Multiple submissions. Traditionally, agents don’t like them. But nowadays, most accept that aspiring writers make a practice of them. In all honesty, it’s unreasonable to expect otherwise. Given the sheer volume of submissions agents receive, it’s impossible for them to implement a quick turnaround. And given the number of rejections I, as a writer, am likely to receive on my journey towards representation, it could hold me back years if I waited for each submission to be considered one at a time. Multiple submissions it is, then, though I will always out of courtesy let an agent know I’m submitting elsewhere.
How many, exactly, constitutes multiple? Some people advocate playing the numbers game, believing that the largest outlay will bring in the greatest return. It isn’t uncommon for writers to submit to twenty agents at a time. (One writer I met recently had a business idea for block mailing query letters on behalf of aspiring authors to agents around the world!).
Personally, I think twenty is going too far the other way. For one thing, it potentially wipes out a whole swathe in one go because it doesn’t give you the opportunity to refine your submission in the light of any feedback you receive. The consensus amongst my circle of writing friends is to send to four to six agents and wait a good eight to twelve weeks before the next round.
Don’t wait too long though. Some agents, it seems, simply never get around to a response at all, even, bizarrely, when they have requested the full manuscript. I guess nobody wants to write a ‘no’ email so it gets relegated indefinitely to the bottom of the to-do pile. Or, sometimes, agents genuinely forget what they’ve asked for. (Not all of them seem to be that well organised). So it’s always worth respectfully chasing.
Which agents I should target first? The obvious answer: those to whom I think my work will most appeal. But, amongst those, do I go for the glitzy big guns, or the small independents and less established start-ups? There are benefits to both. The big guns potentially have more clout, the smaller agents more incentive to nurture unknown authors. Perhaps the ideal combination is a relatively new agent who is building his or her list with a big agency brand behind them.
Should I start by targeting my dream agent first and work my way down my list of preferences, or warm up on my less favoured options? To me, it only makes sense to target my top choices first. If I get an offer from someone I’m not so sure about, I’d probably feel obliged to accept, for fear of never getting an offer again, but be left wondering if I could have done better.
However, there’s nothing to stop me using an offer of representation from one agent to tempt another. Knowing that someone else is about to snap me up would, I hope, sharpen the mind of a rival agent and miraculously lift my manuscript from the bottom of the slushpile to the top.
As for that writing competition for which I was longlisted (or even better, shortlisted, or the outright winner) I’d be a fool not to mention it. This tells an agent that my work has been read and approved by another literary gatekeeper. Competitions are a great way to earn recognition and exposure. They throw down a ladder to aspiring authors, whilst benefitting agents and publishers scouting for fresh talent.
What a shame, then, to see some competitions demanding exclusive entries. Like an agent snubbing multiple submissions, these competitions disqualify you if your work has been shortlisted or, in some cases, merely entered elsewhere. This strikes me as unsporting. Sure, if you are fortunate enough to win a competition for which the prize is agency representation, thereby promoting you to the next rung of the ladder, then it seems fair enough to withdraw from other competitions and give someone else a chance. Otherwise, I don’t see why this exclusion should apply. We all want to maximise our chances of success and I believe multiple submissions, to both agents and competitions, are a sound and sensible way of doing business.
Claudia Cruttwell is currently seeking representation for her psychological suspense novel entitled, ‘A Piece of Broken Sky.’ She has an MA in Creative Writing from Brunel University and writes short stories on a variety of themes. She blogs about her journey to publication on her website and can also be found on Twitter @cscruttwell.