The absolutely wonderful Lydia Sharp was here yesterday to talk about the basics of nudging agents once you have an offer of representation, and then the responsible, professional way to manage having multiple offers.
And now, in my role as most overshare-y publishing blogger ever, I’m here to talk a little more about the emotional side of it.
To quickly reiterate, here’s how it all works, in a nutshell: You query, maybe revise it, get requests, maybe get R&Rs, etc. and eventually you get an e-mail from an agent saying (s)he wants to talk. (Some agents just straight-up call, I know, but this has never happened to me. Thank the freaking Lord.) You set up a phone call, and you have a conversation. If that call contains an offer, you politely contact all agents who haven’t yet responded to your query*.
*I’m going to pause to discuss this for a second, because this is probably the most highly debated nudging point. Some people think you shouldn’t nudge agents who only have your query. I’m going to state that this is absolutely, categorically wrong. In both cases in which I’ve been offered representation, I nudged agents who only had queries, because the offers came very early in the process and I knew it was likely they hadn’t even read my query yet. I’d venture to say the total response was about 90% asking for more material. Sometimes, they really don’t get to your query for a month.
There is an exception to be made for when queries have passed a reasonable deadline, and certainly if it passes an agency’s “no response = no” deadline. However, if it’s on the border, when in doubt, get in touch, even if it’s just to withdraw. This last time I opted not to nudge exactly one agent, because it was so close to her agency’s no response = no time. She ended up sending me a very lovely e-mail a week or two after I signed that made it pretty clear she would have requested. So, you never know. Also, this 🙂
Okay, now, where were we? Oh, yes, nudging! God, it’s uncomfortable, isn’t it? Like, yeah, it’s really exciting and the world seems full of possibilities, but also you really just want to announce to the world that you have an offer, and also you don’t know how to nudge, and also, how much time are you really supposed to give, and what about the agents you don’t really want, and oh crap this is so much more uncomfortable than I thought.
For real, yo. Nudging is a wonderful reminder at all the possibilities out there, but it’s also pretty scary. So, let’s talk your options for a sec:
1. Contact all agents and say something like, “Dear Schmagent Lipman, Thank you again so much for requesting THE SECRET LIVES OF CLOWN DOLLS. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve had an offer from an agent, and I’d love to get back to her by [a date 7-14 days from now*].” or “Dear Awesome Agent, I know you haven’t requested any material, but given that my query was relatively recent, I wanted to let you know that I’ve received an offer of representation. I have not yet responded to the offer, but as a courtesy to the offering agent, I would love to do so by [a date 7-14 days from now].” OR WHATEVER. Point is, you get in touch, you politely nudge, you offer more material upon request, you keep it all in the same e-mail chain but with OFFER OF REPRESENTATION in your subject line, and give them a reasonable time frame in which to read and decide if they would like to make a competing offer.
*Let’s take another break to discuss time frame. Why is time frame really important? Why do I say 7-14 days? Because here’s the reality of what’s happening when you nudge: you’re asking A) the offering agent to wait, and B) the agents you’re nudging to push you up to the top of their TBRs, whether it’s a good time for them or not.
So, making an agent who’s in love with your manuscript and made an offer wait more than two weeks? Not so nice. (And good freaking luck having that patience yourself. Seriously.)
Making agents speed read? Not going to work in your favor. Especially if you happen to be nudging during a conference (my first time was during BEA, my second during RWA, so trust me on this one), an agent who might’ve otherwise loved your manuscript may not be able to make the time for it. The other thing to note about responses to nudging (which, by the way, should absolutely make you think twice about listening to those people who suggest using your lower-choice agents as query guinea pigs, or about using an offer you don’t really want to get ones you do)? Agents who might’ve given you an R&R are almost definitely going to step aside in favor of the offering agent who loves it enough as is.
Guys, do not mess around. There’s a limit to how many times you’ll get to do this. If you’re going to stop querying because you’ve got an offer, make sure it’s an offer you actually want. And the best way to do that is not to query anyone you don’t. Which brings us to the next option…
2. You withdraw from the agents you don’t want to consider. Now, look – to my mind, this is a perfectly okay thing to do. You don’t want to consider the agent, so why make him/her do the work of reading your manuscript? But. You know how agents are people too? Well, getting one of these… it kind of sucks. And lately, I’ve seen more than one agent talk about that fact, and how unfair it seems. So, my inclination is to just nudge all around and deal with the responses as they come; it seems to be the preference of agents, so, not much I can really say to that.
And now, back to nudging! At which point I am going to share a really uncomfortable truth that may not be universal but is absolutely true for me: getting responses to your nudges can be the ultimate confidence shaker. Because the same way that that one nugget of crit from a beta might stick with you even if sandwiched between heaps of praise? Same deal when an agent rejects upon being nudged.
You’ve got your ace in the hole! You’ve got someone who loves it! Hell, you’ve essentially got a freaking agent!
BUT WHAT DID THOSE AGENTS MEAN WHO SAID “Congratulations on the offer! I’m going to step aside because I really didn’t connect with the voice/I thought the pacing needed a lot of work/I would’ve had you do major revisions.”?!?!?! WHAT DO THEY SEE THAT MY OFFERING AGENT DOESN’T?!?!
So, yeah, for all the excitement and awesomeness, nudging is actually kinda tough. Because you’re basically forcing a flood of responses to come within the same one-week time frame, and some of those are probably gonna be rejections, and rejections always kinda suck. And the fact that you’ve gone from the high of “Someone loves my book and thinks it’ll sell!” to the low of “Oh, right, this stuff is subjective and not everyone loves everything” at a dizzying speed can be a shock to the system.
But let’s say some of those responses are actually really positive, and you get multiple e-mails to set up multiple phone calls that result in multiple offers! I mean, that’s objectively awesome, right?
*draws your attention to the subtitle of this post*
Look, it is wonderful every time an agent falls in love with your manuscript enough to want to represent it. I don’t ever want to be confused for being ungrateful. It is lucky, and it is glorious, and it’s a huge privilege to get to talk to multiple agents about your work.
But agents reject as part of their job on a daily basis. Writers? Not so much. So when we have to do it – when we have to choose only one after two or more have shown real interest and passion in our work, have had lengthy phone conversations with us about our writing and careers and the industry? It’s hard.
So how do you do it? How do you choose? Especially when you’ve queried right and genuinely think any agent you queried could be the right fit?
Dear reader, I have THOUGHTS.
1. Let go of the idea of a dream agent. Seriously. I know people say that and you’re all STFU but seriously, there is a lot you can’t know about an agent until you get on the phone and have that conversation, and one thing that may surprise you is how much an agent’s level of passion for your work and planning for your future can vary. A phone call is a great way to get an idea of how an agent plans to pitch your book, which happens to be a phase you have very little control over, if any. Also, because #3.
2. Figure out what’s most important to you in an agent. It’s pretty hard to find anyone in life who’s 100% of what you want. I wish my husband loved Pretty Little Liars and didn’t think seeing the Panama Canal was the coolest possible vacation on Earth. You do, however, have to have priorities. Do you care a lot about an agent’s response time? About whether (s)he’s an editorial agent? Make a list of the things that are real must-haves for you and make sure you get all your questions answered about whether an agent fits those criteria by the end of the call, whether explicitly or implicitly.
3. Ask about revision plans. Seriously. This is the number one best way to see if an agent’s brain really clicks with yours. If you don’t like an agent’s revision ideas, and don’t trust that they’re what’s best for your book, it’s a pretty safe bet this isn’t going to be a great partnership.
4. Do a little red flag fishing. Yeah, I know – no one wants to think about this crap during a happy phone call, but unfortunately, especially with newer agents and agencies, it’s a must. Is an agent unwilling to talk about his/her sales? Is the agent new and doesn’t seem to be getting any guidance/mentorship?
I’m going to be honest – I surprised the hell out of myself by going with the newest agent who offered. But I also knew what mattered to me, and she was all of it. And even though every agent I spoke to was fantastic, I ultimately just couldn’t see myself with anyone else.
So, knowing that in your own head is great. Having to tell the other agents that? Not as much. Certainly, they were gracious and lovely, because they’re gracious and lovely people, but yeah, it sucks to say “Thank you for being awesome and thinking I’m awesome, I just thought someone else was more the right kind of awesome for me.” It really does.
But it’s part of the job. On both sides.
So take a deep breath, use both your head and your heart, be as polite and gracious as possible, and push through. And when it’s all over, get yourself a drink and/or macaron. You’ve earned it.