Ask The Lit Coach: 'Is It Okay To Submit To Multiple Agents At The Same Agency?' and More

And we're back for another sizzling round of Q&A!

This week's discussion focuses on the etiquette of querying and submitting to agents, and the bottom line of using a pen name. 

Question from Richard T.

My question is about hitting up multiple agents at the same agency. I know that you don't want to send a novel to ALL of them (or even SEVERAL of them) at the same time, as they consider that spamming. But, is it okay to keep submitting within the same agency? There are several agencies out there that I really like, and I've sent my novel to different agents over time. As one rejected it, I'd go back and find several others that were into the genres I work in (horror, speculative, crime/thrillers/noir) and I'd resubmit. Can this ever work out? Part of me feels that if one agent doesn't like my book that the entire agency won't, since they may tend to represent similar authors, a narrow range of voices. But most of the time I treat each agent as if they are their own entity, and if three of them are into thrillers, why not hit them all up? Do they ever talk to each other? I've only had a few agents say to me, "Hey, this isn't right for me, but my associate, he may dig it. I'm going to pass it on to him." I wonder if agents do talk and say, "Hey, did you get this horrible novel from Richard? Yeah, me too. What is he thinking. REJECT."  Or maybe I'm just getting a little frustrated with the whole process.

I feel your pain, Richard. Submitting to larger agencies is very similar to the submission process agents follow when it's their turn to submit to publishing houses. When agents submit a manuscript, they not only have to chose the right editor, but they must make sure the imprint is the right place for the book. An agent should never make the mistake of submitting the same manuscript to two editors within the same imprint because if the book turns out to be great and both editors want it, they have to compete with each other, which is just silly. They'd much rather compete with the next publisher down the block, not with each other. With agents, it's the same. 

Agents have their own way of tracking what manuscripts get accepted to read and be considered. The title of the manuscript and your name will likely be entered into a database for them to keep track of, along with the result of the read - pass or consider. It may also be tracked which agent is considering which manuscript. And do they discuss what they're reading in house? Oh yes, they do. 

So, here's what you need to do, Richard.

First, research the heck out of the agency and then find the top agents who seem to be right for your book. Research those agents and see which ones would be THE best fit for your work. Research more. If one represents an author that is very similar to you, so similar you wonder if you've been separated at birth, chances are they won't want another author like you as you will compete with their already established author. But if the other agent in house looks right for you and they don't have someone just like you, query them. And then be patient while you wait to hear back from them.  Follow this formula with all the other agencies you're considering, also. There's no rule on how many agents at different houses you query, so knock yourself out. The more queries you have out the better.

Now, let's say that one agent at that particular agency chooses to request and read the manuscript. Let's say the work is great, but just not right for them. For whatever reason, they're just not feeling it but they think there might be something there. Maybe it's better suited for another agent in house; a courteous agent (and there are many out there), will share it with their colleague who is looking for work like yours. They want a win for the house at the end of the day. A shortsighted agent will pass outright and regret it later when you've sold the work at auction 2 weeks later. The point is, if the work stands up, they'll do the right thing to keep it in house, no matter what agent gets it. The same process holds for editors - I've had this happen to me several times when I was an agent. 

If they continue to pass on just the query with no explanation as to why they're not requesting a read, it never hurts to re-query. All they can say is no. Just make sure your query is solid. And keep in mind, at the larger agencies it's the interns or assistants who are reading your queries. Query letters aren't tracked, just the manuscripts that are actually accepted to read.

A final tip - it's okay to follow-up with an agent who has requested to read your work but it's futile to nudge an agent to read your query. Just let that agent know your manuscript is also being considered elsewhere.    

Good luck, Richard!

Question from David H.

I've considered writing under a pen name, as many of my stories (fiction) are based on my personal experiences as a police officer.  I want to claim my work under my given name, however, I'm concerned about my writing career interfering with my ongoing law enforcement career, a la Joseph Wambaugh, who as I understand, finally had to retire when his fame preceded him on the job.  What are your thoughts on pen names and these types of circumstances?

Writers choose pen names (nome de plumes), when it's critical to keep their true identity private for the purposes of security and anonymity. Most writers who choose a pen name do so for job security, as you're suggesting. This is totally normal. Just be upfront with the agents you're querying that you're writing under a pen name. They and your publisher will need your social security number anyway when it comes time to draw up a contract for the sale of the work. But don't worry, the agent and publisher are obligated to keep your identity private. 

Good luck, David! (If that is your real name.)

That wraps up this week's Q&A, LitReactors. Richard and David, thank you for your excellent questions. 

Now, go do something worth writing about! 

Erin Reel

Column by Erin Reel

Erin Reel is a Los Angeles based publishing and editorial consultant, writing coach, columnist, blog host of The Lit Coach's Guide to The Writer's Life and outspoken advocate for writers. A former literary agent with nearly 10 years in the industry, Erin has worked with a wide array of writers worldwide. She has contributed to Making The Perfect Pitch: How to Catch a Literary Agent's Eye (Sands, Watson-Guptil, 2004); and Author 101: Bestselling Secrets from Top Agents (Frishman & Spizman, Adams Media, 2005).

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Comments

Richard's picture
Richard from St. Louis is reading various anthologies January 23, 2012 - 2:34pm

Thanks so much for that detailed response, Erin. Really gives me a lot of answers. And I'd say it's pretty much good news, so I appreciate that, of course. "A win for the house," is how I saw it, but wasn't sure. Great stuff, thanks.

Gareth's picture
Gareth from Melbourne is reading Franz Kafka January 26, 2012 - 2:18am

Good question Richard.  Thanks for the advice Erin!