Communicating With Literary Agents While On Submission

Today’s question about communicating with literary agents while on submission comes from Peter:

I’m submitting simultaneous submissions (only when they say it’s OK, of course). I know it is common courtesy to let agents know the submission is not exclusive and inform the others when I receive representation from one. But what of the time in between? If I query two agents, and one emails me back with suggestions and asks me to resubmit, do I need to tell the other one? In other words, should I keep everyone in the loop of events prior to anything less than a signed contract?

communicating with literary agents, received offer of representation, following up with literary agents, submitting to a literary agent, agents actively looking
The train is leaving Fiction Station! Rec’d offr 4 rep. U in? (No, please don’t text or call agents actively looking at your work that you have another offer, but you do want to send an email…)

Keeping Literary Agents in the Loop–How Much Is Too Much Communication?

Good question! There are a few things going on here. I’ll do my best to unpack them. I hope all of you are already as up-to-speed as this writer and know that when you’re communicating with literary agents, it is courtesy to both inform them when something is a simultaneous submission (and most things should be, you know how I feel about the exclusive submission to a literary agent), and when you receive an offer on a manuscript.

Now, some people are torn as to whether to contact EVERY agent who has the query when you receive an offer, even if they haven’t responded yet, or just those agents actively looking at fulls or partials.

I’m neutral on the issue. I’ve had querying writers inform me of an offer and this made me read their query immediately if I hadn’t already. I’ve also had writers whose fulls I was reading email me to tell me that someone had scooped me and offered quickly. Both work for me. What I don’t love is someone whose full I am considering emailing me to let me know that they’ve received an offer–and accepted it already–without letting me have time to decide whether I’d also like a chance at the manuscript.

Communicating With Literary Agents When You Receive an Offer

Of course, I understand that sometimes you have an instant connection with an offering agent and all other agents start to immediately look like chopped liver. But the usual time to inform everyone is when you receive an offer. If you do accept without giving anyone else a chance, a courtesy notice to other agents actively looking at your work is, of course, appropriate, but try and make them aware earlier.

What I don’t care about are partial and full requests you’re getting while I either have your query or full manuscript. There is no need to keep everyone informed about this. I understand the psychology behind writers sometimes think this is a good idea, but it’s more annoying than anything. They want you to think, “What a hot commodity! I must read immediately!”

This is what I think instead, “As nice as they feel to this writer, partial and full requests are actually quite common. Depending on the agent, however, they could mean very little in terms of getting an offer, and we all know it.” This type of nudge email is just that: a nudge. And, the more often a writer does it, the more annoying they might start to seem.

My response may not apply to communicating with literary agents across the board, but the above are pretty standard best practices that you can follow to play fair and also not antagonize the agents you’re hoping to impress. If it’s an offer, keep us in the loop. If you’d like to withdraw your query, partial, or full for any reason, keep us in the loop. Otherwise, wait. I know it’s tough, but it makes a good impression if you can be patient.

My editorial services aren’t just for manuscripts. I also offer confidential and discrete consulting services for authors who have questions about literary agents and career trajectory.

4 Replies to “Communicating With Literary Agents While On Submission”

  1. I agree with you, alerting agents about requests (both full and partial) makes a writer look a bit hasty and immature. But keeping them in the loop when an offer is made is polite .

    Mary, I would like to ask a question. Do we need to let agents who are reading our queries and sample pages know about offers of representations? As they have not yet requested a partial or a full, do they need to be in the loop.

  2. I worked in revision with an agent for a month (before she offered) – a very extensive revision, deepening and adding plotlines, etc. Added about 60 new pages to what was a too-short novel. At the time I had four other full manuscripts out. Not only did I completely connect with her revision suggestions, but connected with her as a person so when she offered, I accepted on the spot. I didn’t feel right giving the other agents time to consider when I’d already made up my mind, and she had put in so much time. She had everything to do with the finished product.

    So what’s the correct thing to do in this instance? Should I have let the other agents know I was revising for someone?

  3. Glad you are back. Hope you enjoyed your vacaction.

  4. Thank you for this helpful article.

    What is the best guidance when receiving an R&R from two different agents?

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