Monday, July 11, 2011

You Have an Offer

I've always said that when you get an offer of representation, or from a publisher, for that matter, you need to use that offer as leverage to find the agent who is best for you and your work. What that means is that when you get an offer you should contact every other agent who has your work, let them know of the offer, and give them a time by which they need to respond to you. I'm here today to make some amendments to that original treatise.

I still think one of the most important things an author can do when getting an offer of representation is consider the offer carefully and interview as many other agents as possible. Remember, the agent who is right for your mother, best friend, bestselling author, or sister's husband's uncle's half-brother is not necessarily the agent that's right for you. However, I also think when talking to other agents and leveraging your offer you need to do it in a way that makes sense and that is productive.

Previously I said contact every other agent "who has your work." My amendment to that is that you should contact "every other agent you haven't heard from yet," which includes those who still have queries. Agents read at different paces. Some read faster, or some might go through a spurt this week of query reading while others were planning to do that next week. If an agent hasn't yet requested material it doesn't mean she's not going to, it could mean she hasn't gotten to your query. Therefore, don't be afraid to contact her to let her know of your offer. In the past six months I offered on three different books when the authors notified me, and I hadn't even gotten to their queries yet. In fact, in some cases they sent a query with the offer because they wanted to hear from me.

Previously I said contact "every other agent," which I'm amending to "every other agent who you are interested in having as your agent." There have been times when I've gotten the distinct feeling that authors with offers were letting every agent know of the offer, asking every agent to spend time reading the manuscript, when in actuality they already knew exactly what decision they were going to make. I think the saying goes "don't waste my time and I won't waste yours." I do think it's important that you contact agents to leverage the offer and get to know, by talking to them, if they would be right for your work, and I realize that you might contact people, get an offer, and go with the first one anyway. That's okay, but if you have an offer from Agent A and proposals out with Agent B and Agent C and queries with Agent D and Agent F (you've already been rejected by Agent E), you should definitely contact them all. Unless you already know that although Agent C is a heavy hitter, you've met her and really didn't click. Then why bother Agent C? Let her off the hook now and simply pull your submission from consideration. Don't make things harder on yourself by wasting your own time, either. If Agent C does offer now you'll need to talk to her on the phone and hold an interview, when you've already decided she's not your speed.

A couple of years ago I made an offer to an author I was really excited about. Stupid thing to say really because I'm always "really excited" about every author I offer to. Anyway, she too was excited, but had the proposal with a couple of other agents and wanted to give them time to consider. Of course I thought that was a smart plan and told her I would wait. The next day she called me back to tell me she was an idiot (which she's not). I was her dream agent and talking with me only cemented that further. Rather than waste anyone else's time she had simply contacted the other agents to let them know she had accepted another offer. Yay for me! Now, in cases like this, when a submission is pulled, agents always get a little annoyed, but I think truthfully we actually feel left out (like we didn't get invited to the party), but you know what? I'd rather not get invited than be invited only because your mom made you invite me when I could have been at the mall with my real friends instead. Bad analogy, but I think you get what I'm saying.

And last, I'm sure I have said this before, but even if you only have a query out, contact the agent to let her know that you've accepted the offer and pull the query (if you don't want her to play). That way she won't get mad when she takes the time to read the query and request material, only to be told you accepted an offer a week ago. This way she's impressed with your professionalism, reads the query anyway, gets bummed that she missed out, and buys your book when it hits stores. Now you've made a professional contact, and we could all use more of those.

Jessica

45 comments:

wry wryter said...

This is really weird. I feel like the last two posts were written just for me and considering the date...jeez life is off the wall.

Steena Holmes said...

Would this also work for pieces you sent to an epublisher? Would they need to be the same novel you've submitted to both agent and epub?

Jessica Bell said...

May I ask what the best thing is to put into the subject line of an email which is to notify an agent of an offer elsewhere? What would get your immediate attention? Just "offer of representation"?

Kristi Dosh said...

I recently went through this, and because of an earlier post of yours I read on this subject, I did contact all the other agents I was interested in working with. I ended up with four offers, the last coming from someone on my "dream agent" list.

That being said, I want to add one thing I learned. When you contact the other agents you haven't heard from yet, contact them at their direct email, not their query email. The agent I ended up choosing almost didn't get to my proposal in time, because I sent the "I have an offer" email to her query email address. She was behind by a couple of weeks, so she didn't see my "I have an offer" email until the day before I had set as my deadline to make a decision. Luckily, she was able to take a look at my proposal and offer.

Both she and another agent I sent the "I have an offer" email to said it would have been appropriate to send to their direct email address, and the other agent said it would have even been acceptable to call the agency.

Also, to answer Steena's question, I read somewhere to put the mention of the offer in the subject line. Mine looked like this: "Update: Query: Book Title (offers of representation received)".

Elaine said...

Thank you. That was very helpful.

Kristi Dosh said...

My apologies, the last part of my answer was for Jessica, not Steena.

Jessica Bell said...

Thank you, Kristi! :o)

Been There Done That said...

I've read this advice on other agents' blogs. And I have to say I can see the advantage to the agent, but not to the writer, of taking the time to contact all the agents who haven't troubled themselves to read the manuscript yet.

Here's the thing. You don't know whether an agent is the right one for you till you work with her. Interviewing her isn't really going to tell you much.

K. Victoria Chase said...

Excellent post Jessica! I just received a 2-book contract from a publisher and will be contacting those who have passed on other queries.

Steena, great question. I would also like to know agent's thoughts on what holds more weight.

Loree Huebner said...

Thank you for this post.

Anonymous said...

"May I ask what the best thing is to put into the subject line of an email which is to notify an agent of an offer elsewhere? What would get your immediate attention? Just "offer of representation"?"

I think these are two excellent questions. As an author, I'd probably put "offer of representation" in the subject line and I'd wait a day or two. But I'd be aggressive about it, and wouldn't wait too long.

Donna K. Weaver said...

Excellent information.

Katie said...

Jessica, with regard to contacting agents who you're interested in possibly working with if you receive an offer, but you haven't contacted them already, what about if the reason you haven't contacted them yet is because they're on a query hiatus? Would the hiatus be "in effect" still if this scenario were to happen?

Kaleen said...

I read your previous post and the clarifications you made here were very helpful. Thankyou

BookEnds, LLC said...

Let me answer some of your questions.

Yes, if you would like an agent for an epublisher I think the same applies and yes, you need to show all competing agents the same work.

I would put "offer of representation" in the subject line. In the case of BookEnds, "query" or "submission" sends you straight to my query folder so simply, "offer of representation" should guarantee it gets read.

Anon 11:10 makes a good point. Most agents will want a deadline of sorts. Will you give them a week? Through the weekend?

Katie: I recently received almost this exact email from someone who hadn't queried me because I am closed to queries. I read it, fell in love with it and in fact we just closed a deal with a publisher.

--jhf

Stuart Land said...

Hi Jessica,

I'm in this exact situation now. When contacting other agents, do I just say I've been offered a contract or name the agency and show the contract?

Marlena Cassidy said...

This is awesomely useful information and thank you for sharing it.

I've never had to contact an agent before, so I found this post greatly informative and helpful if I ever do get the chance to search for an agent to work with. I only hope I meet someone as awesome as you.

BookEnds, LLC said...

Stuart:

There's no need to name the agency or show the contract. Letting others know you have an offer is enough.

-jhf

Nancy Adams said...

Thank you so much for such a helpful post.

I'm not in this situation yet, but here is another possible wrinkle:

What if you have 2 mss out, and they are in different subgenres (say, one is a historical mystery, the other an urban fantasy mystery). If you get an offer for the urban fantasy, should you contact the agents who have the historical mystery, too?

Thanks so much!

Katie said...

Thanks, Jessica, and congratulations!

Anonymous said...

"Anon 11:10 makes a good point. Most agents will want a deadline of sorts. Will you give them a week? Through the weekend?"

I would. My concern would be getting the agent's attention. You guys at Book Ends seem on top of things. But I've been through experiences where not all agencies are.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Been There Done That: I can see the advantage to the writer if he/she hasn't made a firm decision yet (ex: #2 most desired agent makes an offer of representation, but writer is still waiting to hear from #1). It could make a desired agent bump the writer's query up to the top of their priority list and make a decision faster. And this is definitely an advantage if you already have an offer from a publisher.

Here's the thing. You don't know whether an agent is the right one for you till you work with her. Interviewing her isn't really going to tell you much.
You could make that argument for any job, though. My boss couldn't have known for sure I was going to work out until I began my job, but made a best guess based on my interview. It's worked out fine for me so far, but I could have just had good interview skills and not been quite as adept at what I do once I began working. It's always a gamble, but at least an interview provides a little more information to consider.

Martha Ramirez said...

Very awesome post, Jessica. Thank you for sharing! And thanks Kristi Dosh too for the great info.

Carrie Butler said...

With every post, I feel like I can make better, more informed decisions regarding my career. As always, thank you. :)

Stephsco said...

Great information on how to keep things professional and to avoid potential miscommunication and drama. Work smarter not harder!

Cathleen Ross said...

If you get an opportunity to go conferences where agents hang out, it's a good idea to attend their talks or say hello. I know Jessica is a great agent because I've talked to her clients too.
Best
Cathleen ross

L.A. Freed said...

Maybe I'm old school, but I was under the impression you didn't submit simultaneously to agent/publishers unless they said they would accept that. And most don't like to. So I'm not sure how you'd have your mss out to so many different agents at the same time.

Alissa T. Hunter said...

Is an offer from a publishing house the same as having an offer on the table, even if it’s not from another agent?
That’s the pickle I’m in. I have an offer from a publishing house by a referral from an editor who worked at Random House in the past, but I really want an agent that can help a newbie author like me through the process. . .

Debra Lynn Lazar said...

First of all, I love the mall analogy. Secondly, great post!

My agent and I have amicably parted ways. As in life, sometimes the person you thought was "the one" simply isn't. That said, I wouldn't change a thing. This agent taught me a lot about the publishing biz, and we still keep in touch.

I feel fortunate to have experienced what having an agent "feels" like, and can't wait to (really!) find "the one."

BookEnds, LLC said...

Alissa:

Yes, that offer from a publishing house is the same. use it and find yourself an agent.

LA Freed:

What you're doing is offering unrequested exclusives and if you've read my blog at all you'll know that I strongly warn against this. Query (and submit) widely.

--jhf

Anonymous said...

What about agents that have politely rejected your initial query (but you really like them anyway?) Should you let them know you have an offer, or is that too presumptuous?

Candie Leigh said...

See, this is why I read your blog! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and wit with us.

Pam Calvert said...

Well, I read this a little late--I had no idea we needed to tell all parties, including people who don't respond to queries. I recently had this happen to me and I feel very bad that the agent who wanted to give me a call was out of the loop when I had an offer. We'd always been told to only tell those who are reading.

My advice to agents is to read thy queries! ;-)

lynnrush said...

Great advice here and great timing. The agency representing me abruptly closed its doors, two months before my debut novel releases (yeah, bad timing huh).

Then a few days ago I got a three book contract offer, and I have no agent. I was wondering how to word a "query" to a handful of agents I want to approach to represent my novels, along with the 3-book deal.

Might I just send a simple email explaining? Or do I send a query of the book that landed the 3-book offer?

Kerry Lonsdale said...

This is the first time I "heard" about this. And what great business etiquette, too! It was my understanding to only contact other agents with fulls or partials when an offer was received, not those with only a query letter I'm still hoping to hear from. Funny, how this makes so much sense.

And I think another follower also asked this, but what is the best subject heading in an email to get the agent's attention when there's a good chance he/she hasn't yet read the original query? Is "Offer of Representation" enough?

All best! K

P.I. Barrington said...

THANKYOU THANKYOU THANKYOU!! I never even considered these aspects and I consider myself at least a little professional! This is such a helpful, generous post from you--it really is appreciated!

Anonymous said...

As an agent, are you ever concerned that writers will lie about representation offers in order to get their query faster consideration? Do you have any way of checking to see if the writer's claim is legitimate and/or is it important that the writer tell you who the offer came from?

Melinda said...

So would you say waiting to query your top agent choices until the very end or that offer comes is smart or just plain silly?

The Original Drama Mama said...

I think your analogy was spot on, and thanks for the great advice, I hope for the need to apply it in the future ;)

Susan J. Berger said...

Congratulations to LynneRush on the three book offer. I am sure you will find a new agent. Thanks for the advice, Jessica. I am querying one agent at a time. Perhaps I should speed things up a bit. I do have a deal memo for a picture book. But the novel I am querying is adult. I think you only get to have one agent in the literary world, although this is not true in the acting world. So can you tell me if it's possible to have one agent for picture books and another agent for mid grade and adult novels?

Anonymous said...

Argh! I just withdrew my query from agents who had not replied, even though one only had the query three days. Honestly, I thought I was being courteous. I love the agent who offered, but I did ask for a week for another agent who has a partial to have time to respond.

Anonymous said...

To Susan J. Berger: I've read on different agents' blogs that you can have more than one agent if you are writing in different genres and the agents you are querying don't represent both. You'll need to be clear throughout the process with all agents involved. I can't remember where I read the posts, but a Google search on the subject might help. Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

I have a question simiiar to another "Anon" up there. What if you received a very kind, personalized rejection with an invite to re-sub from one of your dream agents? Do you let them know of the offer too or has that ship sailed?

Jeremy Bates said...

i just recently signed with a publisher... on their website, it said submissions only accepted by agents etc

i ignored that and it turned out okay! (i didnt have an agent and still dont)

my question is.... ive already signed the contract with them.... should i still look into getting an agent?

thanks!

TwinMom said...

I know I'm a little behind here - I found this post.

What if your dream agent has already rejected you?

There are also a large number of agents that don't bother contacting you if they aren't interested and if they are going to contact it's six or eight weeks after submission.

Is there a reason why I would contact an agent that probably rejected me (hence no contact) but not one that took the time to send me a form reject, or even a personalized rejection?

Thank you very much, this post was very informative.