Thursday, March 9, 2017

What NOT To Do When Submitting to An Agent

by Tessa Emily Hall @TessaEmilyHall

I’ve worked at Hartline Literary Agency for a little over a year now—first as an intern for Cyle Young, then I began to work with him as a Jr. Agent. Learning about this side of the industry has been enlightening, to say the least. Although I’m primarily a writer at heart, the publishing process is fascinating to me as well. It’s thrilling to witness the multiple stages that a book undertakes along its path to publication.

My favorite part of this business, however, is helping other writers further their career and potentially play a role in the unfolding of their dreams.

My least favorite part? Having to say “no”. Yet that’s a required task of the process. Although it’s tough, writers often make it a bit easier when they neglect to follow simple yet vital submission guidelines.

If you want to increase your chances of signing with an agent and make it easier for them to give you a “yes”, be careful not to make any of these common mistakes…

Here’s what NOT to do when submitting to an agent:
  • Don’t send your query letter in an email that’s addressed to more than one agent. We received a submission like this recently, which was disheartening because the writer’s platform was attention-worthy. Unfortunately, the email was automatically deleted. 
  • Don’t tell the agent that God has given you this story, He told you it’ll become a best-seller, or that you’re meant to submit to this particular agent, etc. Yes, this may spark the agent’s attention, but not in the way you’d hoped. In fact, it’s almost seen as a form of manipulation and will most likely result in an automatic “delete” as well. 
  • Don’t misspell the agent’s name or confuse them with another agent who represents another genre. Double check the facts and your “to” field before you hit the send button.
  • Don’t boast about your book or writing credentials. (E.g., “This is definitely going to be the next best-seller! It’s similar to The Hunger Games, but better.”) It’s fine to come across as confident; in fact, doing so will be a plus. However, there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance.
  • In your query, don’t tell the agent all about your writing dream—how you’ve been writing since you were a kid, how you began writing this book five years ago and now you’re SO excited to find the perfect agent to represent this project! Yes, agents do love to help writers’ dreams come true. But they aren’t going to represent you for the sole purpose of helping your dream come to pass. 
  • Don’t nag. Resist the urge to send them email after email asking if they’ve received your submission or why they’re taking forever to respond. Respect their time. Their first priority is given to their clients. It’s important to learn, as an aspiring author, the value of patience. The entire publishing process moves at a turtle’s pace. Keep this in mind as you begin to submit to agents, and be prepared for lengthy waiting seasons. 
  • Don’t set all of your hopes on only one agent. Of course, it’s not wrong to have a dream agent, but keep a good head on your shoulders when you submit. If they send you a rejection, don’t let this keep you from further pursuing other agents. 
  • Don’t write your query letter in fancy font/colors in hopes of standing out in the midst of the slush pile. You may stand out, sure, but probably not in a positive way!

Here’s what TO do when submitting to an agent:
  • Follow submission guidelines which are typically listed on their website. 
  • Research the agent to make sure they’re legit. 
  • Write a concise query letter that piques interest. 
  • Remain professional and respect their time. 
  • Prove that you’ve done your research and are familiar with the type of clients/genre they represent. Side note: There’s a difference between research and stalking. ;) In the query, include why you chose to submit to them and why you’d like to work with them. 
  • Include your platform specifics in the query. Are you actively working to build your online presence? What are your numbers—followers and stats? Platform is a huge selling point when it comes to garnering interest of both an agent and a publisher. 

Bottom line: 
Research is vital. Take your time. Don’t risk a negative impression for the sake of seeking representation ASAP. Yes, the rules might be overwhelming, but failure to follow them just might cost you your writing dream!

What’s the most surprising to you on this list? Have you made one of these mistakes when submitting to an agent?

What NOT To Do When Submitting to An Agent - @TessaEmilyHall (Click to Tweet)

Tips on submitting to a literary agent form @TessaEmilyHall (Click to Tweet)

Tessa Emily Hall writes inspirational yet authentic YA fiction to show teens they’re not alone. Her passion for shedding light on clean entertainment and media for teens lead her to a career as a Jr. Agent at Hartline Literary Agency, YA Acquisitions Editor for Illuminate YA (LPC Books imprint), and Founder/Editor of The debut novel she penned at 16-years-old, PURPLE MOON (LPC Books) was a Selah 2014 Finalist. Her second YA novel, UNWRITTEN MELODY, released with Clean Reads fall 2016.

When Tessa’s fingers aren’t flying 116 WPM across the keyboard, she can be found speaking to teens, decorating her insulin pump, and acting in Christian films. She writes in a small town nestled between the Blue Ridge Mountains and Southeastern coast. Her favorite way to procrastinate is by connecting with readers on social media (@tessaemilyhall); her blog, Christ is Write; and website:


  1. Tessa, Great article. Since I began reading for an agent I have seen all of these. I rejected a great manuscript, the writer had a large platform. His mistake? He sent it to fifty different agents at once. Recently I read a proposal, "God wants this book published, The Holy Spirit led me to you. It will be a Best Seller." The person did not have a Facebook, Instagram or Twitter account, nor did the person follow submission guidelines. I've learned that Agents are not being mean. If a writer cannot follow submission guidelines how are they going to take constructive criticism from an editor or their agent. Thanks again for your insight.

    1. Exactly! Disregarding the guidelines shows a lack of respect for the agent and their time. There’s a reason the guidelines are set in place; it’s not to force writers to jump through a ton of hoops, but so agents can analyze the project and see if it would be the right fit for them. Plus, abiding by the “rules” automatically tells the agent which writers have done their research and are professional. Thanks for commenting!


  2. Good morning, Tessa. Question here--I've been working on trying to understand 'platform'. I started out on this journey of platform with the idea it was what a writer was interested in, what piqued their interest. I tuned it up into what they were passionate about. Lately, however I've read it just means how many followers a writer has on their social media. :( I'm in deep trouble here. I have two followers, so my platform is? Two? LOL I know I need to put more emphasis on my blog and writer's page, and as my grandma used to say, I need to beat the bushes to drum up business, but rats, two? This was helpful any way. Thanks a bunch. Donevy~

    1. Hi Donevy! Platform is the combined readership a writer has established through social media and speaking events. So yes, this is technically numbers, however it’s important for the writer to have an engaged readership. In other words, numbers alone don’t do justice. Anyone can purchase fake followers on social media. What agents and publishers search for are writers who are active on social media, target their core readership, and interact with those readers on a regular basis. Publishers will often reject writers simply because they do not have a social media presence or they’re not active on it.

      Here’s a blog post (and video) I wrote on the importance of platform and how writers can build one:

      Edie’s book, “Connections”, helped me build my Twitter and FB following tremendously. I highly recommend it. ;) Here’s the link:


  3. Thank you for a very valuable article. I'm a novice Indie Author, looking for a traditional publishing platform and was invited to submit my work for review and publishing consideration with a top notch publisher��⚓��. I made just about every mistake listed in your article because of my lack of knowledge�� I will learn from my mistake and press on�� thank you again.