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Agents and Authors ...

Agents and Authors (Part 4)

Guidelines and Etiquette

Have you been waiting for more? Well, I have more for you!

All agencies and publishing houses have guidelines. Many have guidelines posted on their Web sites, in market guides, in their catalogues or one request (with the inclusion of an SASE).

Guidelines vary by agent/editor. Never submit to an agent or editor without knowing what is desired, against policy, etc.

For example, my office accepts one-page queries with a one-page synopsis and an SASE. If interested, I request more. If I receive a query that includes sample chapters, it is doubtful I will work with that writer. First impressions are often predictors for the future behavior of the writer.

Tip: If you absolutely cannot find or obtain guidelines for a particular agency/editor, never submit more than the query. In addition, always include an SASE.

Etiquette is used in almost every aspect of daily life –or at least it should be used. This is especially true if a writer expects an agent/editor to take his or her work seriously.

Most agencies/publishing companies do not accept unsolicited manuscripts or telephone calls. What exactly is “unsolicited”? This is something not requested. If an agent or editor does not specifically ask for your partial or complete manuscript, do not send it. If you have not been asked to call, do not call.

For example, recently I received a call (after hours) from a man requesting information on submitting. He admitted to having visited our Web site when he said, “Your website said no unsolicited telephone calls, but what does that mean?” I explained that we do not take calls of that nature and that he could find guidelines on the Web site.

That was not the end. He went on to say he was not the author and that he was inquiring for a friend. I told him to direct his friend to our Web site, Writers Market, or Sally Stuart’s Market Guide. Then, he asked, “Can I just have her call you and you can explain it to her?” I replied, “We do not take these types of calls.”

About a week later, the woman called my office. I tried to explain to her, unsuccessfully. She went on to tell me about her poems. When I told her that we no longer accept poetry submissions, she hung up on me. Etiquette 101 should be her priority over seeking an agent!

Etiquette also applies to queries. Allow time to review your material. While most agencies try to reply within three weeks to three months, it often takes longer. Present obligations, negotiations, and illness, among other events, cause a delay. If you feel you must inquire, send a polite letter (or email if the company accepts email).


  • Never try to force an agent/editor to make a decision. Such tactics may include: “Several agents are looking at my manuscript. I want you to represent me, but need to know something or I will have to go with another agency.” Nine times out of ten, you will be directed to go elsewhere.
  • The only time to mention an agency’s interest to another agent is when there has been a real offer to represent. Do not use this as a “threat.” You, the writer, will end up on the down side of the attempt.
  • When receiving a rejection, it is not necessary to reply. However, if you are one of those writers who feel acknowledgement is necessary, be polite. Bashing the agent/editor because he/she missed the best thing to come across their desks since Seuss, Shakespeare, Grisham, or Steele is a grave move.
  • Take rejection with a grain of salt and a pound of common sense. Form letters are not a bad thing—in fact, most agents are too busy to send a personal reply to every writer. A form reply is better than no reply.
  • If you receive a personalized rejection with comments, pay attention and take them to heart. If there are suggestions (even if that particular agent/editor does not want to see a revision), consider making changes. Your goal, as a professional writer, is to sell. In all sectors of business, change is necessary.
  • Keep an open mind. What you envision as the “perfect” completed manuscript may be a “good premise with much work needed” to an agent or editor. Again, change is not a bad thing.
  • Timeliness is another key to success. If an agent or editor requests material, comply as soon as possible. Waiting too long can often mean the difference between selling your book and “your spot” being filled.

Until next time … happy writing and play nice!