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Every now and again, I see agents have a conversation on Twitter that makes it clear that writers are shooting themselves and one another in the foot by not following standard “query procedure.” Of course every agency has its own submission guidelines, and these should always be followed and can be really easily found on almost every agency website, but there are a few things that may not be so clear, and hopefully, after reading this, they will be.

Q: How do I know if an agent accepts my category/genre?

A: Check out his or her page on the agency website or his or her personal blog. You can find this info on QueryTracker as well, but you should always be checking the agency website for submission guidelines anyway, so you may as well confirm and see what’s most likely the most updated information.

Q: When can I nudge?

A: There may be different schools of thought on this, and different policies per agency, but there’s no excuse for nudging before you’ve given an agent 3-4 weeks with your query, and closer to 6-8 for material, unless you have an offer.

Q: Should I respond to a rejection?

A: If it was personalized and helpful, it’s nice to thank them for taking the time. (Once. Giving you notes did not magically turn him or her into your editor.) If it was form, there’s no need to add to the heap already in his or her inbox.

Q: I got an offer! Now what do I do?

A: Congratulations! Now you notify all the other agents – with the word “Offer” in your subject line – who have requested material from you; this is non-negotiable. Should you notify all the agents you’ve queried but haven’t replied? That’s up to you. I advocate it (particularly if you’ve sent it in the last week or two), both because A) it might make them request and B) it’s nice for them to know it’s off the table instead of getting excited about it and responding with a request, only to find that it’s no longer an option.

Q: What do I say when I notify other agents?

A: You inform them you got an offer and then one of two things: 1) If it’s an agent you would genuinely like to consider, you politely give a deadline (generally 7-10 days) by which you would like a response. 2) If it’s an agent you know you would not choose over the agent who’s offered (and I mean know), politely withdraw your manuscript from consideration. Don’t make an agent do extra work so that you can declare you got 4 offers instead of 3 or whatever. (Here‘s a great post from agent Natalie Lakosil with some wording suggestions for the latter case.)

Q: Can I query multiple agents at once?

A: Yes, and you should. The only exception is if you have promised an exclusive to an agent. Which is so not in your best interest, I cannot emphasize it enough. What you can’t do unless an agency specifically permits it is query multiple agents at the same agency.

Q: What if an agent does ask for an exclusive?

A: Well, that’s up to you. You don’t have to grant it, and then the agent can decided whether or not to proceed with you. Or maybe you already have material out so you can’t grant it, in which case I advise stating that you can’t offer exclusivity as you already have material out. (If, however, you are so inclined, you can state that you will not query further. Again, not really to your advantage, but I understand wanting to offer something.) If you do grant exclusivity, this means that you stop querying immediately until you receive a response from this agent. (Do not grant exclusivity without getting a firm deadline of no more than 4 weeks.)

Q: What’s the deal with an R&R?

A: An R&R is a Revise & Resubmit, and it means that an agent has invested enough in your ms to give you notes and invite you to revise your manuscript and resubmit it after you have done so. What this does mean is that there’s quite a bit an agent likes about your manuscript; they don’t do this for everyone, and they certainly don’t do it just to be nice. What this doesn’t mean is that A) you’re not allowed to query anyone else or B) this agent has made a commitment to signing you.

Q: How do I go about returning my revised manuscript?

A: Have you really revised it? Like, really really? Or are you just returning the same thing with some minor tweaks? If and only if you have actually made a conscious effort to follow their notes, return the manuscript in response to the e-mail in which you got an R&R and make sure something like “Requested Material” is in the subject line somewhere. Be reasonable about your return time frame. Too short and it’s clear you haven’t really ruminated on their notes. Too long and it’s a sign you’re not great at meeting tight revision deadlines.

Q: If I’ve self-published a book, do I mention that in my query?

A: Only if you’ve got great sales. If you have under 10K, leave it out; it’s completely irrelevant for the agent.

Q: How do I query a self-published book?

A: You don’t. Your book is already published; you cannot offer the first serial rights an agent needs to sell it to a house. If you want that agent, you’ll have to submit a brand-new manuscript. If you want an agent to handle subrights, that’s a different story (and unfortunately I’m not familiar with this process), but do not go to an agent with your self-published book and ask them to turn around and sell it to Random House.

Q: What else do I need to know?

A: Round your word count to the nearest thousand; always make sure your title and name are in the subject line; never query more than one agent with a single e-mail; always use the agent’s name (not “Dear Agent”) in the salutation; leave out your thoughts, feelings, inspiration, and mentions of any friends/family who loved your book – it’s an intro, synopsis*, and bio, period.

*synopsis in this case just means a brief (2-3 paragraphs) summary of the book – think “back cover copy.” A Synopsis – i.e. a 1-3 (usually) page rundown of everything in the book – is something else entirely, which some agents require and some do not.

Any other questions?

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