Thursday, May 01, 2008

How Much to Tell

I get a lot of questions about how much to tell an agent. If an agent previously reviewed your material and liked it enough to ask you to keep her in mind for other work, should you remind her of this rejection? If your work is currently under consideration at a publisher, should you let agents know? If your full has been requested by another agent, should you let agents know? If you’ve received an offer from either an agent or publisher, should you let agents know? And last, if you have received and accepted an offer of representation, how should you let the others know?

So here are my guidelines. Not rules, guidelines. I’m sure many of you will be able to tell me that other agents have told you differently and that might very well be true. Agents are people too and have different opinions on many things—which is one of the reasons this business is so subjective. Ultimately, whatever you decide, you need to go with your gut and your own level of comfort. Some of you might feel the need to share more than others, and that’s fine. Ultimately there’s no right or wrong. However, since I’ve been asked these questions by numerous readers, I’m going to give you my opinion. After all, that’s really what this blog is about, my opinion.

I think that any time an agent expresses interest in you or your work, you need to remind her of that. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with rejection. You need to learn that to survive in this business and agents know that too. Hey, agents send out work that gets rejected all the time. It’s part of the business and doesn’t mean we think any less of any of our authors. In fact, it usually just makes us more determined. So when you are resubmitting to an agent, whether it’s something fresh or a revision she helped influence, you need to let her know. Your name might not be enough to spark her memory, but reminding her that she asked to see more of your work will. It’s all about networking, and this is your way of using that connection.

Getting a request for a full manuscript from a publisher is a big deal, and if you have one, I think it’s important to let agents know. A couple of caveats, though: I think it’s good to know how you got that request. A red flag will go up if an agent is led to believe that you’ve been submitting to publishers as well as agents. However, if after reading your work in a contest a publisher made a request, or after a pitch appointment, that’s a different thing. The second caveat is who the publisher is. An e-publisher will not impress agents in the same way a major New York house will. So my advice: tell an agent you’re under consideration only if it’s a major house.

I would not, however, tell agents that other agents have requested the full. It’s not necessary and can backfire. Some might just wait around to see if an offer comes through, and others might just get annoyed because, remember, we all want to believe we are the first and only on your list. Let us live that fantasy. When an offer comes through from an agent, that’s the time to get everyone jumping. Now the ball is in your court and, well, I’ve written many times on how to handle this. . . .

And finally, what to do when you’ve accepted that offer of representation from your dream agent and need to notify other agents that your work is no longer under consideration? Email, snail mail, it’s up to you. All you need to do is send a polite note thanking them for their consideration, but letting them know that you are pulling the work (include title) you sent on such and such date from consideration. There’s no need to let anyone know who you accepted representation from, although if you want to tell, we are all dying of curiosity.

Hopefully this will help answer those sticky etiquette questions so many of you have.



Anonymous said...

Really? You don't want me to tell you if another agent is looking at the same book? Wow. If all of us writers waited on each individual agent to get back to us before querying anyone else, it would take years to find representation for one book!

I thought telling the agent was the polite and correct thing to do. Wouldn't it be worse if I kept that information to myself and then told you weeks later that I had received another offer on the book? I think that would be much worse!

Tiffany Clare said...

THanks for the thoughts on this. I always wondered about proper etiquette. The last thing I want to do is offend anyone.

Unknown said...

Like Jessica said, this is one person's opinion, and what she prefers. In my experience submitting partials and fulls, if an agent wants to know if the MS has been requested elsewhere, they'll ask. Some also explicitly say "If you get another offer of representation let me know before you accept it."

It can come off really presumptuous when you start using numbers or naming names, saying "X other agents are also considering the full and X other agents have the partial".

Anonymous said...

Your advice makes a lot of sense, and I generally agree with it. But recently, I experienced two situations which required different handling. An agent requested a full, and the first thing she asked me was whether anyone else was looking at it. Since I had mentioned in the original query letter and the partial transmittal letter that it was a simultaneous submission, I confirmed that others had partials but no fulls. A few days later, I got a request for a full from another agent, so I did contact the first one and let her know. So, now with two fulls out, a third agent asks for an exclusive when requesting a partial. Part of me was ecstatic, and part of me was starting to panic. I wrote back that I'd love to send the partial but couldn't grant the exclusive because two fulls were already out. She responded that she was still interested in the partial.
As you said, you just have to go with your gut. I did, but I was scared to death that one of these agents would get annoyed and lose interest.
My question to you is this: Since none of this agent interest guarantees an offer of representation, how would you feel as an agent, if I sent you a query letter? I obviously wouldn't mention that any of the above was going on.
Sorry this post is so long.

Melanie Hooyenga said...

Great post! Thanks for the information.

Anonymous said...

Hi Anonymous--

I think you may have misunderstood. Firstly, BookEnds doesn't ask for exclusives, for the same reason you gave. We just don't think it's fair to draw out the process any longer than it already is. If, however, you get an offer from one of those other agents, we do prefer to be given notice so that we may have a chance to consider the book before you accept the other offer. We understand that it's a personal choice for that author to make, and sometimes he/she will go with their gut and accept the offer and withdrawal it from our consideration. We respect those decisions, too.

Diane --

You responded exactly right. You certainly shouldn't withhold the information if an agent asks if it's with other agents. And in the case of an exclusive request, you definitely need to be upfront.

If it's not an exclusive and the agent doesn't specifically ask, however, it's probably better to keep other requests to yourself.

Chris Redding said...

It seems that politeness is the key. At the partial stage do they need to know others are looking at it? Probably not. If they don't ask, they don't feel the need to know.
One doesn't often sell on a partial.
At the full stage, I would go for full disclosure.

Elyssa Papa said...

I was wondering about most of these too, so this is great info.

Just one question do you inform agents who you have queried (but haven't responded) if you get an offer from another agent?

BookEnds, A Literary Agency said...

I would inform anyone and everyone who you think you might like to represent you that you have an offer. Even if it's only a query you haven't heard back from yet.


Elyssa Papa said...

Thanks Jess for answering this question for me.

Anonymous said...

"When an offer comes through from an agent, that’s the time to get everyone jumping....

I’ve written many times on how to handle this. . . ."

Can you link to this? Only one post is tagged "offer", and it deals with publishers' offers, not agents' offers. Thanks.