Every once in a while it happens. Actually, it happens a lot. A publisher gets in touch with you directly, either through contests, conference pitch appointments, or work you’ve written in a literary journal, and asks to see your work. Of course you submit it, why wouldn’t you? Why would you possibly turn down a request from a publisher to submit your work? So you happily go about your business, writing, editing, and submitting to agents, when bam! that editor calls and offers to buy your book. She likes it! She wants to publish it, and what the heck are you going to do now?!
Well, that’s entirely up to you of course. My suggestion is that if you want an agent to help negotiate your contract and guide your career, you should get one immediately. Don’t accept any offer. Don’t even say okay. Thank the editor (profusely is okay) and let her know that you are going to find an agent to work with, but will be in touch shortly. Then get out that list of dream agents and start emailing immediately.
Calling is okay too, but I think that sometimes emailing is better (and I have no idea why). Either way, get in touch. Give the agent your name, the title of your book, let her know if she has it already and when you sent it. Let her know which house and which editor made the offer and tell her you need to know within two days’ time. A really interested agent shouldn’t need any longer than that. And of course let her know all the ways in which she can reach you.
And when the calls start coming in you can start evaluating who would be the best agent for you. Refer to my previous post on what Questions to Ask for more information.
I’ve actually been in this situation a great number of times. A few authors I now call clients, and a few I just didn’t feel that I loved their work enough to take them on, so I wished them well and hope they signed with someone they adore.
Since I don’t remember things that happened yesterday, let alone months ago, I’ll let others comment on how they handled this very situation when it happened to them.