Monday, December 07, 2009

No Simultaneous Submissions

Obviously writers can't query one agent at a time - no one would ever get published in his or her lifetime. But several agencies are asking for not only a query letter but also for pages, anywhere from 5-50 (and I have to say, asking for 50 boggles my mind). I recently got a response from an agent asking for a partial (just 20 pages or so) and states that simultaneous submissions aren't considered. I don't know how to handle this. Technically the other queries are just that - queries. The agencies just happen to ask for more than just a single letter. So while the agent reads the partial, I still have chunks of manuscript at other houses waiting to be sorted through. I don't really know what to think of this. Any thoughts on how to handle it?

Before I get to the real question, let me clarify that 50 pages is basically a proposal. These are agents who are asking for more than just a query letter, but accept unsolicited proposals. Back in the day, and for quite a number of years, BookEnds had this same policy. At the time we were a fairly new agency and had more time to read submissions. We were also still feeling our way and learning what we liked, and of course it hopefully gave us a bit of an edge in that we got to see the writer’s work before everyone else.

It’s not uncommon for agents to ask that pages be included with the query. I don’t. I find that typically I’ll only read the pages if I would have requested them anyway, so I just ask for the query and request the pages when I want more. While I won’t reject authors for sending pages, I rarely read them anyway. However, I think it’s becoming more common and simply depends on the agent.

I think not accepting simultaneous submissions is the same thing as asking for an exclusive. Do a search on the blog for "exclusive" or "exclusives" and you’ll see a great deal of information. However, my suggestion is to simply send along the material and note in your cover letter that other agents are reviewing at this time, but you’ll do your best to keep her apprised if anything should happen. If she chooses not to read it, frankly, it’s her loss. I really think, though, that, in most cases, asking for exclusives or saying you don’t accept simultaneous submissions is nothing but a scare tactic on the agent’s part. She wants to make sure she doesn’t have competition, which to me says she doesn’t think highly enough of herself to think she can compete. Obviously these two issues are hot buttons for me. I think authors should have the chance to choose an agent if possible, and not accepting simultaneous submissions or asking for exclusives takes the power out of an author’s hand, power you should have since it’s your career.

So in case I didn’t make myself clear, send it anyway and let her know other agents are reviewing. And of course if any agent offers representation, my suggestion is always get in touch with all agents who have pages or material and any agents who still have a query, but who you are really interested in. Give yourself the opportunity to choose an agent rather than simply waiting for someone to choose you.

Jessica

43 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just don't tell them anything. Send the partial along and thank them for their interest and time. It's a stupid and disrespectful request that doesn't need to be addressed by a serious writer. My only consideration is whether I'd want an agent acting so unprofessionally.

Buffy Andrews said...

As usual, thoughtful post Jessica. I loved this: She wants to make sure she doesn’t have competition, which to me says she doesn’t think highly enough of herself to think she can compete.

So agree. Competition makes us all better. So bring it on. (Smiles)

Buffy
http://buffyswritezone.blogspot.com

Lydia Sharp said...

Interesting thoughts on this. Informative, as usual. Thanks. :)

Anonymous said...

Since the others you sent are queries, not manuscripts, it's not a simultaneous submission.

You could mention that you have other queries out, as Jessica suggests, though honestly? I wouldn't. It's not like this is an even playing field.

Sir John said...

I think a writer has to think of his or her own self respect. A relationship has to be a two way street. Imagine asking an agent not to consider another submission until she gets back with you. JK, but really!
I do have another question kind of related.
I have several different manuscripts being circulated in partials and in fulls. When a relationship is finally established with one agent, I assume the agent will handle all of my work and thus cut some other agent out of the process.
What affect does it have on an agent to discover you have several more completed manuscripts being circulated?

Mira said...

Right on Jessica! Thanks so much for this! Love your post.

:)

CKHB said...

I've had ONE agent ask for a two-week exclusive on a partial. I told her that partials were already out at other agencies, and she then asked that I please not accept any other offer before giving her a chance to review my materials. There was no problem.

Exclusives stink.

Enchanted Crystals said...

In my experience, agents that work on exclusives policies work with editors who do the same. Not an agent you want!

Wasted 14 months of my life this way after ONE editor (at a big, well-known house) rejected my script. Left this agent shortly after.

Barb

Lisa Dez said...

If you've only sent pages as part of a query, then I don't think that counts as a manuscript submission.

I queried 20 agents this summer and got several manuscript requests within the first few weeks. One of the last agents to respond to my query asked for an exclusive. I sent my manuscript with a note explaining that I already had eleven manuscript out. I figured the ball was in her court. She sent a note back saying that she'd consider it anyway. So, really, I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Anonymous said...

More agents are asking for 5-10 pgs to be included with queries but I doubt they even read them. Before May, several agents asked for partials and fulls but now it seems they all send form e-jects.
I hate waiting WEEKS for agents to respond to queries, then MONTHS for partials and then fulls. Yes, it's a big waste of time when they say FINALLY no.

I thought the economy was improving and folks were still reading, online and off. What's going on?

Donna Gambale said...

I like what you chose as a response -- it's courteous and acknowledges the agent's request, but it doesn't slow the author's querying progress. Thanks!

Kimber An said...

I so am not looking forward to Queryland again.

This issue is just one reason why.

If I ever do receive The Call, the squuueee at the other end shattering the Arctic ice won't be at the thought of seeing my book in Barnes & Noble, but at last being freed of this eeevil, dreaded purgatory.

Or maybe I'll just cry.

I'd wager half the books published at Lulu.com are not there because they're not publishable in New York, but because the authors couldn't stand Queryland one minute longer.

Kimber An said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donna Lea Simpson said...

I just received a lovely note from an agent in response to my email query; she requested a partial, and said for me to tell her if it was exclusive. If it was, she would try to hurry it through, presumably so I wouldn't be stuck waiting for a reply too long. I thought that was really nice, and my estimation of her went way up. She's a top agent, and she didn't have to be that kind.

I wrote and told her that as I am doing a thorough agent search, I will be approaching more than one agent at a time, but I'm by no means flooding the market. I'm doing research every step of the way so that each agency I approach will be one I would a) be happy with, and b) who could represent all the facets of my career: contemporary mystery, historical mystery and historical romance. I also said that if I received an offer of representation, I would be checking in with each agent I had sent a proposal to.

Anonymous said...

Donna, why do you need an agent after so many successful novels? Seems like you're doing great! Also who's the nice agent you mentioned? So rare to get a personal reply these days...good luck!

DebraLSchubert said...

I think it's bizarre to ask for an exclusive on a partial request, and I think an agent should only ask for one on a full if they're very, very interested.

Donna Lea Simpson said...

"Anonymous said: Donna, why do you need an agent after so many successful novels? Seems like you're doing great! Also who's the nice agent you mentioned? So rare to get a personal reply these days...good luck!"

Thanks for the kind words! However... lots has happened lately to bring me to this spot. My agent and I are 'breaking up'... yes, it happens. It's completely amicable, but we've moved in different directions. He is giving me a list of agents that he recommends, so I will not be wholly on my own, but in the meantime, I am looking around and have found a few I'm interested in.

I'm on the hunt. It's a humbling experience, but I'm not much of an egoist so it's no big.

The 'kind agent' will remain anonymous, for now. She has already read the first chapter of my proposed novel, sent in the body of the email query as advised on her website, and I am now sending a full proposal. I may blog about my agent hunt, as it is a curious and interesting process, one that I have not had to undergo for about seven years or so.

Anonymous said...

Debra, I wish it worked that way!

I had an agent ask for a two week exclusive on a full. When I informed her that there were already other agents with my full, she declined, saying that she just didn't love the writing enough.

I don't understand why an agent would request an exclusive on a manuscript she would have declined anyway.

Voidwalker said...

This is the first time I've come across the concept of an "exclusive." I'm still not up on all the publishing industry lingo, but I think for now, I'd best stick to simply finishing my novel before getting sucked into all the jargon that may end up getting in my way. eh?

clindsay said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
clindsay said...

Could the letter writer possibly be mistaken? By "no simultaneous submissions", could the agent simply be saying that s/he does not want simultaneous submissions within his or her own agency?

I work in a medium-sized agency, with about nine other agents. It becomes a problem when a writer queries everyone within my agency at the same time, but doesn't tell any of us that s/he did it. Several times, more than one of us has asked for a full, not knowing that another agent in-house is already looking at it.

Just wondering.

And I agree: Exclusives are a bad idea. They limit a writer's choices.

Colleen

Anonymous said...

"I recently got a response from an agent asking for a partial (just 20 pages or so) and states that simultaneous submissions aren't considered. I don't know how to handle this."

Just send the Q and don't mention anything about where else you might or might not be sending it. You've got to always do what increases your odds of being consideration for publicaiton--not what makes it easier for the agents.

In the unlikely event that they do reply favorably to you, at that point you can let them know if another agency or publisher is seriously considering the work.

But never do anyhting to decrease your own odds. Mum's the word. It's YOUR business. Keep it yours. The agencies are just trying to avoid spending time on projects they will have to compete for and possibly lose. that's their problem, not yours. Q 10 agents at a time, with a new Q going out every 30 days until you've exhausted all agents that handle your genre. Then, try small presses. if that fails, it's self-pub or stash in the drawer.

Anonymous said...

Even on full's, I wouldn't disclose any info on an unsold manuscript. It's available until it's sold. Period. Mention nothing except that it's available.

To do any less is to voluntarily decrease your own chances of a timely sale.

Anonymous said...

Correction to my above post: that hsould have been: "It's available until it's CONTRACTED" (by an agent).

Anonymous said...

"I've had ONE agent ask for a two-week exclusive on a partial. I told her that partials were already out at other agencies, and she then asked that I please not accept any other offer before giving her a chance to review my materials. There was no problem."

It cold have easily gone the other way on you. Agent could have said, PASS!

In this case, the action that would have maximized your chances would have been to say "Okay, you have the exclusive." This reply makes them feel better, but legally means or implies absolutely nothing, since you have no contract with them. Tell 'em what they want to hear while you continue to seek representation. Until it's contracted, it's available. It's that simple. Do what's best for you. Disclose nothing unless you're being offered a contract.

Anonymous said...

I agree that in today's market, writers should never mention the status of a work's submission process except to say "available" or "no longer available." Who has it or how many agents have it is proprietary business information that is not to the writer's advantage to disclose, ever. If an agency does request "exclusivity," simply say "Okay" while continuing to seek representation elsewhere. To do anything less is shooting yourself in the foot.

I guess one disaadvantage of newbie writers seeking advice on agent blogs is that, naaturaally they're going to get advice that favors the agents, not necessarily the writers.

Larissa said...

Excellent post. Thank you!

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Jemi Fraser said...

Great advice, Jessica!

Allison Brennan said...

Jessica's advice is right on the money. Be honest. Other agents are reading your material. When I was searching for an agent, one agent asked for an exclusive, and I basically said just what Jessica said to say, and she read the material anyway and offered representation. I emailed all the other agents considering the material (partials and fulls--not the unanswered queries) stating that I had an offer of representation and asking where they were on the submission and their thoughts. They were all gracious and honest about where they were and what they thought. Some had read, some hadn't, some didn't like it, that's life.

Anonymous said...

I have had a number of agents, and I wouldn't tell an agent that other agents were reading material if I thought that would deter anyone from considering it. (I would tell them if I thought it would get a quick read -- which I have done.) Bottom line: Life is tough. Just because I ask an agent to read my material doesn't guarantee I'll let that agent represent me if he wants to. I will do what's best for me, just as the agent will. So if an agent demands an exclusive, I'll lie and tell them it's an exclusive. Sue me. I've spend years and years writing my material and to hell with you.

Anonymous said...

Let's be realistic: No one owes anyone anything until they have a real relationship. An agent will ask to see your stuff, put it on a pile for six months, read two pages and throw it out without even sending a letter. (True met -- it's happened to me.) Writers, as a rule, are overly passive and deferential. Tell an agent anything she needs to hear to get him or her to read your stuff. Lie. No biggie. Everyone in business lies. EVERYONE. I am lied to many times every week because everyone is acting in their own self-interest. So what if an agent spends their time reading your book and then you to decide to go with another agent. Trust me: If you are successful, you will have many agents, and you will be screwed by many agents. Don't worry about screwing them until you care about them as a person. And they have to earn that -- just as you have to earn them caring about you.

Anonymous said...

Actually this is easy. When the writer says "states" it means it was a letter and it's simple to ignore parts of letters. The hard thing is when an agent calls you on the phone and asks for an exclusive. Hard to lie on the phone. Easy to ignore part of a letter. And it's not even unethical. Just because an agent responds saying they want an exclusive doesn't meant you have to agree or disagree. You can just thank them for asking to see the material and send it.

-- recently got a response from an agent asking for a partial (just 20 pages or so) and states that simultaneous submissions aren't considered. I don't know how to handle this--

Anonymous said...

Actually this is easy. When the writer says "states" it means it was a letter and it's simple to ignore parts of letters. The hard thing is when an agent calls you on the phone and asks for an exclusive. Hard to lie on the phone. Easy to ignore part of a letter. And it's not even unethical. Just because an agent responds saying they want an exclusive doesn't meant you have to agree or disagree. You can just thank them for asking to see the material and send it.

-- recently got a response from an agent asking for a partial (just 20 pages or so) and states that simultaneous submissions aren't considered. I don't know how to handle this--

C.J. Ellisson said...

On a side note to this topic I had a publisher ask for my a large partial of my MS and asked for it on an exclusive. I already have a partial in a big contest with a publisher and have three other publishers who asked for the full MS when I was ready to send it in.

I was honest and told the publisher it was out elsewhere already - and sent the requested partial in. She emailed me back that she was sorry, she wasn't going to break company policy and that I could email her again if I was not offered a contract from one of the others.

My husband was on me to lie, but I wouldn't do it. I explained that a search could find what contest I was in and I didn't want to start off a business relationship being dishonest.

Back to square one in the waiting game!

Jael said...

Please be up-front. I'm seeing a lot of commenters saying "just don't tell them it's with someone else", and while that might turn out just fine for you, it has a BIG potential to backfire. Agents know each other. And they talk. And sometimes even when they're with different agencies, they share office space. So if you have a full MS out with two agents and you've told them both they have exclusives, there is a greater than zero percent chance you'll be found out. And then your chances are 100% shot with both of them.

Respectfully decline to give an exclusive. If there's a partial out with more than one person, say that it's being considered by other agents and that if an offer of rep is extended you'll let them know before accepting. If they say "Not good enough", go on your merry way querying other people.

I think agents are totally within their rights to ask for exclusives. And writers are totally within their rights to decline them.

Donna Lea Simpson said...

I agree completely with those who are saying, be honest about whether the partial is already out there. Lying may seem like the best thing in the short run, but it doesn't pay. Honesty to others and yourself is vital in this industry.

P.A.Brown said...

I had an agent recently ask me not only for a 5 week exclusive on 50 pages, but they wanted to know every agent and publisher I'd subbed to. I can see the publisher part -- if I've subbed on my own and been rejected then that's a bridge I've burned. But why do they think I should divulge who I queried and was rejected by? What does that tell them?

I ignored the request. I will simultaneously submit to agents until I find someone who wants my book. But given that I've been able to compile a list of well over a hundred agents who rep what I write, sending each one out individually, wait until I get a response before sending the next one? That would take years at best. How absurd is that?

I agree with anonymous, would I want an agent like that?

Anonymous said...

We journalists and writers can't afford to be passive or deferential--but agents and editors EXPECT writers to be passive and meek and then they bristle when we don't do as we're told...We're not kids, we're adults, and we need to take charge of our lives. Waiting patiently by the computer or phone is not going to work. As they say: You're not the boss of me!

james said...

This is a very good subject and I feel that the answer is very accurate. This is especially valid since most agents ask that authors wait 6 to 8 weeks for a "possible" response. Sending queries to multiple agents seems like the wise thing to do. Thanks Jessica!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Chiming in late with some thoughts on the comments: Asking for an exclusive and declining to give one are both reasonable. Asking for a list of agents and publishers submitted to is unreasonable, imho verging on unprofessional, unless the agent has committed to representing the author. Also, did somebody ask why an author who's published many novels needs an agent? With a good agent, selling the manuscript is just the beginning. :) (Or did you mean, Why do you need a new agent?--the question the author answered.)

P.A.Brown said...

An author doesn't NEED an agent, I mean I've sold 9 novels and several short stories without one, but I still would like to get an agent. Why? They can get you into the bigger NY houses, they can protect your interests as a writer from bad or iffy contracts, and the kind I want can give you great feedback on your writing. A good agent knows the ins and outs of publishing today and that alone is worth the price of admission in my mind.

Alberto O. Cappas said...

I've self-published all my life and I'm now ready and prepared for an agent. This is a great and very informative blog. Thank you.