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:
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! :-)