Reasons for Submission Guidelines

As you know, almost all agents have Submission Guidelines posted on their websites and/or blogs. Agents who blog and Twitter always remind writers to follow guidelines, and some agents reject without responding if you don’t follow them.

But why are the guidelines so important? Are we just picky and anal people, obsessed with power and intoxicated by the ability to control people?

Obviously my answer to that is “no.”

It’s simply a numbers game. It’s all about the high volume of submissions we receive, and the need to get through them as quickly as possible, while making smart yes and no decisions.

Our guidelines specify the exact information we need in order to make the best decision possible, in the shortest amount of time.

Our guidelines tell you what to include, because otherwise you may include a lot of information that we don’t need, which means it takes more time to get to the heart of your query and figure out if the project is something we find interesting. Similarly, if you don’t include enough information for us to make a good decision, we’re not likely to spend our time asking you for more info. We’re just going to pass.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote The Top Ten Query Mistakes in which I gave some protocol guidelines. I said that I’d be unlikely to reject based on any of these protocol mistakesβ€”so of course, several people wondered why I would even mention them if they’re not important.

Well, it’s exactly what explained in my post: You have a very brief amount of space and time in which to convince an agent to request more of your writing. Everything you write affects my overall impression of your writing. Why not make the best impression possible?

Agents are doing their best (through blogs and Twitter) to set you up for success. We’re trying to help you make the most of that small amount of space in a query letter.

Why would people object to my sharing these tips, when the upshot is that you have some simple guidelines for making the best impression possible? I wonder, would these same people object to a magazine article on 10 Things to Avoid in a Job Interview? Or 10 Ways to Make Your ResumΓ© Shine? I doubt it. Seems to me, we all need all the help we can get.

If you’re wondering why agents seem to be so picky about their submission guidelines, stop thinking in terms of yourself and your one query. Remember that yours arrives along with dozens or hundreds of others, and that’s why we need the guidelines. We need your help in making our query-reading efficient and effective. By following query guidelines, you make it more likely that an agent will immediately be able to see your project accurately and determine whether it would be a good fit.

Computers and the internet have made it possible for ever-more people to write books, dream about publication, and approach agents. The submissions are increasing all the time. In order to be able to respond to queries at all, we need the process to be streamlined. Otherwise, there’s going to come a time when most agents will be unable to respond to queries unless it’s a yes.

And in case you think agents are just somehow inefficient, or power-hungry, or lazy… or whatever… read this post from Harvard Business Review. It explains how and why ALL business people must make smart choices about how to handle their email.

Q4U: Do you think Submission Guidelines make sense? Do you find it annoying or difficult to follow them, or does the process work for you?

And: What about your own business and daily email influx? Is it manageable? Do you find yourself having difficulty keeping up with it?

Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent

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!


  1. Paul Hodges on February 24, 2012 at 3:25 PM

    Submission guidelines are a godsend. The only problem is that there is frequently a lot of interpretation possible. Agents should be as careful writing guidelines as any author hoping to follow them.

    On the other hand, we trust you not to be a psycho. If we duly try to follow the guidelines and submit a sane query, we really shouldn’t have to worry whether our submitted text is precisely X-pages. Thanks for reassuring us. πŸ™‚

  2. Kristi Bernard on February 27, 2010 at 12:26 PM

    >Being new to the writing scene, I really appreciate the guidelines. They help me keep focused on the submission process. Thanks for sharing such valuable information.

  3. Moira Young on February 27, 2010 at 5:53 AM

    >I tell my e-mail client to filter messages into folders, and then I aim for a zero inbox. It takes a lot of time, and means I have to add each new contact of mine to whichever filter applies, but it's worth it. Especially since my work shares a communal inbox, and finding messages meant for me can sometimes otherwise be a headache.

  4. Sarah Enni on February 25, 2010 at 9:58 PM

    >When I was looking for work a year ago I sent out more than 100 resumes and cover letters. It was time consuming to tailor the information I provided to the job posting each time, but having a job is worth it!

    There is absolutely no difference here. Submission guidelines are fantastic because, as many have mentioned, not only does it make things easier for the agent, it allows a serious and thoughtful author to narrow down exactly who would be interested in their work.

    Of course after sending out all those job applications I eventually got the one to which I had a friend-of-a-friend connection, which I think also relates to submissions. Many mistakes will be forgiven for those that can say, "Remember me from [convention / event]?"

  5. Dominique on February 25, 2010 at 6:19 PM

    >Submissions guidelines are important. While they may take more time to follow, they're not too hard to comply with, and they make agents' lives much easier. If writers ever want to be able to get a timely response from an agent, they'll need to comply with the guidelines so the agents can streamline their process.

  6. Dana Bryant on February 25, 2010 at 12:38 PM


  7. Mira on February 25, 2010 at 10:43 AM


    I'm sorry it took me so long to respond – I had class late last night.

    Thanks for your comments – they gave me food for thought, and I always appreciate a good discussion. πŸ™‚

    I completely agree that the query system is a great improvement on the previous referral system! No argument there. πŸ™‚

    However, I continue to hold out hope for a system that is both democratic AND efficient. I believe it exists, we just need to figure it out. Wouldn't it be great for everyone if we could find one!

    In terms of the job application confusion, I'm not so much concerned that agents will be think they are employers, as I am that writers will think they are employees.

    In terms of my writing, thank you – I appreciate your support, and I think you're right – I do sometimes get distracted. But – to me these smaller things are part of a larger picture that affects all writers. I believe it's crucial that all writers have a voice in industry dynamics. Espeically given the fact that the industry is changing. That's why I comment on it.

    Also, I don't actually separate what I write on blogs from my 'real' writing – this is my real writing.

    Thanks for the discussion – very interesting. πŸ™‚

  8. Kathryn Magendie on February 25, 2010 at 8:09 AM

    >As an editor of an online journal, I certainly do understand submissions guidelines! However, I understood them before I became an editor.

    If I was an agent, one thing I'd love to put on submit guidelines: please don't send me smoke-filled manuscripts! (Of course, email takes care of that!) – πŸ™‚

  9. M Clement Hall on February 25, 2010 at 7:25 AM

    >The extract from HBR was helpful in showing the arrogance of the man who is offered more than he can use. At meetings I have heard complaints that many agents (or their staff) just press the "Delete" button if they're not interested, whereas others at least press the "great work, unfortunately not for us" macro. The latter is not merely kind, it is constructive in keeping writers writing. If I had a good applicant for a post, I would tell them just that rather than keeping them in limbo, during which time they're going to look for work with a more courteous employer. Presumably the same would apply to a literary agent.
    And I take this opportunity to thank you for your most helpful blog, recognising the time and trouble required.

  10. Carol J. Garvin on February 25, 2010 at 1:45 AM

    >Submission guidelines make perfect sense to me. I sometimes wish agencies' guidelines were consistent, but when they are clearly outlined on the website I'm happy to follow them. It takes the guesswork out of one aspect of querying.

  11. Jason on February 25, 2010 at 12:47 AM

    >I might be viewing this in an entirely too simplistic manner but I see it as simple respect. An agent is very busy and posts a list of requirements for submissions. If you want them to show you the respect you wish to receive, then show the same respect to them and honor their guidelines.

    The whole "do unto others" thing. I think I read that in a book once.

  12. papia on February 25, 2010 at 12:28 AM

    >Hey there,

    We have been reading the articles on your website
    and are very impressed with the quality of your information.

    We have a team of copywriters who specialize in writing articles on various topics and would like to write an original article for you to use on your website – this article will not be used anywhere else on the Internet.

    In exchange all we ask is that we can have one or two links within the body of the article back to one of our sites.
    If you are interested in having us write an article for your website please just let me know and we would be more than happy to have one written for you within two weeks.

    Kind regards,

  13. Ryan Hunter - Writer on February 25, 2010 at 12:06 AM

    >I think submission guidelines make perfect sense. It makes the process work more smoothly for both author and agent.

    I think it would also make it more obvious to the agent which authors take the time to research before they send in queries.

  14. Stephanie Shott on February 24, 2010 at 10:46 PM

    I'm thankful you make your submission guidelines clear. I know what you are and are not looking for, what I need to prepare in order to submit a manuscript to you and as a freebee, you offer great advice as to how to develop a jam up proposal.
    So, I'm very thankful for agent guidelines.

  15. patriciazell on February 24, 2010 at 8:05 PM

    >I look at each query or proposal as a challenge and have fun putting it together. My biggest problem has not been my approach, but has been my content which I am passionate about. By writing my book through my blog, I'm able to get my content out there. We'll see if it builds an audience or not. Meanwhile, when it's time to write my queries and proposals, I will follow directions! :*)

    Last week, I gained control over 2 out of my 3 e-mail accounts by following Michael Hyatt's advice–and he always has great advice. My goal is to handle each e-mail once. So far, so good!

  16. Erica Vetsch on February 24, 2010 at 6:45 PM

    >Submission Guidelines make sense, for both the agent and the author. The agent has every right and responsibility not to waste her time nor her client's time. By having guidelines, this helps ensure (or should) that the agent is seeing queries that fit her needs, her passions, and her contacts in the industry. These same guidelines help the writer choose an agent who will fit their needs. I wouldn't want to waste my time querying an agent who doesn't represent my genre, nor do I want to waste the agent's time.

    Instead of railing against the injustices of the submission process, use it to your advantage. Let the Submission Guidelines help YOU weed out agents that wouldn't be a good fit for you.

  17. Raquel Byrnes on February 24, 2010 at 6:30 PM

    >Just a few clicks on a prospective agent's website and you have an instant idea of what they want from you. It saves time for both me, and the agent. I don't think the submission guidelines are anything but helpful.

  18. Kathi Lipp on February 24, 2010 at 5:52 PM

    >I am one of Rachelle's clients and while she needs no defending (she is perfectly capable of doing that herself,)I do want to point out a couple of things:
    1. Rachelle has never taken more that a few hours to return a phone call from me.

    2. She not only writes this incredilby informative blog, she also sticks around and answers all of our questions.

    3. Every few months she is having to spend a concentrated amount of time on me – contract negotiations, brainstorming, running interferance with me and my pubisher, etc.

    4. She goes to publishing conferences.

    5. When I was first looking for a contract, she spent time going over my proposal and making it look as pro as possible.

    I don't think I am a highly demanding client (again, Rachelle may disagree) but all that I listed is just the exposure I, as one of many clients, has to Rachelle. I have to say I get incredibly offeneded when people feel that agents aren't working hard enough or giving up and coming authors a break. There are some of those agents out there, but I doubt that 5% of the authors that are querying are working as hard as the agent they are quearying to. The entitlement makes me crazy.This is hard stuff with TONS of rejection before it starts to get good.

    If following different guidelines is too hard or time-consuming, I understand the frustration, but think of it as practice for mareting your book. When you are querying radio stations, magazines and blogs to promo your book, the guidelines don't stop. If it is too hard now, it is still going to be too hard after you get published.

  19. Rachelle on February 24, 2010 at 4:23 PM

    >Mira, I actually think the query system works. It may be inefficient and time consuming, but it's incredibly democratic, which is something writers should appreciate. In the query system, everybody has access. All the other possible systems I've ever heard proposed actually take away from the democratic nature of the process — they limit access somehow. So I'd suggest focusing your energies elsewhere besides changing the query system. As a writer, you should appreciate that it's this very system that will probably get you published someday.

    Regarding the job application metaphor: I've never once read anything by an agent that suggested this metaphor be carried to its logical extreme, i.e., suggesting that an author works for an agent. We know our business; we know very well that our authors don't work for us. After all, this is what we do all day, everyday. I don't know any agents who see authors as employees, or talk about them that way, or treat them that way. The query-letter-as-job-application metaphor works as far as it goes: you're applying to be a client, and to get the gig, you need to meet certain standards.

    It just happens that the "gig" is not that of "employee," but "client" — and we all understand what that means so we never feel the need to explain.

    Sounds to me like a lot of worrying about things that really aren't going to have much effect on your own writing career… don't get sidetracked by the small stuff! Keep focusing on your writing.

  20. Mira on February 24, 2010 at 4:09 PM

    >Rachelle – this is a good post, and it makes sense – the amount of queries are enormous, and it's completely reasonable for agents to look for ways to make the task easier.

    I guess I'm just concerned on one point – when you compared this to a job application – I see that alot nowadays on the blogs. I totally get it – it's easy to look at it this way, because agents are in such demand – it looks the same as a job hunt from the surface. But it always makes me nervous because client does not work for the agent, they are not their employee. It seems to me it's a different relationship altogether….

    The other thing, and I've almost given up hope on convincing anyone of this one πŸ™‚ But I'll mention it when I get the chance because I agree with you – I think the query system may become so cumbersome that it simply will stop working at some point in the future. So, I really do believe that the query system is inefficient. It's too time consuming and rampant with the possiblity of error. I think there are better ways and it would be great if we could look for them.

  21. Sarah on February 24, 2010 at 3:39 PM

    >Having submission guidelines actually makes me respect the art, the agents, and the process even more. I realize how seriously each agent takes the process and it forces me to do the same. It forces those who are serious about wanting to 'pursue the dream' to be serious about the work it takes to get there. In an age where it is easier to contact agents, the guidelines work as a check to (hopefully) ensure that if one is willing to put forth that extra effort in the queries and proposals, that they put even more thought into the actual book they're trying to sell.

    I'm sure there's still junk that makes it through the cracks that agents have to slog through or when out of 30 agents there are 30 different sets of submission requirements it doesn't seem like such a perfect process. But it is one that is needed, and one that is intended for everyone's benefit.

  22. Rachelle on February 24, 2010 at 3:18 PM

    >"…guess I didn't realize that agents had "slots" like publishers do. How does that work exactly? Seems to me agents try to take on mss. that they're both passionate about and they think will sell."

    Anon 12:17: C'mon, let's be logical. Agents have the same number of hours in the day as everyone else. We cannot take on an unlimited number of clients. Otherwise how could we possibly service everyone properly? Sometimes we're so busy with current clients that we don't have an extra minute to take on anyone new. Then things lighten up and we're able to consider new clients.

    All the passion in the world doesn't give me any more hours in the day. Many times I've had to pass on projects because I just knew I wouldn't be able to get to them within an appropriate amount of time.

  23. Liz Czukas on February 24, 2010 at 2:58 PM

    >Once you've been at this for a while, the submission guidelines have a rhythm. In my current project folder I have a file saved for a ten-, five-, thirty- and fifty-page sample, a two-page synopsis, a five-page synopsis and a query letter with spots highlighted for personalization. To me, following the guidelines is a way to show respect to the agents you are querying. Yes, it can be frustrating to make sure you have every t crossed and i dotted, but if you DO have all of the proper submission materials, you know you've come across as professionally as possible and you don't have to wonder if the rejection was based on simply not following directions.

    Great reminders, Rachelle.

    – Liz

  24. Marla Taviano on February 24, 2010 at 2:54 PM

    >I really don't understand all the whining about submission guidelines.

    Bottom line? We're self-centered, we don't like hard work, we want guaranteed success with little sweat.

    GETTING PUBLISHED IS NOT EASY, FOLKS. We're not entitled to anything (including an agent's valuable time). We have to work for it. And work and work and work and work for it.

  25. Anonymous on February 24, 2010 at 2:17 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle–guess I didn't realize that agents had "slots" like publishers do. How does that work exactly? Seems to me agents try to take on mss. that they're both passionate about and they think will sell. (How "passionate" do they have to be?)

    Or do they like to have a quota in each category they represent? Your feedback is appreciated!

  26. Amy on February 24, 2010 at 2:02 PM

    >I love submission guidelines. It's the non-thinking part of the whole process — you follow the directions you are given, and you're done.

    I love that it's different for all agents & publishers, too. Sure it takes more time. I feel that this is where I have a definite edge over people who don't want to take that time.

    I imagine that if agents had time, they WOULD read each and every submission that crossed their desks, even if it didn't exactly fit their guidelines. Agents can't be successful without writers. But agents don't have time to read everything — my understanding is that slush is usually read after-hours. So how do you cut your pile to something manageable? By eliminating submissions that make it difficult to get the job done.

    If WE really want to be published, WE need to put the time in. There's no shortcut for that.

  27. Rachelle on February 24, 2010 at 1:11 PM

    >"…why does it take so long to reply to the good ones? Is everyone waiting for the economy to improve or what?"

    Can't really say it any plainer: When an agent or publishing house needs a new author, they'll find one. If they want your book, they'll tell you. If they're not biting on yours, it's because they've found others they like better.

    Some publishers are trimming their lists (read: fewer books needed). And more writers are querying than ever. Put it all together. You can see what's happening. You don't need me to tell you.

    The only answer is keep persevering. And keep writing and getting better.

    Vent a little bit about the frustrations, then let them go and keep trying!

  28. Anonymous on February 24, 2010 at 12:52 PM

    >Thanks, Rachelle–also very good points! But what I meant was: How can we follow the rules when they continually change? I've gotten enough partial and full requests to know my query is working, but lately agents don't even respond to either queries or requested mss.

    I know everyone is busy, but if so many queries are that bad, why does it take so long to reply to the good ones? Is everyone waiting for the economy to improve or what? Thanks for your take!

  29. Jason Black on February 24, 2010 at 12:50 PM

    >Additionally, query guidelines (which are sure to vary somewhat between agents) push writers to truly personalize the query for each agent.

    That is, to write a SEPARATE query, tailored to a specific agent, for everybody they think might be a good fit.

    Which leads me to suspect that a big reason why some people chafe at the very idea of submission guidelines is that such guidelines prevent them from mass-querying hundreds of agents at once, which they shouldn't be doing anyway.

    They see it as an obstacle preventing them from being lazy, which (conveniently) it is: if you don't follow the guidelines, it's a tip-off to the agent that you are in fact a lazy person and they probably don't want to do business with you anyway. If you're that lazy with your query, how much care can you possibly have put into your book?

  30. Kerri on February 24, 2010 at 12:47 PM

    >Great post! I like the guidelines because I AM the type of person who would probably give you wayyyy more than you need. It keeps me focused.

  31. Rachelle on February 24, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    >Anon 10:32: You make some good points. Yes, publishing runs on deadlines, but obviously that doesn't apply to the process of finding new writers. In this, agents and editors go according to their need. If they need a new author or two right away to fill some slots, they're going to move fast. If they're full at the moment and have no immediate need to acquire anyone new, they're not going to place priority on responding to you. It's just common sense and smart business practice. (See my post on A Day in The Life. It explains agent priorities very clearly.)

    I've recently sold a project that I submitted to publishers TEN MONTHS ago. Sold another one last week that I submitted SIX MONTHS ago. Believe me, you're not the only one waiting. When an editor wants and needs what I'm offering, they'll be in touch. It's that simple. Same for you. If an agent wants and needs what you're offering, they'll be sure to let you know.

    You make a good point about the bar being continually raised. This is not anything agents or publishers are doing. It's a market phenomenon — supply and demand. The supply of new writers is more plentiful than ever before. So naturally this means the bar will be raised. If you're competing with more writers, it stands to reason that many of them will be very strong candidates. If you want to compete, you'll keep getting better and better, rather than asking us to give you a break.

    I doubt the athletes competing in the Olympics said "give me a break" as the bar has gotten higher over the years. They understand it just means they have to get better.

  32. Rebecca Knight on February 24, 2010 at 12:42 PM

    >I agree that if you're asking someone for a favor (reading your novel), the least you can do is format it in a way that makes it simpler for them :).

    At my work, people send me requests for various things, and I always have a specific format I'd like it in to help me do my job more efficiently. It's different from my neighbor, but people don't complain because I'm helping them! Adhering to my guidelines helps me get back to them faster, which is good for everyone.

    I feel like it's the same thing w/ agent guidelines–not a big deal, and a win/win situation :).

  33. ella144 on February 24, 2010 at 12:40 PM

    >I love submission guidelines.

    I never use the exact same resume for every job application. I tweak it so it highlights the skills and knowledge I have that are relevant to that specific job. Same thing for a query. Submission guidelines tell me exactly what the agent wants to see, making it that much easier for me to make sure my query is read.

    I have a love/hate relationship with e-mail. I have folders to sort my incoming e-mail. I have folders to keep track of e-mails I need to follow-up on. And I had to limit checking my e-mail to twice a day, otherwise I do nothing else.

    However, e-mail keeps me off from leaving voice messages. I am terrible at leaving voice messages. You know that person who rambles a bit on for a while about why they called and then forgets to leave a name and number? Yeah, that's me.

  34. Dana King on February 24, 2010 at 12:33 PM

    >I understand the need for guidelines and adhere to them as best I can. What gets me are agents like one I almost submitted to once, who asked for a lot of things most agents didn't seem to care about, or wanted differently. A couple that came to mind were no italics, just underlines. (Like we were still using typewriters.) There was also something weird about how the footer had to appear, how the page numbers had to be formatted, the margins were slightly out of standards, and something else that evades me. Failure to comply fully with these guidelines meant the manuscript would not be read.

    I decided this was clearly an agent with many demands on his time, since he had to be so picky about his guidelines. I chose not to burden him further.

  35. Anonymous on February 24, 2010 at 12:32 PM

    >In an industry that operates on DEADLINES, I don't see agents following any type of schedule. I just got TWO different rejections from a top agent for a query I sent before Thanksgiving! OK, I get it–but one was personalized, and the other a form. Huh?

    What's confusing or irritating is when some agents want you to personalize each query and others just want a short one-sentence description or graph to grab their attention. What's better as an intro? Very frustrating when we must follow ALL the rules, but agents can make up or change the game as they go along.

    No matter how many hoops we must jump through, the agents keep raising them higher…Give us a break–like you, we're doing the best we can!

  36. T. Anne on February 24, 2010 at 12:06 PM

    >I adhere to guidelines. There's no point querying someone who doesn't represent your genre, no matter how much you like them. If I felt the guidelines were unclear I might email the agent for clarification.

    My daily email influx consists mostly of ACFW loop threads. So yes, totally manageable.

  37. Sarah Forgrave on February 24, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    >I love having guidelines. I think it makes the process easier for all of us. As far as my own inbox, I try to make an immediate decision whether to delete or keep. Everything that stays in my inbox becomes my to-do list, which can be frightening depending on the day! πŸ™‚

  38. Bethany on February 24, 2010 at 11:40 AM

    >Wonderful post, Rachelle. Also, it gives me even more appreciation for an email requesting a little more information when I don't do the best job clarifying something. I realize you are taking time out of the millions of things you have to do to give my query real consideration.

  39. Deliah on February 24, 2010 at 11:34 AM

    >I work as a freelance translator and I wish my (prospect) clients would follow guidelines when emailing me with inquiries too… The email load IS time consuming, especially with those who do not provide enough information in the first email.

    "Hi, I have a 32 page document to be translated from French to English, are you available?" – 32 pages of neat, double-spaced editorial text or 32 pages academic paper with every other page littered with graphs, figures and tables? Or worse – 32 pages of scanned handwritten notes from a board meeting in PDF…?

    Am I available? Well, when do you want it? Next year? Sure, I'm available. Tomorrow? Probably not..

    I don't understand people who complain about submission guidelines – they're there for the writers' benefit as much as for the agents'! To know what is expected of you is a huge help when you're feeling quite lost and confused in general.

  40. wondering04 on February 24, 2010 at 11:24 AM

    >Many of the guidelines are pure common sense, and I believe that an agent who shares their guidelines deserves to have them met. If a person cannot follow simple guidelines it is an indication to the agent that the person may not be able to do other tasks regarding the manuscript.

  41. ninidee on February 24, 2010 at 11:17 AM

    >Thanks Rachelle, you're very kind.


  42. ninidee on February 24, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    >Thanks Rachelle, you're very kind.


  43. Dara on February 24, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    >Do you think Submission Guidelines make sense? Do you find it annoying or difficult to follow them, or does the process work for you?

    YES! It wouldn't make sense if there weren't any. I don't find it annoying or difficult–every agent is different and their guidelines are going to be different. If a writer really wants to be published, they will put the extra effort forward to read and FOLLOW each agent's submission guidelines. It could make a difference between having your book on the bookstore shelves…or just collecting dust on your desk.

    And: What about your own business and daily email influx? Is it manageable? Do you find yourself having difficulty keeping up with it?

    I only work part time and for the most part it's manageable. I don't get a ton of emails a day here at work, but some days I do get an influx (and an influx for me is like, a dozen). So I suppose I'm blessed πŸ™‚

  44. Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God on February 24, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    >Good morning, Rachell;

    I sympathize with Adam Heine and Timothy Fish because rewriting query letters and proposals for Changing Me, Change the World, last year frustrated me a lot. Reworking the letter and proposal 32 times was time consuming.

    Eventually, I discovered that I was learning more and more about my book. My letter and proposal improved with each revision. I then rewrote my introduction to include some of the things I'd put in the letter and proposal. I also discovered that I had written something that could be used for back cover copy. Now that I know the value to me of rewriting all those letters and proposals, I won't get so frustrated.

    Thanks for making me think about this!

    Be blessed,


  45. Gwenny on February 24, 2010 at 10:53 AM

    >I completely agree with submission guidelines, and I feel that if you can't follow simple submission guidelines there is no way you will able to handle your relationship with your agent/editor/publisher in a decent manner. It's not only about making things easier but it's also a matter of respect fort he person you are submitting to.

  46. Rachelle on February 24, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    >Ninidee: Wish I could offer a translation guide! "This doesn't fit my list" could mean any number of things and you have no way of knowing the reason for the rejection. However, as you continue querying, and continue improving your writing, hopefully you'll begin to get some pass letters that contain encouragement or hints about what to do better.

    I've written numerous times about rejection letters, and why we can't always give feedback on your work. You can go to my sidebar under "Find Posts on the Blog" and click "Rejection." Read especially the posts on:
    April 21, 2009
    Feb 17, 2009
    Sept 23, 2008
    Jan 8, 2008

  47. ninidee on February 24, 2010 at 10:35 AM

    >I don't mind submission guidelines. I actually like them and make sure that I follow them precisely when querying.
    Now if I could just figure out what the rejection really means I could become a better writer.
    Maybe you can do an interpretation for us some day.
    Eg. This does not fit my list (Does that mean writing was not strong? I'm only looking for mystery?) When an author follows the guidelines but gets rejected there are still so many answers we are looking for.
    We can't expect an agent to answer all of us exclusively but maybe if we had a rejection cheat sheet it would help.

  48. Shelley Sly on February 24, 2010 at 10:34 AM

    >I think the guidelines are a good thing. Imagining myself as an agent, I would definitely need a way to help the process go faster. It also weeds out those who don't follow directions.

    I'm always surprised to hear when fellow writers overlook something as basic and important as which genre an agent represents, and then they say, "Oops, I got rejected because she doesn't represent fantasy." I think agent research goes a long way, and that includes submission guidelines, genres represented, and even little miscellaneous things (e.g. some require a SASE and some actually don't)

  49. Kathy on February 24, 2010 at 10:29 AM

    >I don't know how someone could submit anything in good faith WITHOUT guidelines. Really. And the more specific they are, the better. It saves us ALL time.

  50. lynnrush on February 24, 2010 at 9:57 AM

    >I love all the guidelines. It makes that part of the process easy, because it's out there in plain sight.

    The writing industry, in general, is pretty subjective. One agent could love your work and another hate it.

    You can't control that.

    But what you can control is what you know about…like guidelines. What agents want / don't want. It's in black and white, literally….

    So, I don't find them annoying or difficult. Some can be time consuming, but who cares. If you wanna get published, get used to things taking time, right? LOL.

    Nice post.

  51. Liberty Speidel on February 24, 2010 at 9:56 AM

    >To me, without guidelines, we authors wouldn't have a clue what to send and when we've gone too far. When I've submitted in the past, I've been very careful to double-check guidelines before I sent *anything*. I realize this is a business proposal I'm sending, even though it's technically a work of fiction. Any writer who doesn't follow these rules, if I were an agent, I'd question what other rules they wouldn't follow after signing a contract!

    I'm sorry, but I'm writing to get published. I want to put my best foot forward, and if I can't follow the rules that the agents I'm submitting to have laid out, I know it makes it that much less likely I'll get an offer–no matter how stellar my writing is. While I may not always want to follow the rules in the rest of my life (hey–my name is 'Liberty', and it says something about my personality!), I'm far from stupid. I know when it's time to follow the guidelines, and submitting to agents is one area I'm going by the book.

  52. Tara on February 24, 2010 at 9:28 AM

    >I love having submission guidelines on each agent's site/blog. It helps me to know exactly what I can do to make my query that much more likable to an agent. Each query I email takes a good amount of time because I set it up for a specific agent, not a mass emailing.

    As for my personal email, I'm OCD about keeping my inbox empty, or close to empty. Of course, I have the luxury of being at home and able to check it throughout the day.

  53. Nicole on February 24, 2010 at 8:52 AM

    >I believe submission guidelines are absolutely necessary. I'm pretty OCD when it comes to organization and uniformity so I get it. If the query's all give the same information then it is easier and quicker to sift through the stacks and get back to writers and we writers appreciate that. Some agents guidelines are more difficult than others and after revising a query 30 different ways it does get irritating but if that's what they want that's what we've got to do.
    When going through my daily email anything not absolutely important I delete. I don't have time for chain emails. This makes the subject line very important which is why it is important to follow agent subject line guidelines if not your query could get deleted. No one wants that.
    If you want to get respect you have to give respect. Respect the agents time by giving them exactly what they ask for and they will respect yours by replying as soon as they can.

  54. Richard Mabry on February 24, 2010 at 8:18 AM

    >It only makes sense to me that, since individuals vary, agents will want different things in queries. They have to sift through a bunch of material and make decisions quickly, and doing it their way helps them do it more effectively.

    I've seen significant changes in the industry in the few short years I've been writing, actually starting at the time when some publishers accepted unsolicited queries. Each house had different guidelines. I didn't say, "Forget that. I'll draft a master query format and let them get what they want from it." I took the time to determine what each wanted and made my submission conform– because I wanted to put my best foot forward. I was coming to them, hat in hand, and recognized they didn't owe me anything.

    Now everything has to filter through agents, but the principle is the same. If the writer isn't willing to take the time to learn what the agent wants and how he/she wants it presented, they're starting out with one strike against them.

    In short, if you're too busy or too self-important to learn the industry, including the form each submission should take, you'd better have the next Left Behind series in your pocket, because you're working with a handicap.

  55. Cynthia Wilson on February 24, 2010 at 7:54 AM

    >It's something like a job application. You don't write your previous employers in the lines meant for name and address. The person doing the hiring is used to scanning down the form for the information most relevent to him/her.

    And every employer has a different form. Some might have previous employment near the top, another might have it on the second page.

    Even if you're doing a resume instead, you might switch things around for different employers, emphasizing different skills or an aspect of education.

    I've never understood why submission requirements are an issue. You spend months, maybe years, writing the book–why not spend an hour or two researching submission requirements and shifting your query around, if necessary?

  56. Jill on February 24, 2010 at 7:52 AM

    >On a typical day I can manage my email influx, but there are times when I'm struggling to get on top of it by the end of the day.

    As for submission guidelines, I'm grateful for all the info. Agents and editors tell people exactly what they want, so there's no guesswork and no need to wonder if the fact that you italicized everything and wrote it in Old English Script hindered your project from getting through.

  57. Krista Phillips on February 24, 2010 at 7:34 AM

    >First, I LOVE LOVE LOVE submission guidelines! Really! Without them, I'd probably sit in indecision and fear over whether what I am sending is "okay" or if it is in the format you want them in.

    I also LOVE that you give semi-time frames in your guidelines. "It's okay to follow up with me if you haven't heard in _______" is SO very helpful, especially for someone who leans to the not-so-patient side. I can easily set aside for that length of time, no matter how long, because I know when to follow up without looking stupid.

    That said, as a general course of business, I don't necessarily agree with the HBJ blog 100%. I get a LOT Of e-mail everyday at my day job, maybe not 400 pieces. But business etiquette is simple: let them know how long it will take. Heck, even in the initial meeting, tell them that it might be a month or more before you can follow up. Set the expectation, and I bet it would cut down on many of those 400 e-mails.

  58. Amy Sue Nathan on February 24, 2010 at 7:31 AM

    >I like knowing what an agent wants in order to make a decision, and I understand that every agent needs different configurations of information to make his or her decision. Some agents ask for things and it seems like authors have to jump through hoops — 2.5 page synopsis in arial font, 17 pages of a mss, all sent with a bio and a photo of the dog in an rtf file. Well, you know I'm kidding but I've run across a few sets of submission guidelines that just make me shake my head — and ultimately decide that agent isn't for me!

  59. Jessica on February 24, 2010 at 6:54 AM

    >I think the guidelines work. Maybe people don't like them because they're time-consuming? When I send queries it usually can take at least thirty minutes because I go to the agent's site (and if there isn't one I have to do some googling) to find out their contact info. It can be so different for every agent.
    I don't have difficulty keeping up with e-mail, mostly. But I'm big on the delete key. LOL Answer the e-mail or delete it. I love that post Hyatt did about keeping the inbox orderly.

  60. lexcade on February 24, 2010 at 5:52 AM

    >lacking guidelines would be like a job posting lacking qualifications. if people can't read or respect them, they don't need to be approaching the person or company who posted them.

    but there are always exceptions to every rule, i suppose…

  61. Rachel on February 24, 2010 at 5:14 AM

    >Following the guidelines is the very easiest part of the whole book-writing process. I find it relieving to have such explicit instructions after spending so much time trying to lasso the story.

  62. RefreshMom on February 24, 2010 at 4:51 AM

    >I have always said the most important thing I learned in school was to follow the directions. That started in kindergarten. The most valuable thing I got from college was learning to give each instructor what they wanted. Seems elementary, but it's a useful skill in any number of grown-up life situations. I'm guessing that those who have trouble with submission guidelines had trouble with similar instructions in school.

    Frankly, I've always liked have specific guidelines/parameters to work within. It actually simplifies things and reduces the amount of guesswork involved in the process.

    And I disagree with Mr. Fish. I know several agents personally and don't believe any of them operate with the degree of ego he describes. Whether in our jobs or our homes or ministry or writing, we all set up the systems that work best for us. And we have to adapt to other's systems when there's something we want/need from them. I don't know why we should expect anything different from agents.

  63. Timothy Fish on February 24, 2010 at 3:46 AM

    >I agree that guidelines are necessary, but I think all agents should have the same set of guidelines. There should either be some organization that defines the guidelines or there should be a defacto set of guidelines somewhere that we all agree to follow.

    I know agents love to think that they are the only one and that they are at the top of the author's short list, but the fact is that authors send information to many agents and what is good enough for one ought to be good enough for another. Even so, the author has to spend time reading each set of guidelines, tailoring the form material to match the guidelines and then send it off, when 9 times out of 10, the author is expecting to receive a form rejection, at best.

  64. Adam Heine on February 24, 2010 at 3:33 AM

    >Great post, Rachelle. I'd figured some of this stuff, but it's nice to have it all laid out like this.

    I do find it slightly difficult to follow the guidelines, but it's not anyone's fault. The difficulty comes in personalizing 2 to 10 query packages at once and keeping track of who wants what and who I've already sent stuff to, etc, etc.

    I can do it. But I worry every time that I'll accidentally follow Agent B's guidelines while e-mailing Agent A, or that I'll address the letter "Dear Agent C" by accident.

  65. Abigail on February 24, 2010 at 2:47 AM

    >I love it when there's specific information. It gives me an idea what they want and what they are looking for when it comes to queries, etc. I'm the type that if I don't know if it's something that they want, I start second guessing myself and wonder if I made a mistake or not. If I have specific information, then I'm good and I know that I won't be making a mistake.

  66. Amalia T. on February 24, 2010 at 2:41 AM

    >As far as guidelines go, this is how I feel: ANY AND ALL information agents can give me to tell me what THEY want, as exactly as possible, helps me to target them more effectively and gives me a leg up in a query letter. If I know exactly what they want, I can deliver. NOT having guidelines would be ridiculous– then I would have NO IDEA if what I was sending was what that agent needed from me. It would leave me feeling as if I were shouting into the wind, hopelessly.

    Give me guidelines, and I will follow them and be glad!

  67. Anonymous on February 24, 2010 at 2:12 AM

    >This can be solved. How about agent-agents?

    Query an agent representing an agent.

    Then there can be agent-agent blogs and books on how to land an agent-agent.

  68. Anne Lang Bundy on February 24, 2010 at 2:10 AM

    >Authors come to agents asking them to put their hearts into works which are meaningful to the authors, but with which the agents are unfamiliar.

    It seems the very least authors can do is respect each agent enough to become familiar with the specific guidelines and follow them to the letter. If there's a good reason for an author to not comply with a guideline, then an acknowledgement of that guideline with a succinct explanation for going outside of it is also appropriate.

    In what other business would people ask for so much of a person's time without respecting it?