05/30/2012 11:38 am ET

Publishing Tips: How To Follow Up With A Literary Agent

From Writer's Relief staff:

It’s hard to be patient when you’ve sent out a query letter and still haven’t heard back from your literary agent of choice after a few months. How long should you wait to check in? What’s the best way to follow up? Is it even worth the time to do so?

While you should always follow specific agent guidelines when given, those are not always available. For cases in which no guidelines are available or other exceptions come in to play, here are our thoughts on how to make contact while remaining professional and appropriate:

Is it okay to send a manuscript with a request for a signature upon delivery?
No. Don’t make a literary agent sign for your letter. There are ways to get delivery confirmation without a signature; ask your local post office or other courier.

Is it okay to ask a literary agent to confirm immediately that he or she received a query letter, proposal, or book manuscript?
Generally speaking, no—it’s not okay to follow up a query with a simultaneous request for confirmation of receipt. Of course, this poses problems for writers. More and more literary agents who accept email queries are adopting policies of replying only to queries that they’re interested in. So what do you do then?

If you’ve got an assertive personality and are determined to follow up (even if the agent’s guidelines say not to), send a polite email asking for confirmation that your query was received. Make sure you’re being clear that you simply want to know that it got through—not that you’re impatiently waiting for your big break. Hopefully, the agent will either confirm that you’ve been rejected or ask you to resubmit. But it’s definitely not a good idea to follow up a query with a request for receipt confirmation. It’s bad form.

What is the ideal amount of time to wait before following up with a literary agent?
We’re writers ourselves, so we know what it’s like to be itching to get a response. But put yourself in the agent’s shoes: If you’re getting 500+ query letters a month, impatient people are more likely to annoy than impress.

A lot of literary agents have guidelines on their site, stating how long they’d like you to wait before following up. If there are no instructions, however, try to be as patient as possible. Once you decide to push them, that impression of you will be embedded in their mind when they do get around to reading your letter.

Are there extenuating circumstances that make it okay to send a follow-up?
If you have competition for your book, this is the best circumstance to prompt a follow-up. It’s more appropriate to say, “I’m following up with you because another agent has offered me a contract, and I wanted to see if you’ve looked at the project yet,” than, “I’m feeling antsy and want you to drop what you’re doing and get to my book.” Read more: What To Do When A Literary Agent Requests Your Manuscript.

What medium is best for following up with a literary agent?
Email is always your best bet. It’s rarely appropriate to call, and stopping by in person, uninvited, can make you look rude. When you do send a follow-up email, be polite and brief. Instead of putting something like “My book,” be specific with your subject line: “Joe Writer, Follow-up, The Case Of The Missing Facts.”

What’s your experience with follow-ups?

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