Following Submission Guidelines

(Oops, technical difficulties, my blog didn’t post properly at the scheduled time. Sorry!)

If you’ve been reading agent blogs and you follow them on Twitter, you probably know by now that most agents want you to follow their posted submission guidelines when submitting. A significant proportion of rejections happen because the query doesn’t follow the guidelines. Are we all just control freaks? Are the guidelines all about power? I know some of you have wondered this.

But no. The guidelines ensure that each agent receives what she needs in order to make wise decisions as efficiently as possible. You already know we receive tons of queries. We want to make sure we find the projects we like amidst the many that won’t be right for us. And you increase your chances of being “found” if you give us what we need.

We also want to know that you’re interested in us as individual agents, not just “any old agent.” When you follow our guidelines, it lets us know you’ve checked us out and you believe we might be a good fit for you. It avoids us reading queries that aren’t anywhere near what we even represent in the first place. (Or it would, if more people actually read the guidelines.)

Somebody asked awhile back WHERE to find the submission guidelines, noting that different websites and listings contain conflicting information for some agents. The question refers to books like Guide to Literary Agents, and websites like, which list agents and contain information such as their guidelines and what they’re looking for. The question went on to suggest that agents should make sure their guidelines are correct everywhere they appear, so that writers can follow them without risking “doing it wrong.”

Sorry, no can do. You’re going to have to get our guidelines from our individual websites—that’s the only way you can be sure you have information that is correct and up to date.

Here’s why: Agents have no control over the numerous books and websites that list our information. Most of them don’t even contact agents to let them know they’re being listed, let alone ask agents what they’d like in their profiles. They go to our websites and get the information there. I learned this after I’d been an agent for a few short months. I was shocked to find myself listed on several agent-matching websites, none of whom I’d even known existed, let alone provided information for. Some of the information was inaccurate; and I can guarantee that even when we update information on our websites, those agent-listing services are not all keeping up. You have no way of knowing whether you’re reading something accurate or not.

There is no way an agent has time to keep track of all the sites and books that list our information. It would be impossible to find them all anyway—when I Google myself I get more than 20,000 results. It’s not like I can wade through all those and somehow identify the sites that are listing my information and verify it’s all correct… the thought boggles my mind.

That’s why we have our own websites! The unfortunate truth is that the only way you’ll know you have each agent’s accurate guidelines is to go to their individual sites.

Now I know that to a certain extent, this is a numbers game for writers just like it is for agents. You may feel your best chance of getting an agent is to query as many as possible, and the job of going to all those individual websites is daunting. I get that. But there’s nothing I can do about it. We list our guidelines on our websites; we update them occasionally; and that is where you’ll need to look to find out the real scoop about an agent.
Rachelle Gardner, Christian literary agent, WordServe Literary Group, Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


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  2. Scrapper Mom on April 16, 2009 at 8:09 AM

    >I really love your website, it is very informative. I do have a question for you though. I am working on a book, in the crafts genre. My “problem” is that in following the standard I want to include work from other experts and designers in the field. However, I can’t really solicit submissions of such work until I have something tangible, and not just a dream of the book happening. The question is, how can I deal with this when submitting proposals and sample chapters. Any advice?

  3. Genny on April 15, 2009 at 7:26 PM

    >I agree with Krista, and I think Karen’s suggestion about attending conferences is great.

    All makes perfect sense.

  4. Lisa Jordan on April 15, 2009 at 3:42 PM

    >If a writer doesn’t take the time to check out an agent’s website, how does he or she know that agent will be a good fit? It’s like having your mother buy your clothes without knowing your size.

    Another great post!

  5. paulawiseman on April 15, 2009 at 2:13 PM

    >I figure agents know what they are looking for and the guidelines make it easier to sort through a submission to find that “something”.
    I also believe it gives us as writers a better opportunity to be fairly evaluated- an apples to apples thing.
    In any event it’s much easier than trying to deal with a government agency!

    Thanks, Rachelle

  6. Melanie Avila on April 15, 2009 at 12:11 PM

    >This is a great reminder for everyone, thanks!

  7. melissablue13 on April 15, 2009 at 10:39 AM

    >Absolutely! Here is what I did when I went out on the prowl, I mean searched for an agent:

    1. Checked out Agent Query. I made a list and FOLLOWED the link provided i.e. the website.

    2. Then I did a google search for recent articles the agent may have had. The agent would go up on my list if they had a blog. I love agent blogs.

    3. Did a background check on Absolute Write.

    4. Checked P and E.

    I can’t press how important the last two steps are in this process.

    An agent can take the genre you write. They may sound witty, and intelligent in the articles and on their blog. But, if they have no track record for sales or the agency (or agent) has business practices that make you uncomfortable, you won’t know if all you do is hit send.

    This also helps to know the difference between an agent who is a scammer and a bad agent. Both can do damage to your career.


    I like your blog.

  8. Megan on April 15, 2009 at 10:14 AM

  9. Karen Witemeyer on April 15, 2009 at 9:56 AM

    >When I started querrying agents, I had a healthy fear of accidentally signing with one who was not above-board. I took my research of agents very seriously and only querried a small handful. Since I had been attending ACFW conferences, the agents offering appointments there and who represented my genre were at the top of my list. I trusted ACFW to only invite legitimate agents who were comfortable selling in the CBA market. That’s what I needed.

    Instead of visiting mass agent listing sites, I would recommend visiting conference sites where agents attend. Choose conference that match your genre and your market and that are well-respected. See who they are inviting and have invited in the past. Then go to those individuals’ sites to see if they are a good match for you and what their specific guidelines are. That way you don’t waste your time sending out hundreds of queries or proposals that don’t fit a particular agent, or which garner responses from less-than-upright individuals who hope to scam naive writers.

  10. Heidi the Hick on April 15, 2009 at 9:37 AM

    >I’ve been learning that part of a writer’s job is to do the research: find the agent’s website, look at the guidelines, find out what they want sent to them. Yep, it’s a lot of work and it can be frustrating but in the long run I’m thinking it’ll be worth it.

    I feel lost when an agent or agency does not have a website!

  11. Krista Phillips on April 15, 2009 at 9:15 AM

    >I don’t mind a bit going to individual agent websites. In fact, I prefer that. I want to make sure you’re a good fit for me, and I’m a good fit for you, before I even query. No use wasting either of our time. I guess instead of playing the numbers game, I play the “pray carefully and choose wisely” game. *grin*

  12. L.C. Gant on April 15, 2009 at 9:15 AM

    >20,000 hits on Google?! Wow! I’m lucky to get one, hehe! Must be exciting to be so well known.

    Your advice sounds perfectly fair and reasonable. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), a lot of the questions in publishing can only be answered with “it is what it is.” It’s a waste of time to whine about it; you just have to adjust, pure and simple.

    Thanks for saying it so nicely, though 🙂

  13. Kim Kasch on April 15, 2009 at 9:05 AM

    >Websites help but blogs enable you to “get to know” someone.

    We all want to work with people we like, especially if it’s going to be a long-term relationship.

  14. Sharon A. Lavy on April 15, 2009 at 8:38 AM

    I am making a list of agent preferences.

    What is your favorite kind of candy?

  15. Teri D. Smith on April 15, 2009 at 8:32 AM

    >Sound, practical advice, as always, Rachelle.

    It amazes me anyone would query or send proposals without checking a web site, but by your comments it must happen often.

    I wish I could see a few more actual examples of proposals that have been successful. It always helps to check over all the little formatting details and make sure we’ve got the right ideas if the agents asks for marketing comparisons, etc.

    Any ideas how we could see more of these?

    Thanks for your post!

  16. Lea Ann McCombs on April 15, 2009 at 8:20 AM

    >When I was looking for an agent, I used those sites, but then for each agent I might consider, I went to the individual website to read the whole thing. I did find that a lot of times, the info did not match and I was glad I checked!

    A few agents didn’t even have their own sites and I immediately discarded them. Who wants an agent in this day who isn’t online? Some also claimed to represent Christian books as well as gay/lesbian and erotica. Again, no thanks. I don’t think we’d be speaking the same language.

    In this age of instant access to information, there’s no subsitute for thoroughly investigating any agent or publisher you want to do business with. It will save everyone much wasted time, effort, and aggravation.

  17. Richard Mabry on April 15, 2009 at 8:05 AM

    >Actually, Google gives me over 23,000 hits for “Rachelle Gardner.” How does it feel to be so famous?

    Seriously, this is excellent advice. Check the agent’s website, read their blogs, get a feel for them and then make an intelligent query.

    In the medical field, seven years after retiring I still get emails asking for my “protocol” for doing certain procedures in which I pioneered, procedures detailed extensively in a number of textbooks and journal articles. Folks just don’t bother to do the necessary digging.

  18. John UpChurch on April 15, 2009 at 7:53 AM

    >That makes sense to me. Thanks for the insight.

    Someone could make some money with a business model that tracked down agent information and kept it completely up to date on a centralized website . . . and worked with agents and editors to make sure it was right.