Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat, shall we? Getting multiple offers from agents is objectively flattering and cool. We work really freaking hard to write books people will love, and when a number of them do, it’s a great feeling.
It’s also fifty shades of terrifying.
As you may know if you read my blog regularly, I recently faced this situation when querying. As you may also know, so did my fabulous and prolific author friend, Lydia Sharp. Ultimately, I signed with Lana Popovic of Zachary Shuster Harmsworth, and she signed with Laura Bradford of Bradford Literary Agency. I think I can speak for both of us when I say we have absolutely zero regrets about those decisions.
But that doesn’t mean they come easy.
Since I knew from this extremely helpful post of Lydia’s that we’d actually had very different experiences with our offers, I asked her to share her experiences too. Because I just might be the most oversharey blogger in publishing, I’ll be writing my own post on the topic, to discuss why something that seems so awesome can also be kinda awful, but first, Lydia’s going to very helpfully explain everything from “How’d I get here?” to “How do I handle it?”
So, without further ado, I give you Lydia Sharp!
First, what leads to being in this type of situation to begin with? A lot of things. And all of those things have to align, along with the stars of luck, to get you here.
You wrote a novel. You wrote a synopsis and query letter. You received feedback on all of those and made them the best they can be. You researched your publishing options and decided that getting an agent was right for you and your book. You researched agents and compiled a to-query list. You sent out targeted query packages, all of them according to individual submission guidelines, and tried not to stress. You stressed anyway. You received several manuscript requests. You danced and then stressed even more. You may or may not have received a request to revise and resubmit. You received an email from one of these agents that they love your book and they want to call you. You wanted to dance but you were too stressed. You talked to this agent on the phone and they offered you representation.
You said you needed time to think it over, but you were already thinking it over. You danced and danced and danced. And danced some more.
Then you remembered your book is still in the hands of other agents that expressed interest. Now you have a problem. It’s a good problem to have, but still a problem. Every agent you queried, you queried because you believed they would be a good fit. There is no easy choice between them.
The professional thing to do at this point is contact every agent that has your book. This is not optional. If you queried selectively, there shouldn’t be anyone reading your book that isn’t a good choice for you, not that you would know of without talking to them first. Anyone who has your book should still be an option. You need to let them know you have an offer.
If you receive an offer within a month or two of sending out query letters, notify everyone, not just the agents that requested. Give those agents a chance. Replies on query letters can take up to two months or more sometimes. Just because they haven’t requested anything yet doesn’t mean they aren’t interested. Look to their guidelines, and any query updates they may have posted, to help you determine the best course of action here. For example, if you’ve passed the “no response means no” point, then you likely won’t nudge them.
This is how you nudge the agents that are still reading, no matter how long it’s been since they requested. They might have requested the day before or six months before–you still need to nudge them. They need to know you have an offer now, that the stakes have been raised. This is one of the few situations in publishing where things move unbelievably fast. Don’t intentionally leave anyone in the dust.
Hit reply on the last email communication you had with each agent. Usually this is their request for your manuscript. Add “OFFER OF REP” to the subject line. Leave no question what this email is about. Keep the notification as simple as possible, but give them a specific time frame to respond. Standard is a week. The agents who are sincerely interested will respond ASAP, some within minutes or hours. You might be shocked at how soon those replies come back. You might also be shocked by the agents who take their good old time in replying, or never reply at all. Yes, that happens too. And in such case, don’t let it bother you because you are better off without them. You don’t want an agent that doesn’t value prompt communication.
The agents that do respond will say a version of one of three things. One, “I’m still reading and I’m still interested. I’ll get back to you within the week.” Two, “I love this and I’d like to arrange a phone call.” Three, “Congratulations, but this isn’t for me. Good luck to you.”
Reply number one can later lead to reply number two or three. Reply number two usually leads to another offer of representation to consider. Reply number three, at this point, is a relief. Even if that agent was one of your top choices, if they didn’t connect with your book, they were not the right agent for you and they just made your pending decision a little bit easier.
Fast forward to a week after your original offer of rep. The other agents have either respectfully backed out or eagerly thrown their hats into your ring. If you did not receive another offer of rep, and you feel the original offer is good for you and your book, the decision-making process ends here. You accept the offer and move on to bigger and better things. But if you received one or more additional offers of rep, you still have a bit more stress to endure.
You consider EVERYTHING you know about EVERY agent that offered. You researched them before querying, but now you dig even deeper. This decision is important. It is not the be all end all, but the agent you sign with will greatly affect the direction your career takes from this point onward. Once you have considered everything you can consider, and you’ve made a decision you feel is right, now comes the hardest part…
You have to send a rejection letter to an agent. Or two, or three, or however many offered that aren’t the one you choose. Expect ulcers over this. Authors are used to receiving rejections, but have little practice giving them. It’s crazy hard.
As with all email communications, keep it professional, positive, and brief. Personalize it where you can. You do not have to list the reasons why you didn’t choose that agent. You do not have to list the reasons why you did choose the other agent. But it is okay to let them know who you chose. An agent offers to represent you because they are genuinely interested in you and your career. They will likely be cheering you on from the sidelines now. Some may even go as far as to tell you this after you reject them. They want you to succeed, they truly do. If you have handled this whole process with a positive tone and a good measure of professional decorum, the agents you reject will have nothing but respect for you afterward.
And then you dance again, but this time you don’t dance alone. You get to dance with your new agent.
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As always, your blog is so helpful! I am just about to send out those emails, and I wasn’t sure if I should send to everyone or just those with the MS–but since the majority of my queries have been sent in the last two weeks, it looks like everyone it is! 🙂
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Victoria Hallman said:
This was tremendously helpful. Thank you!
When nudging with an offer of rep, should I say who the offer is from or do I leave it out?
Dahlia Adler said:
I wouldn’t offer the information up front, but definitely feel free to give it if asked.
Stina Lindenblatt said:
Yes, definitely let EVERYONE you queried know. One of my friends didn’t. The day her book announcement went up in PM, an agent got back to her, requesting the full. I couldn’t stop laughing when she told me this. Even if the agent had seen the notice in PM, the book title had changed.
Lydia, lots of good “inside” information. Thanks to both you and Dahlia.
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
This is fantastic! Thank you, Lydia and Dahlia! I’m bookmarking this. 🙂
Sarah Hipple said:
I love guidelines like this – ones that slowly, slowly walk you through a path that will leave you utterly jittery inside. Thanks!
Awesome post, Lydia! Thanks for sharing.