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Let’s Go All the Way Tonight NO Regrets Just Love

Dear Ms. Lerner,
If you offer a literary agent an exclusive submission without a deadline/end date, how long should a writer wait before submitting elsewhere? Should the submitter notify the agent? The agent and author have no previous contact or professional connections.
Many thanks, NAME WITHHELD
Dear Exclusive:
What is wrong with this picture? You are assuming that the agent cares that you made an exclusive submission. If the agent asked you for an exclusive or makes exclusivity a condition of submission then he or she should get back to you in a timely fashion. What is a timely fashion? This is up for debate. I would say 3-6 weeks or a full length manuscript. But if there is no relationship between you and the agent, then there is no need to make the submission exclusive, or to think that by making it exclusive the manuscript will be attended to more quickly. This should be filed under magical thinking. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: make multiple submissions. Some writers get nervous and ask what happens if more than one agent wants it. What happens is you get to choose.
What is your submission strategy?

41 Responses

  1. I “submitted” all over town and all I got was a dirty feeling. So now I’ve cut that nasty word from my vocabulary. I figure, if they want me, then they can find me. Hahahahahahah!

  2. My submission strategy: submit everywhere and to everyone, just in case. Which reminds, time to get back to it.

  3. I am not submissive. I can make that orange move, as though it is looking to my right. Yeah, bad evening.

  4. I’ve been asked for exclusives, and I’ve given them, but I make them give me a time limit: week or two tops. I’ve also been very up front with “someone else is looking at this RIGHT NOW”, Neither situation has resulted in me being thrown into the firey pits of hell. Then again, I’m not a bestseller (yet). Agents are professionals and people, right? Right? Uh….right?

  5. Submit until I can’t stand the sound of my gnawing teeth. Then forget about it. Totally.

  6. My submission strategy is to get naked, put matching little rubber caps on myself and my little partner in crime, find some silk rope, climb onto the bed, use my hands to tie my feet then my feet to tie my hands, hope my place doesn’t catch on fire while I’m waiting for agents to turn up to save me, and that when they do, they’ll only have apples, oranges, some lovely ripe peaches, and hopefully no bananas, cos I’m not that sort of boy.
    Is that submissive enough for you ?

  7. Considering the remote chances of acceptance anyway — heck. Submit! Submit to everybody!

  8. Last night, before bed, I sent a query for my children’s book to a new agent. I did a round of submissions a few months ago but nothing came of it so I promptly set my attentions elsewhere. I happened across this new agent’s name and for some reason it motivated me. It all happened in a matter of minutes.That’s how I work. Moment to moment.

  9. My strategy for non-fiction is to keep a ledger of which proposals go out when and what happened, or what’s been commissioned and sent.

    I figure my fiction strategy will be the same, once my novel is ready. Definitely multiple submissions, though.

  10. I was a shameless multiple submitter as a poet, but of course poets have never heard of exclusivity…or actually being paid for their submissions.

    My current submission strategy? Finish the fucker.

  11. your question made me feel the same way i did when asked by a group of soon-to-be-mom’s: “What’s your birth plan?” (this was after each had listed all the details around their upcoming labor&delivery visit: music, in-room visitors, drugs, no drugs..”)

    i had no plan outside of showing up when it was time and hoping for the best.

  12. Multiple submissions. At least back when I was younger.

  13. My strategy is that I will send out queries in rounds – about 10 at a time. If there’s no response after a set period of time, I’ll move on to round two and so forth.

  14. I’m the wimp that made big noises and sent out one query. I think I knew the ms wasn’t quite ready, yet felt pressured to do something tangible with it. You know, trying to prove I’m not lazy and am doing something with my time. After I mess with it a bit, I have a list of agents ready and will feel comfortable blanketing New York. Can’t wait for the breathing space to turn my attention on the new ms.

  15. One top, two not so top. Wait and see what happens.

  16. When I can bolster my will, I query. It is like asking the prettiest girl in school to dance. I fully expect to be turned down. And guess what . . . .

  17. And here I thought magical thinking was OK – doesn’t everyone pat their query encouragingly as it is sent off to (yet) another agent? I’ll even admit to pausing before I click the “send” button, thinking good thoughts before I hurl it through cyberspace.

  18. Anyone and everyone, for as long as I have the nerve.

  19. My submission strategy? Multiple submissions adding up to 39 rejections/ignores, followed by hair-pulling, overeating, and turning to a new manuscript.

    But don’t worry. I’ll be back. After I lose the last mss baby weight.

  20. The first time I ever submitted a novel I got a request for an exclusive, which in my glee and excitement I agreed to. Eight months later I still had not heard anything, so I gingerly emailed a politely worded WTF. Turns out they never received the manuscript – it was stolen. For the next year or two, I got notices from the federal government advising me of the status of my “case,” i.e, they got the thief, they tried him, they sent him to jail, they released him. As for the ms. I resent it. I am still waiting . . .

    I have since adopted a new strategy, something akin to hit and run. Or duck and cover.

  21. My submission strategy appears to be largely unsuccessful, though appearances can be deceiving. A small press has recently accepted one of my books for publication. This will be my first published book.

  22. My submission lessons are similar to those in Hollywood dating–resist the knife on the boobs you know are fine the lines that show you’ve lived the chin that balances the point on the top of your head—cause if you alter the work after every rejection/suggestion you’ll end up with a monster of a face, one you no longer recognize, one you can only stare through, one that will not be able to read its own writing.

    After multiple simultaneous submissions, partials, fulls, high end exclusives my strategy is to take the long view–I’m fine not marrying rich–and like any self respecting girl I’m secretly looking for the guy who gets me while giving it away in my backseat blog.

  23. I have tiers.

    Agents I’ve met, known or almost hooked in the past, get one-of-a-kind exclusives in order of familiarity and likelihood of common ground as to story type.

    Then there are some I don’t know, but whom seem like very good fits. They go out as exclusives, but there’s a little overlap. If someone’s taking too long with the query, I’ll send out one more.

    Third tier is something closer to a mass mailing, but those are phased-in by weeks so that there isn’t too much stuff out there. By this point, I’m already happily preparing the POD process (my own cover, paying for an edit etc.), which I find rather satisfying.

  24. […] like Betsy Lerner’s blog, about the craft and business of writing. Here’s her response to someone who asked how long a writer should wait for a response from an agent to whom the writer […]

  25. Have been going through this recently. Did intensive agent research and picked out the agents I felt were the most likely to be interested in my novel, then sent e-queries to the 16 who accepted them, saving the USPS for later. I included my first chapter, which was very short. But, as a response from an agent the next day let me know (and which I should have realized), that chapter shouldn’t be at the front of the book, as it’s in a different tone than the remainder. Too late now. The 16 most likely agents down the drain. I find it amazing that someone w/3 published YA novels (with FSG) which got stellar reviews is struggling so hard to find representation. I know this novel is good and could be a modest (not a great) success among book groups. I guess that’s not enough. Okay, going to the corner store for hemlock now.

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