Query Letter Plot Pitch: Premise vs Plot

Premise vs plot is an important distinction to make when you’re describing plot in a query. There’s a big difference between the two, especially in a query letter or plot pitch. Here’s a thought about book strategy that I’ve been meaning to post about for a while.

plot pitch, book strategy
If you’re writing a plot pitch, make sure you understand the difference between fiction premise vs plot.

Plot Pitch Basics: Learning Premise vs Plot

A lot of people pitch stories to me without an understanding of fiction premise vs plot. They outline a situation and think that implies a plot. For example:

My character is living with her father after his parents’ nasty divorce. Meanwhile, his mother has run off on a meth binge.


Mine is a coming-of-age story where my main character is gay/Mexican/bulimic/diagnosed with cancer.

That’s all fine and good, but both of these plot pitches present me with a situation. A broken household. Something about the character that makes them different from their peers. But none of these things are a plot. My next question is always, “And…?”

Your character is gay aaaaaand…? What happens? What’s next? Your character has divorced parents aaaaand…? Where does the plot come in? What else?

Writing a Plot Pitch Means Focusing on Specific Plot Points

When you understand the difference between fiction premise vs plot, you know that a meaty situation or a controversial issue do not a fully fleshed-out manuscript make. It’s not enough. Lots of the most successful “issue books” or books where the character is in a bad situation keep these things in their back pockets but then evolve and build upon these issues or situations with a very rigorous plot.

For example, you can’t just write a book about a character in a broken home and have that be the extent of the story. That’s too sparse. You can, however, write a book about a character in a broken home who runs away to find his meth-addicted mother, brings her back, rehabilitates her, then mourns her when she relapses, overdoses and dies. That’s a plot.

Situation Is Important, But It’s What You Do With It That Matters

You can’t just have a book where a character is gay and wanders around talking about how hard it is to be gay. You CAN have a gay character who is in love with her best friend, a friend who has recently broken up with her boyfriend, and now has to decide whether to help her best friend heal or to make a move before the upcoming prom, because she hears the ex is trying to make a comeback. That’s a plot.

Keep fiction premise vs plot in mind when you’re thinking about your book strategy. In today’s market, where editors like to see layers upon layers of conflict, having just a situation in your story, not a plot, isn’t enough. It’s a very important distinction.

Struggling with your plot? Or your plot pitch? Hire me as your query letter editor and I’ll give your pitch a careful review.

How Long Do I Have To Submit After a Literary Agent Request?

Beth asked a literary agent request question that I’d love to address. Here’s what she said:

My burning question: Is a week–or two too long to wait to get back to an agent requesting a partial? Based on a different agent’s feedback, I’d decided to do a huge revision of the beginning of my manuscript. Recently another agent (queried *before* my decision to revise) asked to see the beginning. Obviously I want it to be perfect before sending it, but I don’t want to lose the agent’s interest or have them think I queried them prematurely (which is actually the case, but it was an honest mistake).

literary agent request, how long do i have to submit, can i revise before submitting to a literary agent, full request, manuscript request from literary agent, manuscript submission
For those of you winding your pocket watches and working on a typewriter, some great news about literary agent requests.

You’ve Received a Literary Agent Request… But You’re Not Ready!

Honey, every writer I’ve ever known has made this honest mistake. OF COURSE you queried prematurely and now you have a literary agent request for your full. Why? Because, even though I’ve been saying not to f-o-r-e-v-e-r, you didn’t believe me. That’s fine. I don’t take it personally. I know it’s not fun advice, so I know most people ignore it (or think they’re the exception).

The only way to really learn this is to be in the situation where you’re sending a revision to a literary agent and to have that light bulb go off in your head. Even with things you’ve been told a million, billion times, it never resonates until you’re staring at the manuscript submission you just queried around and seeing all the flaws and you have that sinking feeling in your gut.

I won’t scold you any more about it, though. 🙂

Do Not Rush Through Revision

But now I will give you some advice that I really hope you (translation: everybody reading this who will be querying at any point in their future, and not just querying me) take to heart. If you’ve already made this mistake — to be clear, the mistake is rushing out a manuscript that wasn’t as fully revised as it needs to be — once, don’t make it twice.

DO NOT rush to complete this next revision just so you can rush it out to fulfill a literary agent request. How can you POSSIBLY do a “huge revision” in two weeks and have it fully percolate and marinate and settle?

This just happened to me, for example. I usually don’t talk about things where the writer will most likely be able to identify him or herself on the blog, but this is harmless. I asked for a full manuscript submission in, oh, October. I never ended up getting it. And I’m selective about the fulls I request, so I did remember that I’d asked for it, and every few months, I’d randomly think, “Hey, I wonder what happened with that one.”

Well, an email with a completely revised full showed up this week (April), with a note that the writer had done a serious revision and didn’t want to bug me before it was ready. You know what? Not only did I not forget this manuscript (a), but I now respect that writer, because they got a full request and were about to press the “send” button in their excitement, but they pulled back and really took their time on a revision (b).

Submit to Literary Agents Only When Your Manuscript Is Ready

I tell people at conferences the same exact things (are y’all listening out there from Dallas?!). Most likely, if you have a literary agent request for your full, you will not lose their interest. Let those new ideas percolate and settle. Take your time and do your revisions. Agents would rather see something good than something unpolished that comes quickly.

Let’s just say I prefer slow, gourmet food to fast food, because it takes a lot of time and care and craft to cook really delicious fare. (Edited in 2017 to add that I married a chef, so I take this metaphor super seriously!)

So, Beth, take your time with your revised manuscript submission. Don’t rush AGAIN. I know I’ll end up begging and pleading this particular point for the rest of my career, so here’s yet another entry into the Don’t Rush Out Your Submission Hall of Fame.

Let’s jump into your revision together. Revision guidance is at the heart of every one of my book editing services.

How to Approach a Literary Agent and Interpret Submission Guidelines

This answers a question that both Haylee and Siski asked a while ago, about how to approach a literary agent when you’ve got several projects kicking around your desk, and what to make of submission guidelines. Lots and lots of writers have multiple projects that they’ve completed. This is even more true for picture book writers, who may have 20 or more manuscripts. If this is the case for you, read on.

submission guidelines
Wondering how to approach a literary agent and what goes into the envelope? The submission guidelines are a great place to start.

How to Approach a Literary Agent When You Have a Lot of Ideas

The problem is, if they are beginning writers, those 20 manuscripts likely have some of the same issues. If I look at a manuscript that someone has queried me with and it lacks a strong character, for example, or a strong plot, or the voice is wrong, or there’s a lack of active language, or there’s no scene setting, seeing that the author has 19 more, hot off the press and ready to go, isn’t going to be a draw for me. Plus, if a writer is sending me that much, they’re not following submission guidelines. If they were all written around the same time, or even before the one I’m looking at currently, they’re likely suffering from the same issues as the first manuscript. (Querying multiple projects is quite a problematic way of how to approach a literary agent to begin with. Learn why.)

Every time you sit down to write, you are getting better. You’re learning. Sometimes it takes writing an entire novel-length manuscript to teach you a valuable lesson about your own craft. And sometimes, that lesson won’t get published. Sometimes, in fact, it takes five manuscripts, ten manuscripts, twenty, for you to feel your way around the novel form. The same is true for picture books. In fact, it’s even more true. Picture books are deceptively simple and it is awfully hard to make a great one (tips for writing a picture book here). Lots of people think otherwise, and happily churn out an entire slew of drafts. I think it’s more reasonable to see your early work and your early, prolific output as more of an exercise rather than a finished product. As such, I don’t want to see all of your exercises in my inbox. Per my submission guidelines, I want to see your single stronger project at first any way. Some practice is better left for your eyes only.

Submission Guidelines for Prolific Writers

If you get the itch to query and you’ve got multiple projects, query with your absolutely strongest one. I read thousands and thousands and thousands of queries and manuscripts. I can tell where an author is from looking at their work. Not every project — especially not the ones you wrote when you were still beginning and figuring things out — will sell. Show me only your strongest work. (Read here for more on a successful query.) If I’m considering taking you on, I’ll be asking about your future projects and what else you have in mind, since those will more likely be even better. I will very rarely say, “Hey, do you have any problematic drawer novels I can sell?” unless you are a 12 out of 10 genius. Wondering how to approach a literary agent? With your best work, period.

Agents really dislike it, actually, when people send a stable of their work on first contact. I wish that was featured in more submission guidelines. Pick the best one. If I want to see more, I’ll ask. This is especially pertinent to picture book authors. If I like the project they query with, I always want to make sure they have at least two more that I love before I take them on.

Bonus Tip: If you query an agent and get rejected, wait at least 6 months before querying them — or anyone — with a different project. Some submission guidelines even say that. Per my thinking above, the new thing you send me is most likely going to have the same issues that I noticed when I just rejected your first project. If you send out a project and it garners lots of rejections and little personalized or positive feedback, the cure isn’t jumping back into querying with a different project. The smarter thing to do would be to go back to the drawing board for a while and work on craft.

If you have a lot of projects on your plate, let me help you zero in on the ones with the most potential, especially you picture book writers. I guide writers through bigger picture questions all the time as a book editor.

When an Agent Requests Your Manuscript

I’m seeing some of this in my slush and want to clear something up regarding what to do when an agent requests your manuscript. When I send out a manuscript request, I’m emailing to ask you, “Hey, can you send me a full manuscript?” or, “Hey, can you send me a few picture book manuscripts to review?” or, “Hey, do you have an illustration portfolio?” This means that I saw your work, read it, and really liked it. When I do this, I’ll give you instructions so that you can submit it as requested material and bypass my slush.

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Think you can shoot to the top of an agent’s inbox by marking your submission “requested” even when it’s not? Think again.

Don’t Be a Trickster

There are a few tricksters out on the Internet who say that writers should just mark something as requested material, trick the agent into opening it, and get past all the gatekeepers and become Dan Brown. Here’s the thing: when an agent requests your manuscript, they’ll remember doing so. It’s not only a waste of time but also an annoyance to mark something “Requested” when it really isn’t. This tactic probably works better for mail submissions, when the agent or editor might get confused about the name and open the envelope anyway, and not email, where we can instantly search your submission and figure out whether we’ve corresponded with you before or not. Either way, the jig will be up when we open your “requested” submission and realize that it’s just slush. We’ll be able to tell, nine times out of ten, because it won’t be of the same kind of quality as something we’d normally request.

When an Agent Requests Your Manuscript: What it Really Means

To clarify, sometimes I will ask a writer to resubmit. This is if they do not follow our submission guidelines. Some agents, at my agency and other agencies, will automatically delete a submission that doesn’t follow guidelines. Our guidelines require the first 10 pages pasted into the body of the email, along with the query letter. If I get a skimpy submission of query letter only, I will send the writer a form message asking them to resubmit. Yes, I asked them to (re)submit something. Yes, this is technically a request from me (that they follow the submission guidelines). It is not, however, a manuscript request.

I can’t tell you how many enterprising scamps have then emailed me, proclaiming that they’re sending in a manuscript request. It’s not. It’s me giving them a chance to correct their submission error. When an agent requests your manuscript, they’ll remember. This kind of cheekiness isn’t appreciated. I hope the distinction between a requested submission and a resubmission request is clear and makes a bit of sense. (For extra credit, check out my post on how to approach a literary agent and interpret submission guidelines.)

The best way to get out of the slush isn’t trickery; it’s submitting a strong manuscript. My fiction editing services will help take your project to the next level and stand out in the slush.

Writing Encouragement and Literary Rejections

Wow. Here I am again, writing about literary rejections. This one will be short because I think the point is easily made but it also has some writing encouragement as well. Writers: I invest my time and energy in the success of my clients. That is what I am paid to do. I brainstorm ideas with them, talk to them, figure what houses and editors are good fits for their work, give them notes on their manuscripts and, in general, spend a lot of time thinking about their careers. I do not do this for the people in my slush. Unless what they send me completely blows me away and they become my clients.

literary rejections, writing encouragement
Literary rejections can be confusing and lonely, but remember that agents aren’t there to provide free feedback on your work.

If you query me, please do not expect me to critique your manuscript for you after I reject it. Do not turn around and ask what was wrong with it, what parts didn’t work, what could be better. I understand that you want these answers. I understand that querying agents can be a lonely, confusing process fraught with pain and dealing with rejection that can hurt your writing confidence.

Literary Rejections: Don’t Expect Free Feedback

But it’s not my job to provide free critiques and writing encouragement on all of the literary rejections that cross my desk. At conferences, organizers charge a lot of money for a critique with an agent. Because they’re worth that much. That’s not my ego talking. Let me explain (with a brilliant analogy I borrowed from another writer). A person usually balks at a repairman who comes and fixes their appliance with a 15-cent washer and charges them $500 bucks. “All he had to do is stick that washer in there!” they shout. What they don’t take into account is the years that repairman spent learning the trade or the time he spends practicing it. Sure, the washer cost 15 cents, but it’s not like the customer knew where to stick it himself.

Skills Come With a Price

It’s the same thing with the skills I’ve learned. They have come through me from an expensive education, work experience and years and years and years of reading, writing, and soaking up the wisdom and expertise of agents and editors. If I send you a query rejection, do not ask me to trot out my skills for free. That repairman’s job is to learn how to repair things well enough that he can make a living. My job is to work with a select list of writers and sell their projects. Your job, as a writer who wants to attain publication, is to learn how to write with a level of skill and craft that lifts you out of the pool of literary rejections. Like with any other job, you need to invest time and, often, money (in the form of classes, conferences, books, etc…. but never pay an agent or agency to read your query or manuscript!) in order to build your skills and writing confidence.

Seek Out Resources for Writing Encouragement

There are tons of resources out there, including the SCBWI, conferences and other writers who you can include in a critique group. I would love to be a resource for new writers and provide writing encouragement, because I know and understand where they come from and what they’re going through, but I can’t provide individual assistance to everyone who’s struggling through literary rejections. That’s why I keep this blog and reach out to as many as I possibly can with articles that are as relevant as possible to the greatest number of people at once. I hope I can boost your writing confidence through this blog — just don’t ask for specific agent feedback unless you’re my client.

I have ten years of experience in the publishing industry. When you hire me as your manuscript editor, I’ll provide helpful feedback that’ll help you grow as a writer.

How to Find a Publisher: The Unagented Submission

I want to follow up my post about getting a book deal with more detail about how to find a publisher by shopping around an unagented submission…and also getting an agent.

Reader MM asks:

If I get an offer by myself, would it be considered inappropriate, after acquiring an agent, for that agent to pitch the project to other publishers in search of a better offer? Is there a ticking clock on the initial publisher’s offer?

Also, what of the situation in which an author has queried publishers directly, received all rejections, and then acquires an agent? I’ve heard agents warn against direct querying of publishers, saying that in the case of all rejections, now the agent’s hands are rather tied and it’s much more difficult to find a publisher.

unagented submission, find a publisher
Don’t leave publication offers on the table while you wait for something better to come along.

Great question, MM, and one that agents often have to struggle with. A lot of the time, we get clients who have submitted on their own or who have had previous agents who’ve done submissions, and we really have to consider where the manuscript has been before. We also get writers who have an offer on the table when they come to us and they want us to negotiate better terms for them. Both situations have happened to me.

When An Unagented Submission Becomes Agented

I’ll answer the first part first, and I don’t know if this is what you want to hear. If you want to find a better offer than the one you received on your unagented submission, you will have to decline the present offer. The offering publisher expects you to get back to them within a reasonable time frame, sure, but they’re also not going to be very pleased with you if you go around with your new agent and pitch everywhere else to find a publisher with a better offer… while their offer is still on the table. Imagine coming back to them and saying, “Yeah, I guess we’ll accept your crappy offer, even though we wanted that shiny publisher over there.” You won’t be saying that directly but they’ll know because a) a suspicious amount of time has passed and b) people in this small community of publishers talk.

Don’t Burn Bridges

That’s going to be a horrible working relationship with a publisher you’ve offended, if they don’t pull the offer themselves. You will have burned a bridge and nobody wants that. So if you hate the offer you received on your unagented submission, your new agent will try to negotiate the best possible situation. If it’s still not enough — if your agent has said that you’re considering taking this elsewhere and you find a publisher still won’t fight to keep you — you will pull the project and decline the offer. It’s a risk because you may not be able to find a publisher now or, if you get another offer, it may be equal to or worse than your first. But if you’re really unhappy, nobody needs that business relationship.

In this situation, I usually advise people to get the best possible terms from the offering publisher and then have their agent fight for no option clause, so they can go elsewhere with their next project. It’s not an ideal situation because nobody wants to be unhappy, but… read to the end of the post for my big advice before even getting into this mess.

Shopping a Manuscript That’s Been Rejected

Second, our hands are rather tied if you’ve been rejected all over Creation with your unagented submission. It’s true. That’s why we really do warn people… if their eventual goal is to get an agent, then get the agent first, before you try to find a publisher. At a lot of places, you only have one shot per project. I guess how doomed you are depends on if you know which editors read it. If you got a form rejection from that house, it means an intern read it. But they could’ve shown it to their bosses first. If you get a personal rejection from an editor, that means your agent knows who read it and might be able to pitch to another editor there or at a different imprint. Either way, you do risk the editor saying, “Oh, my colleague has already passed on this” or, “Oh, my intern showed me this and we’ve already passed.” We really do remember what we read and a repeat submission sticks out. That’s the worst that can happen but it still doesn’t look very good for you or your new agent.

Act With Integrity, Protect Your Reputation

Same with burning the initial offer on your unagented submission. This is a small industry and reputation is key. So here is the main thing I want everyone to take away from this post. If you don’t want to be published by that house–or represented by that agent, or working with that editor, etc.–then why did you query them in the first place?!?!?!? Agents get this all the time. I’ve heard colleagues and friends talking about extending an offer of representation only to have the writer start waffling. They want more time, they want to check in with other agents. Then they frantically appeal to all their Dream Agents because their last choice agent has offered representation and, since it’s not who they hoped would offer, they are queasy about working with that person.

When you pitch your project or query an agent, the person on the other end of that pitch assumes you really want to work with them (tips on how to pitch a book). Don’t query them if you wouldn’t be happy to work together. Don’t let your eagerness for someone to publish or represent you cloud your good judgment.

Did you find this practical advice useful? I am happy to be your manuscript editor and consultant for writing and publishing advice that’s specific to your work.


Asking for a Literary Agent Referral

When writers ask for a literary agent referral after rejection, it really gets my goat. (I’ve already done posts on rejection response, but there really is more to be said about it.) Some writers, after a query response that’s a pass, will ask me if I can refer them to an agent who might be a better fit. Before anyone gets upset and defends this, let me say that I understand it perfectly well. Agents are inscrutable to most people. We are intimidating. How can you possibly know what we want? (Especially when we sometimes don’t know what we want until we see it, as frustrating as that is.) I totally sympathize with writers who want any clue as to who might be a good fit for them.

literary agent referral, query response
When an agent’s query response is a pass, maybe it’s time to go back to the drawing board — not ask for a literary agent referral.

Reasons NOT to Ask for a Literary Agent Referral

However, there are two reasons why I dread this question after a query response that’s a pass. First, the easy-to-hear reason: I don’t know much more about other agents than you do. I know the agents at my own agency very well, but not agents at other agencies, unless I happen to be friends with them or see a lot of their recent deals posted. Besides, even if agents are friends in their off hours, they compete for projects and for editor attention at work. It’s not one giant share-fest between agencies. At Andrea Brown, if you read our guidelines, you’ll see that a “no” from one agent means a “no” from all. So if I’m passing on a manuscript, I’m saying that it isn’t a good fit for me or any of my colleagues.

Believe me, we do think about this. We routinely pull manuscripts from the slush and pass them around if we think they’re a good fit for another ABLit agent’s tastes. This only happens with excellent manuscripts, however, and projects that show great promise. Something we really want to hand off to a colleague because it is an amazing project but not up our alley for whatever reason.

Is Your Work Ready for Publication?

This brings me to my second point, the one that stings a little: 99% of what I get in the slush is not ready for publication. The majority of the time, when I reject something, I reject it because it isn’t good enough for publication. If I reject your project but think it shows great promise, if I reject your project but think you have talent as a writer, believe me, you’ll know. You’ll know because I’ll tell you. If I send you my standard query rejection note, however, please don’t follow up and ask me for a literary agent referral to someone else. My colleagues and I all have a finely-tuned sense of what makes a saleable project. If the writing or the story aren’t there yet, another set of eyes reading the material won’t change that. Think about it. Why would I want to forward you on to another agent? So they can reject you for the same reason? Besides, reputation is everything, for both authors and agents, and I don’t want to attach my name to a bad referral. (Dealing with rejection? Tips for moving forward.)

Identifying Potential Agents is the Writer’s Job

The agent search is aptly named. It is a quest. It is part careful craft, part shooting blindfolded. And it is a writer’s job to do. Unfortunately, you have to research agents, try to decipher their tastes and query them yourself. The only people who get a literary agent referral from me are those who seem like they’d be a fit for someone else at the agency. If this happens, I’ll tell the writer about it first thing. In any other situation, please don’t ask.

Feeling unsure about your query letter, synopsis, or manuscript? Hire me as your freelance editor and we can work on your submission materials or dig deeper into your picture book, novel, or non-fiction proposal together.

Sending a Multiple Submission to Literary Agents

Pretty frequently, actually, I get a question about sending a multiple submission to literary agents. And I’d get them all the time when I was an agent. What this means: an author tells me that they’re only sending to me. Sometimes they specify a time period—”exclusive for three months,” for example—sometimes not.

sending a multiple submission to literary agents, multiple submissions, exclusive query, exclusive submission, query literary agent, literary agent submission
By submitting exclusively, you’re hoping your submission stands out as special. But is this the best approach, compared to a multiple submission?

Unless an Agent Requests an Exclusive Submission, Send a Multiple Submission

This is a situation where I haven’t requested the submission, I haven’t requested exclusivity … the writer just sends it to me and says, “Here, you’re the only one who gets this.” I have some issues with exclusivity and I’ll explain why. Keep in mind, these are my thoughts, and I might not share these opinions with other agents. I usually have a mixed response.

I want the author to know that this is their choice, not mine, and that they shouldn’t expect any special treatment. I really appreciate their excitement about querying me, but it’s not really going to make a difference in the way I read their submission. The writing and the story idea are all that matter. Just like applying Early Decision to a college won’t get an unqualified student in any easier than applying the regular way, exclusive submission to a literary agent won’t give you an advantage. Go for a multiple submission instead.

Not to mention, seeing that a submission is exclusive causes me a little bit of guilt and anxiety … it makes me feel like I should rush and respond faster, like there’s pressure, which I don’t enjoy.

Exclusive Submission to a Literary Agent After a Request

Now, after the query phase, there are some agents who request exclusive submissions if they’re interested in a manuscript. It makes sense: you love something, you want to be the only one considering it. However, exclusive submission to a literary agent can create a huge disadvantage for the writer. If you query people exclusively or if you accept too many requests for an exclusive read from agents, you will be on the agent search forever.

Imagine that it will take 10 agents who read your full for you to finally find The One. Now imagine that each agent has asked for exclusivity for three months. That’s 30 months you’re waiting! If you went with a multiple submission, you’d only be out the three months.

Agents Have to Play the Multiple Submission Game, Too, and Exclusivity Is Cheating

What do literary agents do? They seeks out properties to sell. As with any other job, there are times when we get what we want and there are times when we lose out. That’s the nature of the beast. I never expect a writer to submit — either a query or a full — to me exclusively. In fact, I expect that most writers will be in a multiple submission scenario. If I want it, I will make the time to read it and try to get back to that writer ASAP, just like everyone else. That’s the fair way to play the game.

I’m not saying you should laugh in the face of exclusive submission to a literary agent, of course. If you feel like granting exclusivity to an agent, do it. It’s always your choice whether to grant it or not. You can tell them “no” or that you’re doing a multiple submissions so that you simply can’t grant exclusivity because you won’t withdraw it. They might still want to read your work if you can’t send it exclusively. It’s up to you.

When An Exclusive Submission to a Literary Agent is Appropriate

There is one situation, however, where I would expect exclusive submission to a literary agent, and that’s if I’ve worked with them before. Maybe I did a critique at a conference or talked to them at length about their project. Or sometimes I request and love a full manuscript that might not be ready for prime time just yet. So I give the writer notes for revision. I take hours of my time with it, before the writer is even a client, and really invest a lot of thought. It doesn’t happen very often, but sometimes I will do this with a manuscript I adore but that’s deeply flawed.

I usually tell them that they can consider my notes and, if they resonate with what I said and want to revise, I’d love to see it again. This is for more extensive notes, mind you, than a paragraph or two in my rejection letter; this is after I’ve talked to the writer at length and they’re well-aware of how much potential I see in their work.

When An Agent Gives You Notes, Give Them Preferential Treatment (But Not Forever)

Now, this next scenario hasn’t happened to me personally, but I hear about it happening frequently to colleagues. Most writers will send the manuscript back to the agent who gave them notes and invested the time, instead of forging ahead with a multiple submission. This is the decent thing to do. Other people take the feedback, revise, then send the manuscript all over Creation in its stronger, more saleable state, attract other agents and then choose to sign with them.

This isn’t necessarily a good thing to do but, like I said, it happens all the time. In this unique situation, yes, I expect them to send it to me if and when they revise, but I wouldn’t outright demand it. At the end of the day, it’s the writer’s choice who they want to be represented by.

It seems like exclusivity as a trend might be declining among agents. It’s no longer as easy to demand it when there are lots of people out there who understand how impractical it can be for the writer. So consider this before sending an exclusive submission to a literary agent, and do a multiple submission instead. At the end of the day, it’s your time and it is precious, especially when you’ve got a career to get off the ground.

Not only am I a book editor, I also work with writers as a writing career and publishing strategy consultant. If you want some in-depth questions answered, one-on-one, let’s connect.

What Is The Best Time of Year to Query a Literary Agent?

Wondering what’s the best time of year to query an agent or send a submission letter? You’re in luck! Erinn wrote in to me a little while ago to ask:

What’s a good time of year to query? I know the week between Christmas and New Years is terrible, since agents across the country are enjoying time with their families and avoiding their computers at all costs. Besides the holidays, is there a time that you get very busy? Is it a few months after NANOWRIMO? Or at 12:02 am on December 1st does your inbox get flooded? Should writers avoid flu season in case you get sick and you’re in “I hate life and everything about it” sort of mood? Are there any major holidays that fill you with joy, like Arbor Day, that someone might be more likely to get past the Publishing Gate Keeper?

best time of year to query, when to query
January 1st is the best time of year to send a query letter. JUST KIDDING! Please don’t do that…

The Best Time of Year to Query a Literary Agent Is…

Erinn’s question about the best time of year to query is one that a lot of writers wonder about. There are two times of the year when I’d avoid sending queries if I was on the agent search. The first, as Erinn mentions, is the holiday season. Publishing mostly slumbers from Thanksgiving to New Year’s, so a lot of agents are using this time to catch up with work, read manuscripts and get all of our affairs for the upcoming year in order.

Plus, you know, we have to pop in at Mom and Dad’s, shovel some turkey in our gullets and figure out how to keep reading manuscripts over pumpkin pie. Queries tend to fall by the wayside during this time. As Erinn so astutely guesses, a lot of the queries coming in after 12:01 a.m. on December 1st will also be for NaNo novels. As I mentioned in my NaNoWriMo post earlier this month, a lot of NaNo novels are not finished come November 30th. They haven’t been revised yet.

So the people who query them around anyway are most likely going to get rejected. NaNoWriMo queries are usually the slushiest slush in the slush, so we tend to not prioritize those as highly on our holiday To Do list.

Avoid the Holidays, and January, and February, and August… Or Just Query When You Query

I’d add that you probably want to strike the first few weeks of January from your “when to query” list, too. People are just getting into the swing of things. Agents are pitching a lot of projects that they maybe held off on pitching during the holidays. We’re doing lots of business. Queries usually drop off the To Do list here as well.

Finally, there’s a partially-true myth about publishing shutting down in the month of August. While some editors report working just as hard as ever in the late summer, it is usually true that not a lot of business gets done around that time. Agents are also using this lull to catch up and read manuscripts and get affairs in order, so queries are usually put off.

As for the rest of Erinn’s question… like whether you should take flu season into consideration or if there is a scientific formula for the best time of year to query, I say: don’t worry about it.

There Is No Perfect Time to Send a Query Letter

The dirty secret is: There is no secret when it comes to the best time of year to query. You’ll query when you query and then it’s out of your hands. The person you queried could break their arm the next day, or drink 15 shots of espresso and race through the slush immediately. There’s really no way to control a submission’s fate once you release it into the world. The best thing you can do for your pitch doesn’t have to do with when to query —  it has everything to do with writing a great novel so that you have something noteworthy to pitch.

If you get way too into figuring out when to query, and you thrive on le control, you may as well avoid the second week of January (ALA Midwinter), the last week of January (SCBWI NYC), the last week of March (Bologna Children’s Rights Fair), the end of May (BEA), the end of June (ALA), the end of July (SCBWI LA), etc. etc. etc. I mean, we’re always going to be busy with one thing or another, so you really can’t predict an optimum time. Getting to the slush in a timely manner is our issue, not yours.

Let me be your publishing consultant. Let’s plan your next steps, put a rock solid submission strategy into place, and address all of your publishing questions. It’s okay if they’re neurotic. I promise.

Using Your Pen Name in a Query

This is a very quick note for those of you inclined to use a pen name. It will not apply to all of you.

When I was a literary agent, I received a lot of queries. And a lot of those queries were from mysterious writerly types who had chosen mysterious writerly names for themselves. Names like “J.D. Smith” or “P.U. Smellweather.” (Okay, maybe not “P.U. Smellweather.”)

pen name, pseudonym
Is your real name George? Then you’d better tell the agent you’re querying so they know who the heck to respond to. Save the pen name for your published work.

When Should I Use a Pen Name?

When you’re P.C. Cast or J.K. Rowling, or you have a book cover to put your mysterious writerly name on, then you can use a pseudonym. But in a query, if writers used just their pen name and nothing else, I didn’t know who to respond to. And I felt stupid writing “Dear P” in an email.

You know the agent’s name; you should share yours, too.

The most important part of querying is making sure you have a strong project to submit. Hire me as your manuscript editor and I’ll guide you towards creating something you’ll be proud to attach your (pen) name to.

Copyright © Mary Kole at Kidlit.com