Saturday, June 14, 2014

All About the Offer Etiquette (And How to get a Fast Pass!)

You're querying, and you get an offer. NOW WHAT?

GOOD IDEA:  If you get an offer of representation, and it's an agent you would not be sad to work with*, you should absolutely let the other agents who have the full or partial** know, to see if they want to read quickly and maybe hop on board the Offer Train. You might phrase it something like: "Thanks so much for your interest in AWESOME MANUSCRIPT! I've had an offer of representation, and I've told the offering agent*** that I need a week**** to get my ducks in a row. So if you are also interested, could you please let me know by [a specific date a week or so from now]?"

PROBABLE RESULT:  This will always get me to take a look at the ms if I haven't already, or to read faster if I'm already reading. However, it will also have me reading toward NO. In other words, unless I absolutely flippin LOVE this book, I will pass rather than get into a beauty contest over it. I can't make somebody Revise and Resubmit if they already have offers, after all! The good news is, you can safely assume that anyone who DOES end up entering the fray at this point really is keenly interested in the book.

* BUT WHAT IF I DON'T WANT THE FIRST AGENT?  IF on the off-chance you query somebody, they offer, and then when you speak to them you realize that you don't share a vision for the book at all and you really would be sad to work with them -- I STRONGLY SUGGEST you simply and graciously decline their offer but DO NOT let the other agents know and make them rush. You are more likely to get a thorough read and a fair shot if the agents aren't being rushed.

** BUT WHAT ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO ONLY HAVE QUERIES?  Say it's the same situation as above, but you also have a bunch of just-queries out there who haven't had time to even possibly request a full -- by all means, feel free to reach out to them as well and see if they'd like to see more. Something like: "I know you might not have even seen this query yet, but I wanted to reach out to you because I've had an offer of representation. If this query seems like something you'd be interested in, I can give you a week with the full. Otherwise, no worries, I understand you might not want to rush!

Again, I will probably glance at the query and decide in a split second if it seems worth my time to pursue. Usually I will step aside, but sometimes, rarely, I'll decide to get the full and then it is the same deal as above. Happy to read, reading fast, but reading toward No.

*** BUT WHAT IF THEY ASK WHO THE FIRST AGENT IS? Well then, you tell them, if you want to. It's not a trick question. I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I ask for three reasons: 1) I'm curious/nosy. 2) I'm interested in who my competition is -- I'm friends with a lot of agents, and if you've also queried a colleague and I honestly think they'll be better for you, I'd probably stand aside (or else offer myself but say something kind like "you really can't make a bad choice here" while inwardly seething at my frenemy. JUST KIDDING. Or am I?) and 3) I want to make sure it's not a schmagent or scamster. I like writers and I don't like people who dupe them!

**** BUT IS A WEEK ENOUGH TIME??  You can keep the first agent on the string for a week, even week and a half, no problem, totally normal. Two weeks, OK, if there's a major holiday or BEA or something involved, but they'll start to get a little antsy. Anything longer than that -- or if you have a "firm deadline" then extend it -- and they'll very likely feel like you are just out there using them as bait to fish for "better" offers. That's an ugly feeling. After all, they did everything right - they read quickly and had an offer for you with no fuss or muss -- why are they getting treated like a chump?

I've gotten an "I have another offer of rep, please let me know if you're interested" email at all kinds of inconvenient times: While on Hawaiian vacation. At an SCBWI conference. At the Bologna Book Fair. During Christmas break. Guess what? In all those cases, I was able to read and come to a decision within the given time. It's not rocket surgery. Believe me -- if these other agents really want to work with you and your book, they can figure it out in under two weeks.

TERRIBLE, HORRIBLE, NO GOOD, VERY BAD IDEA:
LIE

I recently got a query from somebody. An hour later, I got a note saying, basically, "I have an offer of representation, but I really want to work with YOU! Can you read immediately?" AN HOUR? Well that's extremely odd, and a glance at the query told me it would have been a pass for me in any case, so I wrote back something like, "This is not a great fit for me, so I'll stand aside, but congrats on the super-speedy offer! Wow!"

I then immediately told a colleague on gchat about the odd exchange -- not naming names or anything, just "Hey, this really weird thing happened at work today."  She looked through her inbox and found the exact same situation, with the same hour-later update, from another day. We told another colleague via email. She found the same query, same update, but with a few key words changed, from the week before. Say what?! That went out to an agent list-serv. Within a half hour, we'd found twenty or so different agents who had had the virtually the same query from five different "aliases," each of whom "had an offer" an hour later and wanted a quick response. All of us passed. Some of us had asked the person "who made the offer?" and the response was nebulous.

WHAT THE. Is somebody telling people this is how to query? Is it a maddening new micro-trend, or just one person with a lot of email accounts trying to be clever? Either way, STOP IT. And YES, we talk to each other.

Yeah I know. I shouldn't really have to tell a bunch of grown-ass adults that LYING IS A NO-NO, and a bad way to start a relationship that is meant to be based on trust, but. Apparently somebody out there is giving the verrrrry bad advice that writers should try and game agents. I could give you a laundry list of reasons this is a super bad idea, but I am pretty sure the perpetrators of this piece of dubious "wisdom" will never read this, and all of YOU are smart enough to put it together on your own.

Now carry on, and may your offers of representation be plentiful!  :-)

22 comments:

  1. It's always informative to read your how-to posts, Jennifer. It's also fun when you are bristling. Sleazy sales tactics (inventing a non-existing competition) are both repugnant and a clear warning sign to stir away from such an operator. This goes both ways- agents and writers who engage in such will eventually come back to bite, or, at the very least, disappoint.

    The only point you made that I have qualms about is disclosing the name of the other agent/s. I'm sure you'd like to know. I like to know everything there is to know, but it feels wrong somehow, as the offer is, at that stage, still confidential.

    Am I so wrong? I worked (in my other life) in a business that while different, had the same classy (the un-PC still call it "gentlemanly") façade, with art collectors competing for very desirable one-of-a-kind properties. I was on the sales side, and dealt with very knowledgeable and well-connected clients and dealers. It was considered really bad form to name names to the competition before a purchase was finalized. In that business people know each other and of each other, and plenty of bad blood has been created by such maneuvers. Lots more reasons for it, but that would be a whole post in itself.

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    1. Fair enough - if it makes you uncomfortable, you can decline to answer. I am sure that if you are being totally cool and transparent there will be no reason to doubt your word. (Just sometimes, as in the case of the inbox horror story related here, a weird non-answer is a major red flag).

      If I were uncomfortable with giving names, I'd at least say something like, "I'd rather not give names, but they are with a large NY-based agency" or "I'd rather not give names, but they are with a small but reputable children's-book-only agency." or something like that.

      Just know that the agent ASKING is not trying to be rude or mean, I swear! :-)

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  2. So I like this post as when your an author with an offer and nine full requests out it's hard to know what to do. And this was my situation. (And it worked out perfectly). But I didnt know and dont like the idea of agents talking to people at other agencies about my query. It kind of seems unproffessional and unfair. What if I wanted to change something? Completly rewrite it? Someone else knows about my blunder.

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    1. First of all, Congratulations!

      Second: In case I was unclear, apologies. Know that agents at different agencies DO NOT sit around comparing queries or talking smack about authors. We're just trying to do our jobs, we don't have time for that nonsense, AND we love authors.

      HOWEVER, when something really shady or unethical seeming comes up, yes, I do ask friends. Wouldn't you? Similarly, when we receive threats, we talk to each other. (And, thank goodness this has never happened to ME, but yes, some of these threats to agencies are nuts enough that the police or FBI have gotten involved -- so yeah. I don't feel bad AT ALL sharing that information with colleagues, or vice-versa).

      Normal writers doing their thing have NOTHING to worry about. Plus, what you might think of as a "blunder" -- we honestly probably won't even notice. Trust me, unless it involves human blood, I've seen worse.

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    2. Ahh. Okay. I understand now. Thanks for the clarification.

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  3. I just accepted an offer this week, and while I was researching how to handle the etiquette for the other agents, I was a bit flabbergasted to see that advice out there (lying about having an offer). It's really annoying, actually, because how soon before agents stop believing those emails altogether? There is no magic solution, except patience and perseverance.

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  4. Would you throw out one more good idea/bad idea response for when you get the request for the full, but on an exclusive, when you have several other fulls out there?

    I responded with, "I would love to send you my full manuscript, but I have to be honest, I have [honest number] of fulls out with other agents, so I can't give you an exclusive."

    Good answer?

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    1. Perfect answer. I mean -- even if you want to, in that situation, you CAN'T offer an exclusive, it's already out there! If they don't like that, they are probably not the best agent for you anyway.

      So honestly, as usual, the best policy.

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  5. I love reading clear cut commonsense advice like this. Even if you feel reasonably confident writing "regular" business correspondence, querying is a whole 'nother ballgame, and I think it makes everybody a little unbalanced. Thank you!

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  6. I am at the beginning of my querying and this is perfect advice for beginners like myself. Thank you very much.

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  7. Dionna11:58 AM

    Oh my word!

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  8. Another completely rationale and informative post and I love that you include examples of phrasing since I know a lot of us do (or have) wasted much time on fretting over one word or another in these type of nudges! I'm going to have to start sending you cuts of my freelance editing jobs because half the edit letter comments I make involve links to your blog posts (that Word Count Dracula one especially). I'll be adding this one too, I suspect!!

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  9. Some people will do anything to try and get represented, and shame on them. Me, I keep practicing my craft, keep submitting, keep waiting, and keep positive. I know it will happen eventually since I have had an agent look at my work anonymously through a friend, and say she loves it and it is original. She may not be ready t rep me yet, but someday she will be and I want to be ready :0)

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  10. Great, insightful article! I like knowing what right looks like, so this is very helpful. Question - what do you tell the agent that makes the first offer? Do you tell them that you have to let the other agents you've queried or that have the full know you've received an offer so they can respond accordingly?

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    1. First of all, I think it is fine for you to schedule a phone call or whatever to talk to them, either before or after you've checked in with everyone else. Don't ACCEPT REPRESENTATION or anything, just be open and listen.

      Either during the call, tell them -- or if you email after it would go something like this: "Thanks so much for your interest! That was a great phone call, I appreciate your enthusiasm for the project. As I mentioned, this is out with other people as well, so I need to give them a chance to respond. Let me get back to you by [a specific date about a week from now] -- and if you have any other questions in the meantime, let me know."

      This is totally normal and will not be unexpected.

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  11. Wow, I hope this "gamer" doesn't ruin for everybody. I'm keeping this for a quick note to remember for that very special day. Thanks, Jennifer.

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  12. Great post. I'm horrified at the "can you read this quickly" thing though! Yikes!

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  13. Awesosme post. Thank you, Jennifer. Nicely put and so helpful.

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  14. Thanks for sharing this inside view.

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  15. I really love your writing style, but I was wondering: is an agent really the only way to go to create a successful book? I love creating weird characters for my books, like my Tin Bucket, the hot-headed robot, but getting an agent is hard, very, very hard and maybe, even as hard as writing a book in the first place! As a professional, what are your opinions on self-publishing? I read that some Amazon self-publishers have had huge success, such as Amanda Hocking. If I can't find an agent would you suggest going the self-publishing root? Would love to know your thoughts on this.

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    1. Plenty of people have success self-publishing. It takes a lot of work and dedication to be successful at it, but hey, so does anything. I can't give advice about that path, though, because obviously I only have expertise about the other path! :-)

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