The Ethics of Proposing to More Than One Person!


The Ethics of Proposing to More Than One Person!

You’d never consider proposing marriage to more than one person at a time. However. In literary circles, it’s the norm to propose a book idea to multiple agents at a time. At first, that seemed illogical to me, even downright scandalous. Why not just pick “the agent!” and go for it? Well. It’s a time thing. If I only sent out one query letter, to one agent, and waited for a response, I could be ninety years old before I found the right agent! I’m patient. But I’m not THAT patient.


Simultaneously submitting query letters, in batches of six or ten seems to be the norm. Pick ten or so agents, send to them, then wait a few weeks to see the response. If you don’t get any interest, send ten more. With each batch, reread your query letter. Tighten it. Write it better! Then send it out again.

Chuck Sambuchino Writer’s Digest, says, “Don’t Give Up Until You’ve Queried 80 Agents or More.”

Literary Agent, Janet Reid, says, “My answer is simple: 100 queries at least.”

Kristine Carlson Asselin, posted a great list on WritersRumpus, showing 15 authors and the numbers of query letters they sent before they got agents.


The Biggest Mistakes

According to The Knot, among the biggest mistakes made when proposing to a person are asking empty handed, jumping the gun, and not waiting for the right moment. It’s interesting that the same things apply when an author proposes her next book to an agent.

  1. Don’t propose empty-handed. (Some flowers and a ring are a must!) If you’re ready to query, you’d better have your book proposal written and ready to go. Nothing worse than an agent saying, “Lovely. Send me your proposal.” And you are like, ummm.
  2. Jumping the Gun (Too early, man! Give me some time to get to know you better) If you think you are ready to propose, you should know your agent. Do your homework. I write memoir, so I’d better not be sending queries out to agents who represents YA or Cookbooks. Just saying.
  3. The Right Moment (The question is burning a hole in your pocket and you just blurt it out!) Don’t just blurt that query letter out, hone it to perfection! Read it. Reread it. Have mentors read it. NO typos! Look professional and you’ll be treated professionally.

Making a List, Checking it Twice

I’m making a list of agents that I’d like to work with. I started by looking at the acknowledgement sections of some of my favorite memoirs. Authors often thank their agents by name. I love everything Abigail Thomas writes. She’s represented by Darhansoff & Verrill Literary Agency, with agent Churck Verrill. So, you bet. That agency and agent are going on my wish list.

I adore Lauren Winner’s writing and books. Carol Mann Agency. Researching their site, I notice that agent Joanne Wyckoff represents Anne Lamott and Sven Birkerts! Yup. Going on the wish list, too.

Besides looking in the backs of books, I’ve started following literary agencies and agents on Twitter and Instagram and Facebook to learn about them. When in doubt, do the research.

I’m not quite ready to pop the big question. I’m still searching prospective suitors. I’d love to hear any of your literary courtship stories. Do Tell! 

Many thanks to Kris Kandel for her lovely “You’re the ONLY fish in the Lake for Me” photo. 





Jill Kandel
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