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Do Agents Remember Submissions?

Estee came up with a really interesting question, inspired by Wednesday’s post:

I’m curious if you remember the slush. I mean, if someone submits something that isn’t good enough, revises it and re-submits it at least six months later, do you recognize them?

Other comments joked about agents and their all-remembering powers. Since we see thousands of submissions a year, it’s a funny idea that we’d remember them, right? Well, I have news for you. I remember submissions pretty well, considering the circumstances! I can’t really remember what I had for dinner a few days ago or to pick up the one thing I really need at the grocery store, but I do start to get submission deja vu when reading something I’ve seen before.

For me, and I don’t know about other agents out there, it’s always a turn of phrase or a description that triggers my memory. In cases where the query or submission had a really focused premise, the premise will jog my memory if I see it again. The same goes for other random tidbits: funny character names, strange author names, jokes, exotic locations that the author is writing from, random connections we have that they might have brought up in their queries, etc. There are a million different things that catch my attention, of course. And I probably wouldn’t recognize everything I’ve ever seen if it was presented to me again, but my memory has been pretty accurate so far.

If the question was asked in the context of whether to mention a resubmission in the query, I say you should always mention it. Don’t count on the agent to forget that you’ve submitted before. Most of us who use email can search for your previous correspondence. And it’s not a bad thing to resubmit something. We all know that writing is a craft and that writers end up revising, sometimes days after they send their first query, sometimes months or years.

What do you say if you’re resubmitting something? How about something simple along the lines of:

Dear Mary,

You saw this query and passed with some really insightful feedback (Ha! My fake letter is laying it on a bit thick, but if you did get a response from the agent the first time around, don’t be afraid to mention something about it…). I’ve since revised the project and am hoping you’ll be interested in taking a second look. To refresh your memory, the story goes like this:

And then you launch into the meat of your query again because, as good as my memory may sometimes be, I’ll always appreciate another pitch to remind me of the key points of your project.

Tags:

  1. Heather Kephart’s avatar

    Oh crud! This is not good news. How about…

    Dear Ms. Kole,

    I think you’re the bomb. Attached please find my re-submission of THE MONKEY WHO POOPED JUST CUZ HE COULD. It’s right up your alley. I fully realize that you strongly prefer to represent YA and MG authors, as well as PB author/illustrators, but I feel that I’m different. I feel a lot of things. I’m a feely kind of person. Not touchy, just feely. So don’t worry, you can tell me anything and I won’t freak out.

    If you’re still with me…

    I would like to conclude this query by apologizing for my initial glut of queries. I sent them out while suffering from picture book dementia*. Also, I’m really sorry for attaching the photo of me hovering over June Lockhart at a Star Trek convention. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

    Warm and fuzzy regards,
    Heather Kephart

    P.S. I didn’t actually attach my revision, I mostly wanted to apologize for the photo.

    * Picture book dementia: The irrational joy and satisfaction with one’s stories all picture book authors experience before realizing they haven’t yet a clue how to write actual picture books.

  2. Ishta’s avatar

    Thanks for this post, Mary. It’s good to know that you (and probably a lot of other agents, as well) appreciate honesty when we’re resubmitting the same project.

    I have a general question about resubmitting to the same agent. Like many other writers, I research agents carefully before I submit to them, because I want to make sure (to the best of my ability) that my work will fall in line with their tastes. Unfortunately, this has occasionally led to a rejection letter along the lines of “I like this, but it’s too similar in theme to a book by one of my clients, and I wouldn’t feel comfortable representing two competing books.”

    In this situation, what can a writer do? Is it wise to try to sell that project on our own, before submitting a different project to the same agent? (I’m thinking picture book manuscripts in this instance, but the question can be applied to MG and YA novels just as easily.) Is it better to wait a while, then submit a different project? Should we consider whether we’re willing to scrap that manuscript if the agent in question likes the rest of the body of our work? When you get queried by the same author on more than one project, do you ever think back and go, “Wait a minute, they have another manuscript that is too much like such-and-such, which is why I passed on them in the first place”?

    Many thanks for considering this. Your blog is an incredible gift to writers.

  3. Priscilla Mizell’s avatar

    Thanks for the guidance, Mary. Your sample letter beginning is especially helpful.

    Heather, you are cracking me up…

  4. Amanda Hoving’s avatar

    Very interesting! And, it actually gives me a warm fuzzy feeling ;) to think that agents, and/or editors may remember the work. In other words, the slush is taken seriously (at least, at first).

  5. Lois D. Brown’s avatar

    Good to know. I always wondered about this.

  6. Melissa Gill’s avatar

    Thanks for the information Mary. I hate to flood you with more questions to your answers, but mine goes hand in hand with the question Ishta asked.

    If you see you see a project that you’re crazy about, but remember that the same author submitted a MS that you would not want to represent, would you still offer representation on the project you liked? Would you stipulate that you would not be willing to represent the previous MS? Would you even remember the same author had the two different projects?

    Thanks as always for your insight.

  7. Kathryn Murphy’s avatar

    Hi Mary,

    Great post! In terms of mentioning previous submissions, would you say the same principle applies to mentioning a previous submission of a different project? In other words, should a writer say,

    “I recently queried you with different project, on which you passed, but offered some really insightful feedback. I have since written a separate project and am hoping you might be interested. The story goes like this…”

    Or is it best not to mention it, since the writer might have to offer more details about the first project to jog your memory, wasting precious query word space?

    Thanks!

  8. Heather’s avatar

    Thank you so much for this! I’ve always wondered how to go about resubmissions and what would be the most appropriate way. Now the confusion is cleared. And I definitely love hearing that agents *may* actually remember my past queries. Whoever asked that question deserves a cookie.

  9. Alicia Gregoire’s avatar

    Okay, so now I’m confused because I thought once a project got rejected by an agent (I’m talking about a form rejection), you can’t resubmit even if you revise. Is this not the case?

  10. Mary’s avatar

    Kathryn — You can definitely remind them that you’ve submitted before, whether your current submission is a revision or a different project.

    Alicia — Check out Wednesday’s post. What I say there is true of ABLit, not necessarily all agencies, though.

  11. Jean Ann Williams’s avatar

    Another questions answered for me. Thanks, Mary. And especially thanks on your resubmit query opening.

  12. Erica Olson’s avatar

    Having just finished (another) big revision, I’ve been wondering about this (this applies to today’s and Wednesday’s posts, actually). I did have some feedback on partial requests that I incorporated into the process. Thanks for your thoughts!

  13. Katherine Quimby Johnson’s avatar

    Thanks not only for the advice, but for a useful approach to resubmission. It sounds like agents remember submissions the way voracious readers remember books, which makes perfect sense (*duh*).

  14. Robyn Campbell’s avatar

    Thanks for the great advice. I HOPE I’m nevah, evah in that situation, but it’s great to know that you CAN resubmit. :)

  15. Deb’s avatar

    Thanks for this, it’s good to have a template for the re-submissions and including the advice the agent gave on the original.

    And Heather…too, too funny!! I want that monkey book, lol.

  16. Susan Lower’s avatar

    I’d always wondered about that question. Thank you for the great advice.

  17. Ken Teicher’s avatar

    I was directed here through a question posted on the Absolute Write Water Cooler > Publishing > Ask the Agent. The question also had to do with resubmitting to an agent that did not respond at all to an e-mail submission. One of the responders to that thread stated that they follow up a no response with a ‘snail mail’ submission and they were offered a contract! I’ve also read that it is not a good idea to check off the ‘read receipt’ box because it may annoy the agent. (Long ago, when I only sent out snail mail queries, I always sent them via priority mail so that I could track and confirm receipt.) So, what is your suggestion to someone that never got any kind of response to an e-mail query? Should this be mentioned when resubmitting? Thanks for any suggestions you may wish to offer.

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