How to Research Agents: Submission Guidelines

It’s time to move on to submission guidelines, and this is a really long post, so let’s get to it. We’ll be adding a few more columns to the spreadsheet today. As a reminder, the columns we currently have are:

Agent, Agency, Website, Blog, Twitter, Represents, Looking for, Books to Read, Books I’ve Read, Notes

To the right of these columns, let’s add:

Query Tips Submission Guidelines Response Time Auto Response?

As with researching what agents are looking for, always go to a direct source for submissions guidelines. While databases do their best to keep submission information up to date, they still rely on agents and/or users to supply the information. To find submission information, go to the following sources:

  • Agency websites – Usually there’s a tab labeled Submission Guidelines or Submit to Us. If not, submission information may be located under Contact Us. Sometimes there are general guidelines for the agency as a whole, and other times the site will direct you to an agent-specific page.
  • Agent websites/blogs
  • Publisher’s Marketplace pages
  • If you are unable to locate any of these direct sources, refer to a database or interview.

Submission guidelines vary greatly. You could be submitting by pasting into an email, through an online form, or in rare cases sending attachments. The agency/agent may even be closed to submissions. You could paste all of the individual guidelines into your spreadsheet, but what if they change before you’re actually ready to query? You’re essentially creating your own database, and the information is only current the day you enter it. Instead, paste in the URL for the submission guidelines* so that you can review them carefully when you’re ready to query. Here are a couple of notes you should include in that field along with the URL:

  • If it’s an agency with multiple agents on your list, make a note of whether you are allowed to query multiple agents. Some agencies have a “no from one is a no from all” policy, meaning that if you query one agent, you cannot later query another agent. The idea is that if one agent feels a query is not a fit for him/her but might be for another agent at the agency, he/she will pass it on. Other agencies say not to query multiple agents simultaneously. This means that if one agent says no, you could later query another agent at the same agency because they do not pass queries along. But NEVER query two agents at the same agency at the same time.
  • Also make a note if the submission guidelines list any specific requirements the agency has once they request. For example, some agencies require an exclusive. They might waive this requirement if you already have requests out, but they might not, so you should keep it in mind if you plan to query them. I’ve also seen a few agencies that request something like a marketing plan.
  • If you find conflicting guidelines–for example, the agency website lists general guidelines, but the agent has a separate personal website–include both links, although you should ultimately follow the agent’s personal guidelines. I know of a few cases (ICM is one) where the agency website says it does not accept unsolicited submissions, but you can find guidelines for individual agents elsewhere.

You may be able to easily fill out the next two fields, Response Time and Auto Response?, from the agent’s submission page. Many agencies/agents list their expected response time and whether you may follow up after that time passes. Others have a no-response policy and may give you the amount of time within which they will respond if interested. Some agents even give updates on where they are with queries and submissions on Twitter or their blogs. Make a note in the Response Time field, along with where you found the information. Here’s how some of these options may look:

  • [number] weeks per agency website (resend after [number weeks/months])
  • [number] weeks per agent blog – Notice this one does not have a note about resending because the agent does not invite check-ins.
  • [number] weeks if interested per Publishers Marketplace – If I have not received a response from that agent after the specified number of weeks, I close it out.
  • Only if interested per agency website – My least favorite because the agency doesn’t give a response and also doesn’t give a time frame in which they respond if interested.
  • Response times updated on blog/Twitter

Or, the guidelines might not say anything at all about how long they take to respond or if they do at all, in which case you’ll leave that field blank. You do have one other resource, but before you leave that submission page, take a quick look to see if it says the agency/agent has an auto-responder and just put “Yes” or “No” in the Auto Responder? field. I don’t spend actual time researching this, but I like to make a note of it.

Now, back to that other resource: QueryTracker. I LOVE the statistics in QueryTracker. Here’s the deal. TONS of writers have logged their queries and responses in the system. QueryTracker uses this information to create a wide variety of reports, one of which is on query response times. I like to know this about every agent I might query, regardless of whether the agent states a response time or not. That way when I’m ready to query, I can base early querying on who I know will respond quickly in order to test my query. Here’s how to get the report:

  1. Sign in to QueryTracker and pull up the agent.
  2. Click on the Reports tab.
  3. In the Select a Report pull-down menu, choose Query Response Times.

And, voila! You have your results. I add a semi-colon behind the agent’s suggested response time and plug in the average times from the QueryTracker report. And if there’s a significant difference between requests and rejections or some other trend I notice–such as very few rejections–I’ll note that, too. Possible completed entries might be:

  • 2 weeks per agency website; 15-20 days per QT
  • 8-10 weeks if interested per auto-reply; 24-60 days per QueryTracker (longer for requests, few rejections logged)
  • 6-8 weeks per agency website; 1-4 days per QT – Some agents reply very quickly!
  • Request status update after 4 weeks if no response per agency website; 47-64 days per QT – And sometimes QueryTracker shows that the agents take way longer than the stated times. That’s when you know to hold off on that follow-up.

We still have one empty column: Query Tips. I’m not getting into how to write a query here. What I put in this column are agent-specific tips–how they like queries tailored to them, such as:

  • State the book’s theme, or “hook,” in one concise sentence in the first paragraph. The author’s credentials should be included in one brief paragraph, along with his contact information. Thanking me for my time is always nice.
  • Likes personalization; word count/genre info at the end; don’t query around Christmas
  • Prefers word count/genre as first sentence.
  • Let [agent] know if you’re querying multiple agents. – Most agents assume this, but some want you to state it in the query.
  • There’s a sentence that sums up the plot, along with a sentence or two as to why the author thinks I’d be the right agent for the book. Then, no more than two paragraphs of plot description. Then please suggest authors whose work yours is similar to.
  • The letter should be two short paragraphs: one that describes your book and one that describes you. The description of your book should get me to want to read more. The description of yourself should detail why you are the person to write this specific book.
  • No need to tell me how you came to query me, especially not as your query opener.
  • Being able to open your query letter with why you are approaching me and being aware of what my deals or book interests are can go a long way.
  • I like to know what other projects you have completed or in the works, in addition to the one you are querying about.

Notice how they don’t want the same thing? Tell me why you’re querying me! No, don’t! Word count at the beginning, the end … why not stick it in the middle? Just kidding :).  You may want to leave this column blank until you have a query and are ready to personalize it to each agent, then go searching for their individual tastes. If you decide to fill it in now, I suggest going back to the QueryTracker entry for each agent so you can easily click on the external links available there and also referring to the resources listed in step 2 of the post on what agents are looking for (except for #MSWL, which is entirely about their wishlists). Literary Rambles, in particular, has a section on query tips. If you find a whole post with tips, copy in the link. You won’t find this information for every agent–only the ones who are active online or grant interviews. But when you do, it’s golden.

Wow, this post was crazy long, but I couldn’t find a good place to divide it into two without making you have to redo your searches. You should now have fourteen columns in your spreadsheet (fifteen if you followed the asterisk and worked ahead). If you recall, I said mine has twenty-five. I bet you’re wondering what’s left. Well, until next week …

*While I don’t include all of the submission guidelines on my spreadsheet, I do include what they expect you to submit–query only, 10 pages, 3 chapters + synopsis, etc.–in a separate column to the left of the Agent column. I plan to cover this in a later post about how I divide the agents into querying rounds as I partially base that on how I want to test my query and pages, but if you want to work ahead, you could add a Sub note column to the left of the Agent column and enter that basic information as you’re going through these other fields. If not, I will cover it again later.

All posts in this series:

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About Michelle I. Mason

I'm a full-time writer, focusing mainly on middle grade and young adult fiction with some freelance PR writing and editing on the side. I'm also a wife, mom, Christian, violinist, avid reader and St. Louis Cardinals fan. And I watch way too much TV.
This entry was posted in Agents, How to Research Agents, Querying and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to How to Research Agents: Submission Guidelines

  1. Pingback: How to Research Agents: Fun with Statistics | Michelle I. Mason

  2. Pingback: How to Research Agents: Querying Rounds | Michelle I. Mason

  3. Pingback: How to Research Agents: Ready to Query | Michelle I. Mason

  4. Pingback: How to Research Agents: Starting A Spreadsheet | Michelle I. Mason

  5. Pingback: How to Research Agents: What They’re Looking For | Michelle I. Mason

  6. Pingback: How to Research Agents: What Are You Looking For? | Michelle I. Mason

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