When An Agent Offers to Rep You

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.

Eventually you’ll make a decision, and then you should follow up with the agents 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.

Do you have any questions about what to do when you receive an offer of representation? If you already have an agent, how did you respond when you got that call?

 

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  • http://deekrull.blogspot.com/ Dee Krull

    I think for me I would have a hard time remembering your wise words on what questions I should ask the agent. I have been searching agents since I started twitter and I have no idea how I would choose one over another aside from genera. I used a self publisher for my first book which just came out. I have started my second book in the series which is SiFi Fantasy and I would like to find an agent for that book. How do you choose?

  • http://byanyothernamejlb.blogspot.com/ J Larkin

    I really hope I wind up in a position to use this advice some day..! As it stands, my novel isn’t quite dolled up to the point where I’m ready to send it out. Soon!

    I do have a question in a similar vein, though. It might sound silly, so I apologize in advance.

    I am currently seeking representation for a picture book (as an author, not an author/illustrator). I know the demand for picture book texts is not high at the moment, so I’m not expecting much of a response.

    But if I DO land a representation deal, will I be expected to stick with that agent when my YA novel is ready? Is it considered uncouth to query other people with a different style of project when someone else has helped you into the publishing world?

    Again, sorry if this sounds silly–I know I’m not supposed to count my chickens before they hatch, but I would like to have a properly sized coop ready all the same. I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes because I’m going in blind.

    Thank you in advance!

    • http://www.jennysulpizio.com Jenny Lee Sulpizio

      J Larkin,

      I am in a similar situation in that I write for different genres. I have two self-published children’s picture books and am currently seeking representation for a few others through traditional means of publication.

      I also write Women’s Christian Non-fiction and recently obtained representation for my WIP (woot-woot!). Even though I have representation, my agent does not represent picture books and so I am still seeking an agent for those. It just depends what your soon-to-be-agent chooses to represent and what he/she does not. Make sense?

      Just thought I would throw in my .02 cents.

      Blessings,
      Jenny

    • http://www.rbharkess.co.uk R B Harkess

      I would say stick to Rachelle’s premis and do the most decent thing.
      From conversations I have had (sadly not first hand experience) what you are asking will depend on a number of things, not least of which what arrangement you first agree to with your agent. Common sense says that you offer anything to your own agent first. It will be up to him or her to say if they want to represent you in respect to it.
      The tricky bit will come if there is any clause in your agreement that says your agreement with your agent is exclusive – but I would not expect any agent who did not wish to represent you on a project elsewhere blocking you from offering it to another agent or publisher – or for staying your agent very long if they did :)

  • http://nancysthompson.blogspot.com/ Nancy S. Thompson

    Man, talk about a dream come true! Ahhh, if only… *big sigh*

    • http://creativitylifecoaching.blogspot.com Sherrie

      When I sent out my ms (that I ended up deciding was not “finished and polished) more than a year ago, I heard back from less than half of them so this may not be right or proper, but if so many do not respond to me, the writer, why should I give the agent a 2nd chance? I mean this IS a question, but I guess it is a rhetorical one. As they say “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” I think I would want to go with the agent who read my ms WITHOUT my having to say “Hey, someone else wants me. Do you still want a chance.”
      Am I so totally unethical?

      • http://nancysthompson.blogspot.com/ Nancy S. Thompson

        I, too, sent out my ms before it was really ready to agents who requested it. It is ready now. And now I have new opportunities.

        The 4 agents who read the less-than-fully-polished version were polite in that they all responded, even though it was a rejection. I only hope the few who have my super-polished version act in kind.

  • http://www.nancykimball.blogspot.com Nancy Kimball

    Rachelle, are offers for representation “gentleman’s agreements” (pardon the antiquated term) or do they result in actual signed contracts with clearly defined language and terms?
    I imagine it would be difficult to rescind a thank you notice your manuscript is no longer available to others, and I’m predisposed to want something of this magnitude in writing before relying on it. Is that unrealistic with regards to agent representation?

  • http://www.kathrynsheridankupanoff.com Kathry

    Actually I do have a related question, and it might have an obvious answer, but I wanted to make sure:

    When one agent requested a partial from me, she also asked that I notify her if another agent requests a partial. I sent off the partial, and at the time I didn’t have anyone else interested in my work. But if someone were to request, would I have to notify the first agent of the name of the second agent, or the literary agency? What’s the etiquette there?

    Same goes for offers of rep, I suppose. If someone were to offer a writer representation, should that writer let the other agents who have material from him/her who precisely the agent in question is?

    I’m sorry if this is a silly question; my gut tells me the writer should always keep it anonymous, but I truly don’t know the answer to this question.

    Thanks in advance! :)

  • http://theterrorland.blogspot.com/ The Terrorland group blogs

    Nice post! I’m sending this to writer Habib R. Sulemani who wrote a novel, The Terrorland, tracing the roots of global terrorism in the backdrop of the terror attack on the United States. Unfortunately, the manuscript was stolen before publication by the secret agencies—which declared it against the “national interest” of Pakistan… thus the writer become a victim of the ‘typical’ wrath of the almighty military establishment. They are trying to stop its publication in the country. The writer after three attacks on his life is living in solitary confinement for over 17 months.

  • Neil Ansell

    I would not have felt comfortable about querying lots of different agents at once. I carefully chose the one who seemed most appropriate by looking at client lists, and sent my query just to her.

  • http://www.janellrardon.com Janell Rardon

    Rachelle, what a timely post. I can’t thank you enough for this sage advice. I’m taking this to heart as I continue this journey as a Christian Author and Speaker. WOW. Sometimes it all gets so overwhelming. It is good to have someone come aside and offer guidance. Blessings.

  • http://www.wizardofotin.blogspot.com otin

    ….still waiting….lol

  • http://doubtingwriter.blogspot.com/ Jeffo

    >err on the side of the most respectful thing to do.

    >be polite, treat people with respect, and avoid making enemies.

    Great advice for pretty much every situation.

  • http://www.katieganshert.blogspot.com Katie Ganshert

    When you made the call to me, I did have my stuff out to one other agent, who I greatly admire and respect. However, the more I thought about it, the more I knew that I wanted YOU as my agent, even if this other agent offered me representation.

    I remember my husband asking: If this other agent offered to rep you, what would you do?

    And without even blinking, I said: Accept Rachelle’s offer.

    So instead of asking this other agent if she’d like to look at my stuff b/c I had an offer, I sent her an email thanking her for taking my stuff, but I received an offer from an agent I met and clicked with and am going to accept this offer. She replied back with a very gracious (and funny!) email congratulating me and telling me I won’t regret it – “Rachelle is great.” :)

  • http://www.bethziarnik.com Beth Ziarnik

    What you advise makes perfect sense, Rachelle.

    But I have another question (a bit off subject). What do you do when you don’t hear back and assume that it’s that it’s a pass?

    Is it time to politely thank the person for considering it? Or just let it go?

  • Kristi

    I wanted to add one thing. I almost found out the hard way that when you email agents to tell them you have an offer you should email their direct
    email and not their query email. I sent my update about having an offer on the table to the same email as the query and the agent I ended up with didn’t see it until hours before I said i was going to make my decision. She said it would have been appropriate to send it to her direct email, and advisable because she might be weeks behind in ready her query email address.

    • http://creativitylifecoaching.blogspot.com Sherrie

      But did these agents even give you their private e-mail? I mean if we don’t know how to contact them, are we obliged to do it anyway?

  • http://www.byannabanks.blogspot.com Anna Banks

    When I received an offer of rep, I notified the other agents who had, not only my MS, but my query as well. I’d read that most agents would prefer this. This resulted in an influx of requests for fulls, and ultimately 3 more offers of rep. To make things easier (on me, I guess), I gave everyone a deadline. I said, “I would appreciate your response by this date.” That way, if they didn’t respond, I would know it was a pass.

    I did have one agent email after the date specified and asked if I’d made a decision yet, as she’d been on vacation (I had). But usually, giving a date will simplify things. Try to be courteous and do give enough time for agents to make an informed decision about your work, though.

    Happy Monday!

  • http://tcavey.blogspot.com/ TC Avey

    I’m ready to have that kind of decision to make! Thanks for the advice on what to do when the situation occurs (positive thinking)!!!

  • http://thoughtsthatmove.blogspot.com/ Wendy

    The email…I generally freaked out (in a good way), responding with an overwhelming yes. I had no doubt. And I’d been extremely selective, querying very few agents. After I read the email I remember phoning loved ones and something vague about corralling my children inside because they were screaming their mom got an agent and the wee one was in the buff. :D The call to follow…pure craziness. Without power after a hurricane. Two cell phones with few bars. Had my notes outside because that was the only place either phone would work at all. But as had been the case in the past, I loved connecting with my new agent.
    I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again…you rock!
    ~ Wendy

    • http://www.kristenjoywilks.com/blog Kristen Joy Wilks

      Oh my goodness! This sounds just like our house…but without the the agent calling. Good to see that there are mom’s of wonderful rowdy little ones that get some writing done too. I have 3 boys ages 3,5, and 7 and they are great. May God bless you today and may some of those blessing not involve a household pet and peanutbutter.

  • http://www.chattykelly.com Kelly Combs

    Congratulations to you both on your *fantastic* decisions. :-)

    Great post.

  • Janet Bettag

    I hope someday to find myself in that position. When I do, I will remember your wise words. Hopefully it will be very soon! LOL

  • http://jennifer-daiker.blogspot.com Jen Daiker

    I’ve always wondered about this, should I be in a place where the choice or conversation would need to happen. This was very helpful.

    I think the only question I’d add for you to answer is – is there such a thing as too many questions for a potentail agent? I want to make sure he/she and I will be the perfect match but I don’t want to overload them with questions if it’s inappropriate.

    Side note: I love your last little bit. I bet whomever it is your talking about wants to give you a big hug. I’m looking for an agent that always has my best interest at heart and was just as elated when I said yes to the offer :)

  • http://www.karenadair.blogspot.com Karen Adair

    What fabulous advice! I hope to find myself in this situation some day, and when I do I want to be prepared to make it the best moment I can. I have no doubt that I’ll be like Wendy (and others I’m sure) who just lets the excitement bubble over. As it should! Getting published is exciting for everyone involved, right? :) Thank you so much for such fabulous posts!

  • http://enjoyingthewritingcraft.blogspot.com Casey

    Wouldn’t that be a wonderful problem to have! ;-) And I know several dear friends who are now your clients, so this kind of post just gets me so excited. :D

  • http://www.nebraskagraceful.blogspot.com Michelle DeRusha

    I didn’t have that particularly wonderful kind of problem — that said, you were always my number one agent choice, so I consider it nothing short of a miracle that it happened!

    As for the call, I was a complete rambling wreck. I had to quickly put my kids in front of a Scooby Doo movie and threaten them not to interrupte me unless there was blood (great quantities) involved. I forgot to grab your list of questions to ask an agent when I sequestered myself in the basement, and I was sweating even though it was February! I do remember laughing a lot during our conversation, though, and it felt so natural to talk to you — you put me right at ease, and I thank you for that!

  • http://www.colindsmith.com/blog Colin Smith

    What is an appropriate amount of time to ask an agent to wait before I accept an offer of representation? I’m assuming when I get that call I will at least have queries (if not partials and fulls) with other agents whom I would I like to contact and let know.

    I want to be fair to the agent offering representation, who I presume would be chomping at the bit to get working on prepping the ms for submission. But I also want to be fair to those other busy agents who might want to read my ms.

    Thanks for taking our questions, Rachelle!

  • http://crowproductions.com joan Cimyotte

    I think she was a little too concerned with the other agent’s feelings. Who cares? They don’t care. If their slush piles are anything like they describe, how would they ever remember you? If you came to me Rachelle and said you wanted to represent me, I’d say YES. After being treated harshly by snarky agents who don’t even bother to tell you one way or another, if someone like you with your honorable integrity was interested in my novel there would be no hesitation what so ever.

    • http://creativitylifecoaching.blogspot.com Sherrie

      Well put, Joan. I wholeheartedly agree. Unfortunately, I don’t think Rachelle represents the genre I am writing, but I am confident I will find an agent just as great as Rachelle. ;-) <3

  • http://www.atlasmediainc.com Adam Porter

    Equity. Honesty. Courtesy…..and smart business.
    Great advice! Thanks!

  • Nan O’Berry

    I received the call and got in on a small agency. I thought it was the bomb, but even after doing searches and talking to other clients in the agency small things began leaking out. Agent holding a completed manuscript for months after telling the client it had been sent, gossip about clients to clients, no record keeping. Thank heavens for RWA booklet on how to divorce. Again you are so right about minding manners. Sometimes,even with all the right steps it goes wrong. Great article. Thank you for posting so we can see what a real agent does.

  • http://siamckye.blogspot.com/ ~Sia McKye~

    Rachelle, good topic. I appreciate how kind and helpful you were with advice to this author. That sort of moment is fraught with so much confusion.

    Professional etiquette rules always apply. The important thing, as a writer or author, is to be professional.

    I like your thought: “In any situation in which you’re not sure of protocol, be polite, treat people with respect, and avoid making enemies.”

    Sia McKye’s Thoughts…OVER COFFEE

  • http://www.muffintopmommy.com Muffintopmommy

    What a great, positive position to be in, first of all! So true that in any business or personal interaction in life, it’s always best to proceed respectfully and honestly. Golden rule always applies. :)

  • http://babblefromtheburbs.blogspot.com/ Kathryn Elliott

    I would be polite, professional and request a reasonable amount of time to discuss my options with both my husband (sounding board) and the agents involved. Then I would hang up, scream and quite possibly, faint.

  • http://www.pepperbasham.com Pepper

    Wow, great notes here, Rachelle. When in doubt, treat others with respect – is a great rule for life in general :-)

    I suppose dancing up and down in front of a possible agent wouldn’t be the best thing to do either.
    I guess I’ll have to take Kathryn’s hint on that and wait until I’m in a somewhat private place to openly celebrate, especially with the discoordinated way I dance :-)

  • http://babsinparadise.blogspot.com Barbara Jean Byrem

    Interesting comments about courtesy to agents especially on the heels of the “No response Blog” and all of it’s controversy.

    I am a writer currently looking for representation and I,of course,want to be courteous to anyone who would take a second to look over my query. I am also a person who is putting my heart and soul out there with that query and would appreciate a little courtesy also.

    Should I appreciate the fact that, the few seconds it would take to send a’no thank you’ to someone else, might mean you could spend more time on me. That is exactly who I try not to be.

    I was raised to believe there is no excuse for bad behavior. I try not to exhibit any.I pray none is inflicted on me.

  • Laurie

    Hi Rachelle, This is a fabulous post that is really helpful to authors seeking representation. I have a question about agenting that I was hoping you could answer. A friend of mine has an agent interested in her first novel, but the agent has not made an offer of representation. Instead she has asked my friend to hire a book editor (done), beef up her blog and platform (done), and finally get blurbs from famous authors (on an unpublished manuscript, but this is done now too). Today the agent said she has interest from two big name editors and will hopefully hear back by the end of the week. This seems really unsual to me, but I don’t want to squash my friend’s dream. Don’t most agents offer representation BEFORE going to publishing houses? My friend is too intimidated by the agent to ask these questions. I’ve been following you for a while, and you offer such fabulous advice to authors, so I thought maybe you could comment on whether this is some kind of new norm in the agent world. To top it off, the agent asked my friend to keep track of the names of editors she’s submitting. Maybe I’m missing something here, but isn’t that the agent’s job?

  • Joseph Baran

    Writing stops being a hobby, regardless of our motivation, and becomes a business venture when we mail or email our first query letter. Anything after that point should be treated as business with proper respect and etiquette. Period. This refers to all parties involved, agents and writers. Only through mutual respect and courtesy we can build honest and real working relationships with each other as business partners and clients.

    Unpublished writers of today are the new authors of tomorrow that will flood the book market with their stories, one way or another.

  • http://www.christianmamasguide.com Erin

    This is great advice. I actually didn’t follow it when you offered me representation. I had my book out with two other agents who were interested, but once I talked to you, I felt like we “clicked” so I wrote an email to the other agents and told them thank you, but I had already found representation. Why give them a chance if you’re not going to take them up on their offer should they offer?

  • http://www.write2web.com Bid Writing Guy

    E Anderson Consulting, Yorkshire, are a leading UK based company that specialises in Bid Writing for some of the major organisations in the world.

  • http://www.tnealtarver.wordpress.com TNeal

    I remember meeting my agent at the ACFW conference (which I unfortunately won’t be attending this year) in Denver. We agreed to work together and he sent a contract for me to read and sign. It’s amazing how that piece of paper felt like standing in front of a church vowing “to have and to hold…” You’ve shared about proper etiquette and being professional but I’m curious as to how weighted the decision seems from the agent’s perspective. For a new author, choosing an agent appears oh-my-goodness-what-should-I-do daunting (as your other readers suggest in their posts).

  • http://vimeo.com/28443440 Leslie Deaton

    This happened to me and I jumped at the first offer. I knew if the agent loved my story half as much as I did she was a winner. In fact, my A Marked Past book trailer came out today. Take a peek and see if you love it :)
    http://vimeo.com/28443440

  • http://christine-warner.com Christine Warner

    I’ve been querying agents for a bit now and have had some positive rejections but am still waiting for the call…lol. I think when I finally do get the call, I’ll look just like the picture you have posted at the beginning of the blog and I’ll forget all the wonderful suggestions you’ve posted here. I’ll just be thrilled if I can talk :)

  • Krissy

    For all you authors just starting out, it’s a wise idea to try to be published first in a literary magazine. I found a really good one the other day, http://www.raglitmag.com.

    Good luck future published authors!

  • http://keepgoingyoufool.blogspot.com Jane Steen

    I have a question: supposing Author Sally has written a really good book. She’s learned from her past mistakes, spent years practicing her craft, and waited until the book’s really polished…

    So then she happens to bump into well-known Agent Fred (a good agent with a proven track record) at a networking event and tells him about the book. Fred requests a full, and two days later offers representation.

    Sally’s really tempted by Fred’s offer, but she just knows in her gut that she’s written a winner and feels that other agents would also be interested. She doesn’t want to just jump at the first offer (even though she’s waited years for the moment).

    My question: how long could she reasonably expect Fred to wait? Should she commit to getting back to him by a certain deadline?

  • http://www.transitionslifecoaching.org Theresa Froehlich

    Rachelle,

    I signed a contract with an agent to rep me. Usually, how long must a writer wait before following up? Two months, six months? What’s a reasonable amount of time?

    Coach Theresa

  • http://www.watdot.com Dan

    Rachelle,
    I agree with you and think it is a wonderful suggestion on how to encourage the additional potential agents to respond, but how long is it acceptable to make the original agent that did make the offer wait?

    Dan Koepke – Author WATDOT:List of Twenty

  • http://www.heatherharshman.wordpress.com Heather

    Thank you for always being straight-forward and real in your posts, Rachelle. Your posts are very encouraging and great reality checks.

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