Agent Monday: Why Guidelines are Your Friend

“It’s more of a guideline, actually…”

Dare I commit to doing a post from my agent’s point of view every Monday? Aw heck, why not? So today’s “Agent Monday” post is devoted to agent guidelines, and why guidelines are your friend in the query process.

Following an agent’s submission guidelines can only help you to get the positive attention of an agent.  I know, thank you Captain Obvious, right?  But I get SO MANY QUERIES from writers who obviously have not bothered to read my submission guidelines.

Honestly, why waste your time sending a query to any agent if you don’t know the first thing about their interests or about how they like to receive stuff from you? Before you submit anything to any agent please do yourself a favor and run a simple Google search on that agent and their agency, adding in “submission guidelines” into the search field. Odds are you will find their interests and requirements right smack dab there on their agency’s page. Search “Marie Lamba,” and within seconds you’ll spot many interviews with me on various sites. You’ll also find me listed as Associate Agent at The Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency site. And there you’ll see my very specific submission guidelines, which you can also access if you click right here.

By following my guidelines you will quickly know not to waste your time subbing your gory horror novel to me. Or your high fantasy novel. Or your category romance.  But you will put me on your list if you have a YA novel, or a middle reader, or a funny women’s fiction. That sort of thing.  And please, dear writers, don’t think that your gory horror novel is so amazing that it will change my mind about how I feel about this genre. Please. The guidelines do apply. Even to you. Even if you are brilliant. (Sorry.)

And here’s the truth: With a quick look at my inbox, I can easily spot the writers who didn’t even bother to look me up before subbing to me. First of all, the message line of the email does not start with QUERY. Next step? I notice when someone is sending me stuff I have no interest in whatsoever.  Lastly, and most importantly, the “didn’t even bother to look up my guidelines” writer is missing out on the one huge advantage my guidelines spell out: I let you send me the first 20 pages of your manuscript pasted into the bottom of your query!

So you can see how folks who don’t follow guidelines are shooting themselves in the foot.  Sending info that is clearly not of interest to me equals instant rejection.  And say you send me a query for something I DO represent, but you didn’t find out about the 20 page thing? Well, then I’m faced with the extra step of asking to see those first 20 pages from you.  Sometimes (rarely), if the query is intriguing, I might send back a quick note for the writer to resub following my guidelines.  But mostly I just sigh and send the rejection.

If you do follow all of my guidelines and still get that rejection, at least you know you’ve gotten a fair shake, and that I’ve been given enough info to assess if your manuscript was right for me.  And if, after subbing the 20 pages in the initial query, I DO ask to see your full manuscript, you know that I’m basing this request on more than a one paragraph pitch. I’m interested!

So, fellow writers, do yourself a huge favor and take a few moments to do your homework about the agent you are subbing your precious book to.  You’ll better target your queries, and put your work on a better path to acceptance. And that, my friends, is all good.

*Agent Monday is a weekly post. To catch all of these, subscribe to this blog by clicking on the “Subscribe to Marie’s Site Here” in the upper left column.

16 thoughts on “Agent Monday: Why Guidelines are Your Friend

  1. Very well said! Though you are clearly much nicer than I. I just delete submissions that don’t follow my guidelines. I figure if the querier doesn’t have the time to read and courtesy to follow my guidelines, I don’t have the time or courtesy to send them a rejection e-mail.

  2. I’m sorry to say that I’ve been guilty (once that I know of) of not reading carefully enough and so not following guidelines… I felt pretty bad when I realized it later in the day. Which begs the question — is it ever appropriate to resend with an apology? Or does that make the submitter look even worse?

    • Hi Julia,

      I think you get one shot and should avoid cluttering an agent’s inbox at all costs. Multiple contacts from someone over an initial query feels like an unneeded distraction to a very busy agent. That’s just my opinion, of course. 🙂


  3. I’m new to the publishing process and loving digging through your blog and soaking up everything I can! Question: Is it ever appropriate to hand-deliver work to an agent if you have a scheduled meeting? Or is that a big no? Would you send work ahead of time as a formal query? Or wait to see if he/she offered to look at your work? As a newbie, the whole idea of everything hanging on a query is almost paralyzing to me!

    • Hi, and welcome!

      Since you mentioned digging through my blog, I hope you found the For Writers tab at the top of the blog since it has links to all of my writer-related posts. I hope some of them are helpful to you 🙂

      Unless a meeting with an agent (I’m assuming this is probably at a conference) specifically outlines bringing the first pages of your manuscript to share, then I would definitely not try to hand over chapters or a manuscript to them, or even a business card (I’ve tossed out piles of these at the end of conferences rather than lug them back with me on a plane…sorry, writers! But if you get an agent’s or editor’s card…definitely keep that. They are sharing valuable contact info with you.). So just think of all the stuff they would have to carry back with them if writers did this. I’ve even had stacks of books handed to me that I’ve had to ditch before departure. (Again, my apologies to writers.)

      If the agent is interested, she’ll ask you to send stuff to her, and tell you exactly how much to send and in what manner (these days, usually electronically).

      It doesn’t hurt to have your opening chapter and a one page synopsis with you in your bag, in case they ask for it, but don’t offer it up unless asked. And if they ask for your card, you can hand that over too.

      I’ve done pitch sessions from both sides of the desk (as a writer and as an agent), so I well know how unnerving it can feel. But I always tell writers to relax, and to approach the agent as a person, not as THE ONE AND ONLY CHANCE TO MAKE IT BIG! That’s what freaks writers out. And it simply isn’t true. Life is full of chances, and every experience is something to learn from. So even if you bumble your pitch, you can learn from that next time. Did your pitch confuse the agent? Then you know to fix it for next time. Is there one particular thing that interested them about it? Then you can draw that part out more next time.

      One thing you are doing absolutely right is researching this process. So much info is available out there to help you out.

      Good luck!

      • Thank you! Definitely valuable information for this and future meetings :o) I very much appreciate your response!

      • One more question if I may: How do you feel when people submit a Query to you BEFORE a conference or scheduled meeting? Thank you again!

      • It’s more likely to be considered as a regular query, and I may not necessarily connect that query with the person I’m meeting later. I get a ton of queries.

        Also, you may find yourself rejected before you’ve even met them. Just stuff to think about…

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