One of the most common questions I get at writers conferences is this: Can I query multiple literary agents at once? My answer is that not only yes you can, but you’re encouraged to. After all, though an agent will usually reply quickly (bless you, e-mail), they may take three whole months to get back to you, only to send you a form rejection. You can’t wait around for agents one by one like that.
So if you’re contacting various agents at the same time (“simultaneous submissions”), how many agents should you query? Would it be wise to just mail out your query to all 50 agents who rep adult science fiction, trying to personalize your letter wherever possible? I wouldn’t, if I were you. I would submit to 25% of your list of agent possibilities.
But why 25%? Isn’t that a strange arbitrary percentage?
I say 25% because I want you to protect yourself. My question to you is this: What if you submit your query to all 50 agents on your master list, but — heaven forbid — your query letter sucks?
Every agent will turn you down and you’ll have hit a brick wall at the beginning of your journey. Instead, submit to a limited number of agents and gauge a response. If you submit to 12 agents and get 12 rejections with no reps asking to see more work, then guess what? Your query sucks. So edit your query letter. Overhaul it. Give it to friends, beta readers, and/or a professional book editor for a look. Protect yourself.
Taking this approach one step further, let’s say you send your polished query to 12 new literary agents, and get 3 responses asking for more work. Congratulations — your query letter is doing its job. But let’s say that none of those 3 agents who see a partial ask to read your full manuscript. Guess what that means? Your first few chapters aren’t up to snuff. Revise them. Overhaul them. Give the chapters to friends for a blunt critique.
The message is this: If you’re not progressing as you hope, try to identify where you’re going wrong so you can improve on it as quickly as possible. Protect yourself. Give yourself the best chance of success in finding a literary agent.
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