I’d had several phone conversations with a potential client and we were really “clicking.” I’d made her an offer of representation, knowing she’d sent her proposal to several other agents at the same time. She expressed that she wanted to say “yes” to me. But she hadn’t heard back from the other agents, so she wasn’t sure what that meant. Were they not interested since they hadn’t responded? Had they simply not gotten to her query yet? Shouldn’t she at least wait to see what they had to say? But what if they never got back to her—how long should she wait?
It was a question of both professional etiquette and wise decision-making.
I advised her to send a brief email to the other agents, politely reminding them that she’d sent them XYZ Proposal. Then say something like, “I wanted to let you know that I’ve received an offer of representation from a literary agent. Would you like a chance to respond to my proposal before I finalize the arrangement with the other agent?” This should solicit a response from the others fairly quickly. They’ll probably either say, “Hold it! I’d like a chance to discuss this with you!” Or they’ll give their blessing for her to accept the offer she has, and wish her the best.
Fairness and common courtesy can help you make the right move in almost any situation. When in doubt, err on the side of the most respectful thing to do.
The same thing applies if you’re talking to publishers instead of agents. If you’ve sent out a simultaneous submission and get an offer, you’ll want to give the other publishers a chance to respond before accepting the offer. This is not only fair and courteous, it gives you a chance to see if there’s going to be any competition or bidding over your manuscript.
Eventually you’ll make a decision, and then once again, you should follow up with the agents or publishers whom you didn’t choose to work with. Send an email, thanking them for their consideration and letting them know your project is no longer available, and that you’ve accepted an offer. Usually there’s no point in being evasive about it—feel free to let people know exactly which agent you’ve chosen, or which publisher.
Think of it this way: In any situation in which you’re not sure of protocol, be polite, treat people with respect, and avoid making enemies. Mind your manners, just like your mama always told you.
The author I told you about? She let the other agents know she had an offer. As I suspected would happen, she received another offer for representation, so she had to make a choice. She ended up making a fantastic decision, and we’ve been partners and friends ever since.