Sending out to Agents – Three at a time or Scattergun?

When I ‘finished’ my first novel (I use the word ‘finished’ because it sure as hell isn’t – that’s all too clear to me now), I sent the book out to three agents at a time. Standard rejection letters came back.

One competition shortlisting later, one agent liked it enough to meet me and talk through changes. She didn’t take me on, so I made further changes and scattergunned loads of other agents with it. One of them requested the whole book, but I didn’t hear from her again. Ouch!

More rejections piled up, this time with compliments thrown in. ‘It rose to the top of the pile.’ ‘You’re talented’, that kind of thing. But it was a bit like someone finishing with you. ‘I like you; it’s just I’m not in love with you.’ I emailed my friend and soon-to-be published author who’d read the first chapters of the book and loved them. (Believe me, she’s not a good liar). ‘Maybe it’s a bit crap,’ I said. ‘Because I just don’t get why no one’s taken it on.’

Then last week, my answer arrived. I emailed an agent who seemed to be looking for just my kind of book: a moral dilemma in an unusual setting. Fifteen minutes later, the agent requested the entire book then contacted me to say she was ‘really enjoying it.’ She hasn’t taken me on. However, she does want to read it again if I’m able to transform it.

Her email was a turning point because she was so honest, so detailed and so helpful. And boy, am I grateful because there’s not that many people who’ll be honest about your book. ‘That’s lovely, darling.’ (Your parents.) ‘You want me to read it again?!’ (Your husband.) ‘Oh it’s brilliant, just brilliant.’ (Your friends, who’re actually thinking, Jesus, that was hardgoing.)

So why has no one taken my little book on yet? Because it’s too blooming bleak. But it does have ‘ENORMOUS POTENTIAL.’ Yes, ‘ENORMOUS POTENTIAL!’

I’m mulling again, researching, thinking, planning, locating my funny bone. And then ding-ding, there will be a Round Four to this book. There’s just a small matter of fine-tuning my second book, oh, and earning a living. And as for firing your manuscript off to loads of agents at the same time, I wouldn’t bother. Do some careful research on what agents are looking for then send out to your chosen few, I reckon. If they give you some helpful feedback, act on it and send it out again.

* Post Script: I wrote a third book and this time, I got an agent and a publishing deal. My debut novel The Maid’s Room was published in hardback by Hodder & Stoughton on 16th November 2017.

10 thoughts on “Sending out to Agents – Three at a time or Scattergun?

  1. Hi Fiona, great post! It’s so funny, I’m exactly at the same stage. Some agents showing interest, asking for chapters etc. and then the gentle let-down (or no reply at all). One also wanted to see an extract of my WIP. I’ve had some encouraging feedback but unlike you no close contact and no roadmap for what I could do differently. What surprises me is how time consuming and draining the whole submitting process is. I thought I would be firing off one a day when the time came but I’m doing well if it’s one a fortnight. Finding the right person to approach is the tricky part.
    I went to see Donal Ryan give a talk and reading recently and he was a great advocate of the scattergun approach – said he approached “every agent in the English-speaking world”!
    Keep up the good work,

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Clare, Thanks so much for commenting. Best of luck with your book and keep going. I totally agree – I find sending out the most difficult part and when a rejection comes in, I feel rubbish too! I just keep picking myself up and going back in for more, and hoping that one day, it might happen. All the best to you, Fiona


  2. Oh dear… I have to admit I am not there yet but it’s good to see you being so determined despite the rejection letters. Have you considered self-publishing where you can polish and make all the decisions for yourself? Good luck with it all! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, definitely going to consider self-publishing! It’s great to get people’s opinions – so many people think I should just stick with what I’ve got, but I do think my first book could be better – probably because I started writing it at the end of 2010, and my writing style has changed a lot since then! 🙂


      • I like to think that rejection letters make us better writers. I know it’s cheesy and I know I will probably cry when the 1st one comes in but you seem as determined as I am and I know that as long as those letters come with some constructive feedback, then we have to work on it.
        In my humble opinion, a novel can always be better, even after it’s published! 😀

        Liked by 1 person

      • A rejection letter ruins my day, but the next day I keep on writing. I’m not giving up. Ever. And I agree – even published novels can be better – the ones that cannot be improved are masterpieces!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Just to say, an agent called in the full MS for my second novel. I sent it and I waited. No reply. A year later I joined twitter and posed the question as to whether I should have chased it up and received a unanimous ‘ FFS YES!’ So, I emailed the agent and they replied that they had not seen/found/read it and asked me to resubmit. In the end they decided it ‘wasn’t for them’ ( fair enough), but during the intervening year the novel had changed, as the result of what I thought was a rejection, in to something they didn’t want. I really should have chased it up earlier because I think the outcome might have been a bit more positive. As it was I hated the bloody thing by that point and haven’t looked at it since.
    Also, my first MS got as far as a desk at Random House where it was rejected for being ‘unremittingly bleak!’ A rejection I am actually quite proud of : ) although it hurt at the time.
    So yes, I agree with you, submitting is arduous and frustrating – the fact you have 3 novels on the bubble is pretty impressive and shows guts. There were 7 years between novel 1&2 for me, I was that traumatised : )
    Best of luck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for commenting, Barbara. I did chase up, but no reply. It seems more difficult than ever to get a novel published, so I’m going to experiment with my first book and see whether I can make the voices stronger and whether it works with a more uplifting ending. After that, I’ll probably self publish – what I want most is for people to read my stuff and have a reaction really. I’m getting a bit tired of it being stuck in my computer! I know what you mean about feeling like you hate the thing – honestly, short stories are my saviour. They either work or they don’t, and then you move on! Best of luck to you too.


  4. Great post! Wish I’d seen this a few months ago. I was in this position, wondering who would take on a novel about dysfunctional, angry people. Yes, it was pretty bleak too! I got a pile of rejections, then a few compliments, and then beyond all hopes, a yes. They are out there.

    If you are getting positive feedback just keep going. Don’t give up. I wish you every success!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for commenting and for your encouragement. Positive things are happening for my book at the moment – hopefully I’m getting nearer to a yes too! Massive congrats on your news – what a feeling!


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