Thursday, September 27, 2007

Telling Right From Wrong (Part 10)

Make Sure You Find The Right Agent

No, no, don't sign up with a secret agent. You need a literary agent!

Today's question is from Deborah Gamble, a Utah-based writer and blogger who is thirteen chapters into her first book.

What does it mean when a literary agent says "no multiple submissions"?

I'd never heard the term but I wanted to make sure that I gave Deborah (and other writers) the correct answer. So I ran the question past someone who until very recently held an extremely senior position with a major Australian publishing group.

This is what I asked. ``Does it mean they don't want you to send a manuscript to other agents? Or does it simply mean that they don't want to to keep bombarding them with the same manuscript?''

The former publisher was just as bewildered as I was. ``I've never heard the term before but I assume it means don't send it to more than one agent.''

So my suggestion would be to make a list of all the agents who deal with the genre you are writing. Then note the ones that say ``no multiple submissions'' and put those ones aside for the moment. Send your manuscript and query letter to all those that do not make the stipulation. It's better to have fifty agents reading your work at the same time than to have just one assessing your manuscript. If they all say no, then you've still got the others to fall back on - one at a time, of course!

All of which brings me to the next question, which I often get asked by aspiring writers.

If I want my work published, do I need an agent?

My answer is always a resounding ``Yes''. This is because some major publishers do not accept manuscript submissions unless they come from agents. It is also because agents are a great litmus test of whether a manuscript has literary value.

There is another significant reason. Despite the fact that most people are multi-skilled, being a good writer is no guarantee that you are an expert when it comes to understanding and negotiating publishing contracts.


Kimberly said...

Great advice! And I love the Bond tie in.

david mcmahon said...

Hi Kimberly,

Thank you. There's always room for a bit of humour and a bit of irreverence in my life.

Keep smiling


Bart said...

Now that you've introduced agents in to the mix, you may want to "coach" people in to knowing who are bonafide agents and those running confidence scams.

~Fathairybastard~ said...

Recent experience has taught me that you need to find an agent who deals in the sort of book you want to get published. The wrong guy will be more likely to toss it out of hand.

Also, the proposal is a huge thing. Writing a good one can wow them and sell it sight unseen. Buddy of mine sent in a 30 page proposal and got a deal to write a book for a quarter of a million bucks. He's just finishing it and it'll be in stores next year.

Technofied said...

I've been encouraging my girlfriend to finish her novel so that I'll be able to help her publish it. I leraned a lot from this post!

Les Becker said...

There, see, now I'm even more confused... I've been taking that to mean that agents only want you to sent them one manuscript at a time.

KaiBlueCreations said...

It's a good thing you do here David, and sound advice.
Delivered with a tinge of humour.
PEace, Kai

phaseoutgirl said...

Hi David,

Following up on this post would be answers to questions similar to what Bart has posted:

What are the qualities of a good agent?

Another thing that may perhaps interest especially yhe would be writers out there is advice on how to start small. For example, if one would like to start with a short story, to see whether there is any hope of one's "style" being oublished before we embark on a book, how does one go about it? In magazines, for instance?

cheers, and you are really brilliant, all this help you are giving to us out here is mind boggling to say the least, I don't know where you get your energy! I think we should dub you "Energizer David!"


Victorya said...

Les - I think you have it write. Multiple submissions means wait until they deal with one manuscript before sending them another. So if you send them 'Jesus Took the A Train' Don't also send "And Satan Rides the Seven Line" until they decide on the first.

Simultaneous submissions is when you send the same manuscript to multiple people.

However, the whole agent thing befuddles me :)

Eve said...

How does one go about finding an agent? (and are we allowed to spot type-o's in your post? *grin*)

Helena said...


How do you go about choosing one?

I have The Writer's Yearbook, with all the lists in it.... I can look at the type of stuff they go for... but is there any way of knowing which are best? Is there a 'who's who?' of publishing?