Is it OK to submit a book to multiple agents at the same time? In this extract from Writers' & Artists' Guide To How To Hook an Agent — a quick-fire introduction to the process of gaining literary agent representation — James Rennoldson looks at the question asked by so many authors about to embark on submitting their book to literary agents...
It’s absolutely fine to send your submission to more than one agent. They expect you to have approached one or more of their peers, and competition is considered healthy. If an agent shows an interest in your work and asks to read the full manuscript, some could ask for a short period of exclusivity but most simply ask that, out of courtesy, you make them aware of any interest shown by another agent.
Sending out your work to small batches of agents at the same time could be a smart approach, although make sure to keep everyone you’ve submitted to informed of any developments (such as full-read requests, meetings and/or offers of representation). This is a moment of leverage that’s to your benefit, though, as it can be used to speed up the process of agents coming back to you. Let’s say, for example, you’ve submitted your book to five agents and received a rejection letter from two but a full-read request from the third agent to respond. At this point, even if it’s well within the expected response times outlined in each of the remaining agents’ submission guidelines, it’s perfectly reasonable for you to contact the remaining two agents to let them know; just take care to keep the tone of this email one of a polite chaser (‘Dear Agent X, Just a quick email to let you know an agent at Agency Name has asked to read the manuscript in full. Best, Name’) rather than something that passive-aggressively suggests they need to hurry up.
A polite email update regarding a show of interest in your work indicates a writer who’s courteous, professional and, crucially, someone who’s written something of a high enough quality to warrant the time of a peer operating in their part of the market to request to read it in full. All of which may be enough to bump their submission up towards the top of an agent’s To Read pile. One thing not to do, however, is to use this tactic as a means of speeding things up. Claiming interest from other agents might initially have the desired effect but it won’t be that long before you’re rumbled. The publishing industry is deceptively small when you begin to boil it down by the number of people working on your type of book, making the chances of everyone at least knowing of one another quite high. ‘Did your colleague at Agency X really show an interest in Book Y? The author sent it to me as well, then followed up with an email to say they’d had a meeting request … but when I read the opening chapters I really didn’t like the writing. I’m a bit confused because it doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that would be up Agent Z’s street…’ As soon as your name becomes linked with this sort of scenario it becomes a lot more difficult for any agent to imagine striking up a trusting relationship with you.
On the subject of agents talking to one another about the sort of manuscript submissions they’ve received of late, also avoid querying two agents at the same agency with the same book. If a book isn’t for Agent A but they think it might be of interest to their colleagues, then chances are they’ll pass it on. One final thing to avoid: resist the temptation to use the same covering letter to submit to multiple agents. Impersonal covering letters are held in the same regard as one of those pieces of marketing that lands on your doormat from an estate agent or energy supplier: it’s addressed to you, but then you quickly realise it’s not really for you, and your eyes glaze over as a result. As a writer, are you really not bothered about who acts on the behalf of you and your writing? And then even worse than this is to copy all of the agents in on your email, brazenly setting each agent up in competition with one another and confirming a lack of regard for each of them in one fell swoop.
Written in Q&A format, the Writers' & Artists' Guide To How To Hook an Agent is an introduction to the process of submitting a manuscript to literary agents, and is directly inspired by popular questions asked by writers that have attended our long-running series of events of the same name. If you're looking for a literary agent to represent your manuscript order your copy here, or to find out about our latest events click here.