of queries, I’m going to suggest you wait a certain amount of time after that before you send out your next round of submissions. And it’s much easier to keep track of your submissions when you’re sending them out in groups, as opposed to sending out a couple or a few every day. By the way, the time you should wait between sending out subsequent rounds of submissions will vary.
I’ll explain that below…
PHASE 1 – Small “Test” Round of Submissions
Most of the time I suggest my coaching clients sent out a small number of submissions in their first round of queries as a “test”. I suggest an even smaller number of submissions in their first round of queries if the author’s book falls into a genre with very few agents, or if I can see that there is more than one way to pitch their book… and I’m not sure which approach is going to be more successful.
Think of this first round of submissions as a “test” round to see how easy (or hard) it’s going to be to get agents interested in your project. That said, just because this first round is a “test” round, make sure you query your dream agents during your first round. In other words, make sure your favorite agent at each of your favorite agencies that you believe are a good fit is part of your first round.
DO NOT query mediocre or lower level agents during early rounds of submissions. If you do, you might get an offer of representation from a mediocre or lower level agent. If that happens, you’ll probably end up signing with that agent because he or she is the only agent offering to represent you. Or, you’ll have to decline the offer and that might turn out to be the only offer you ever get. That would mean you not getting an agent. You probably won’t be able to go back to the person who made you the offer later if you strike out with other agents later.
Now, there are two reasons you don’t want to contact
too many agents in your first round of submissions:
1. You don’t want to burn any bridges
If you submit your query to lots of agents, and lots of them end up wanting to represent you, that isn’t necessarily a good thing. That’s because you’re only going to be able to work with one agent. And you’ll have to turn down the others. What’s so bad about that?
Well, if things don’t work out with the agent you do choose, and that agent hasn’t yet shopped your manuscript all over town, you might be able to get a NEW agent. But you probably won’t be able to interest the agents that were interested before, that you already turned down–even if you go to them on your knees.
That’s just the way it works.
At that point, it will be much easier for you to get an agent that you haven’t already contacted (and turned down). So, although the idea of having several agents (or more) fighting over the opportunity to represent you might sound appealing, there is a down side.
2. You might want/need to make adjustments
The other reason you shouldn’t send out too many query letters at once is that you might learn something during the process… something that will allow you to improve your pitch materials. If you’ve already sent out 100 or more queries (I know someone who sent out 200 queries at once), it’s too late to make adjustments.
So, don’t jump the gun.
And stay open and humble.
You might have an important insight after the first round of queries has been submitted. Or, you might get valuable feedback from one or more agents who make an important comment or ask an important question. Give yourself room to make changes to your pitch materials.
I always did this as an agent, too.
For example, I would write a pitch/cover letter for every project I represented… exactly the same as a query letter (the only difference being that I wasn’t asking permission to send the project). That’s because I already had permission to send the project since I would call first or meet with an editor face-to-face.
But, before I would send the project (with my pitch letter) to EVERYONE… I’d “test” my pitch on a few people FIRST.
Then I would get very quiet, and listen.
Every once in a while I would get some valuable feedback. Then I would often make an adjustment to my pitch. Sometimes I would address questions or concerns that I hadn’t addressed previously (or sufficiently). Other times, I’d hear things that I would have never even thought of. So, again, stay open and pay attention. Someone might shed new light on the pitch and/or the project.
There are also some situations where something might happen in the media that you have no control over, that you might want to capitalize on. For example, one author I was working with wrote a novel based on true events that happened while he was a presidential aide for Nixon during the Watergate scandal. He was the man who was asked to destroy the 18-1/2 minutes of audio tape that would have gotten Nixon impeached. A few days after the author sent out his first round of submissions, the grand jury tapes of Nixon’s testimony were released to the public. The media started giving the story lots of new exposure. We immediately tweaked the query and sent out another round of submissions to take advantage of the new publicity.
Just keep in mind that if you get very little response (or no response) from your first round of submissions, it doesn’t necessarily mean you should change something in your pitch materials. In other words, just because multiple agents don’t immediately request more material doesn’t mean something is wrong. It might just mean that agents aren’t as excited about your book concept as you’d like… and that you might need to send out a lot more submissions to find the agent who will be interested.
PHASE 2 – Sending Out Subsequent Rounds of Submissions
After you’ve sent out your first round of submissions and you’ve received one or more requests for more material… OR… you haven’t received any requests for more material and you’ve considered making changes to your pitch material… it’s time to send out your second round of submissions.
The number of submissions that you send out during your second round (and all subsequent rounds) of submissions will depend on a few variables (I help my coaching clients figure that out as well).
But here are some basic guidelines…
By the time you’re done sending out your second round of submissions, your favorite agent at all of the very good to great agencies should have been sent a submission. The more quality agents there are who represent your genre, the more agents you’ll be able to query. When you’re done sending out your second round of submissions, mark your calendar with a reminder to send out your THIRD round of submissions 8-12 weeks later. And you can/should keep repeating this process every 8-12 weeks.
You have to wait 8-12 weeks in between rounds of submissions because, during your third round of submissions (and any/all subsequent rounds of submissions), you’ll sometimes be submitting your query to different agents at agencies where you’ve already contacted someone. Agents working at the same agency don’t want to compete with each other, so you’ll want/need to give any agent considering your query sufficient time (8-12 weeks is enough) to ask for more material or reject the project before you query someone else at the same agency.
Submitting to more than one agent at the same agency is a great way to increase the number of potential agents that might represent you. If your dream agency has more than one agent listed as interested in your genre, and one agent rejects your work, query another one. And then another one. Etc. 9 times out of 10, if an agent hasn’t responded to your query within 8-12 weeks, it’s a rejection (and the agent probably won’t ever reply). So you should move on to the next one.
Most literary agencies don’t mind if you query more than one agent at their agency, as long as you query them one at a time (again, just give them 8-12 weeks before moving on to someone else at the same agency). You can literally repeat this process with multiple agents until you’ve queried every agent at an agency that might be interested in your book. However, pay attention in case an agent rejects you and says something like, “Sorry but this isn’t right for us or our agency.” If that happens, don’t query anyone else at the agency.
If you implement this more “aggressive” strategy of sending out lots of submissions and only waiting 8-12 weeks before sending out each subsequent round… it will get you to the finish line faster, with the most momentum, leverage, and peace of mind.
And, if you want 1-on-1 support to help you apply this strategy in the best way for your unique project and situation, post a question for me below… and/or… click here to find out how to schedule an introductory coaching call with me. You’ve probably invested hundreds (possibly thousands) of hours writing… with the hope of getting a top literary agent, publisher, and book deal. Don’t spend one minute trying to get there without the best pitch materials or strategy.
Remember, getting published
isn’t luck–it’s a decision,