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When Agents Don’t Respond to an Offer

Is there ever a good reason why an agent would ask for a full and then not read it? This agent (a biggie) asked for a full the day after I sent her a query, and then extracted a promise from me to let her know if I received another offer and to give her a week to read it. I agreed. When I did receive another offer, I let her know, as I was still very interested in her, and felt her client list would be an even better match than the offering agent. She replied “Thank you for letting me know!” and that was three weeks ago. I can see she is twittering constantly so I know she didn’t fall of a cliff.

I almost feel like I shouldn’t have told her about the offer, that maybe she felt it was pressuring her, but I was merely doing what she had asked, and I’d read a few agents’ comments complaining about MSs they’d spent a weekend reading, only to find out the author already had taken representation.

Honestly, this makes me very leery about sending out fulls without demanding some kind of time frame. I’ve decided not to nudge her as she knows where I am, knows I have an offer, and certainly if she was interested, would have read it. But I found the experience rather strange.

I think your question could easily have been broken up into two different blog posts, but I will try to answer it all here.

There are plenty of reasons why an agent would ask for a full and not read it, or not read the entire book, the only one that matters is that she didn’t want to. She started the book, got to a certain point, and either lost interest or felt that the book wasn’t working. Just like a reader, an agent will only read to the point where she still feels excited for the book. Your hope, your job as the author, is to make that point the end of the book.

Why didn’t the agent respond when you told her you had an offer? There are so many possible reasons so let me get started on some…

1. Your email was oddly vague. You told her you had an offer, but didn’t give her a timeline in which to answer (one week is fair) or didn’t tell her you wanted her to respond. Believe it or not, this happens a lot. Authors are afraid they will come off too strong so leave the agent questioning what they want. There have been times I got an email from an author that simply says, “I’m writing to let you know another agent has offered.” Okay. Congratulations. Are you still taking offers from other agents? What’s your timeline? Do you want me to offer or is this an email telling me that you’re pulling the material? Be clear in what you want. You got an offer from another agent. You are still hoping this agent is interested. You’re asking her to respond by such-and-such date.

2. She forgot. She got caught up in her other work–contracts, client revisions, etc, and it slipped her mind.

3. You didn’t give her a due date so she has no reason to hurry.

4. Her response got lost in the email.

Not nudging her is a problem. What’s going on with the other agent? I’ll tell you right now that I would not be happy if I made an offer and the author was making me wait three weeks (or longer) for a response. In fact, I might even rescind the offer at that point. I don’t think we’d be a good fit if you don’t want to work with me enough to respond.

Frankly, I’m not sure you’re handling this situation in a way that’s best for you and your career. I’ve written a great deal on the blog about how to handle offers, but ultimately you need to be more proactive. An offer from an agent puts you in the driver’s seat. It means you need to be the boss of your career, because you are the boss of your career. You need to let all the other agents you might be interested in know of your offer. You need to give them a deadline. You need to tell any agents you’re not interested in that you got an offer and are pulling your material. You need to make a decision by your deadline. You don’t need to go with any agent if that’s the case, but you need to let any of them who offer know.

If an agent doesn’t respond you need to follow-up and really think about whether you want to work with an agent who can’t respond in a timely manner at the beginning of your relationship. It’s like someone being an hour late to your first date. Do you really think she’s going to change when its your 10th anniversary? Doubt it.

Presumably the full was sent via email (or query form) so I’m not sure why you would suddenly decide that you’re going to hold back on giving other agents the possibility of reading your work simply because one didn’t. It seems to me you would be shorting yourself and your own opportunities. Agents have plenty to read. If you refuse to send a requested full, they’ll just let it go.

I hope I’ve helped in some way.

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12 comments

  1. Thank you for the thoughtful response to the OP’s question.

    My observation is that it seems unfair to me that an agent would rescind an offer after three weeks if that agent took two or more months to read the manuscript.

    1. I think that’s fair, unless you’re the author waiting and waiting because the agent feels she only has room on her list for one more client. A huge piece of the author/agent relationship is how well we work together and communication. If I don’t feel an author really wants me or feels I’m the right agent I don’t think we’re a good fit.

  2. To be honest, I’m very understanding of the long wait for my ms to be read. I know some agents personally, and they will hold onto mss they like and read them when they can. Sometimes they don’t read until they get a nudge with an offer. Depends on the agent. I understand and although I wish it were otherwise, I do understand.

    I simply don’t think it’s fair for the agent to expect – after a long wait, when my mss has obviously been under consideration with other agents as well – a quick decision on such an important issue as who will represent me for hopefully the rest of my career.

    I hope that’s clearer now.

    1. I don’t think agents “expect” a quick decision. If you’ve read any older blog posts you’ll see I always encourage authors to take time to explore all options. However, an agent can’t be left hanging either while an author waits for an indeterminate amount of time for something better.

  3. Hi Jessica,

    Thank you so much for such a timely and thoughtful response! You are truly a rarity in this agenting world. 🙂

    Sorry, I did not go into all of the details, but yes, I did tell the agent with the full that although I had an offer, I was very interested in working with her, and I mentioned a couple of her clients that I admired, and thought we might make a great match. I did not, however, give her a deadline to read it because I had assumed from her previous email, where she asked for a week, that it would be a week. Lesson learned! When she wrote back “Thanks for letting me know!” and no other information about whether she would read it, I probably should have followed up, but of course, you read so much about agents not wanting to be pushed, that I was reluctant to do it. I also consulted with a friend, who is her client, who told me I’d done nothing wrong and she would respond if she wanted, so I let it go. At the end of the day, I do have to feel someone is proactive as well – not just me, and that someone is excited about my material and will respond in a timely manner.

    You’re right, it is quite possible she read a bit and wasn’t feeling it, in that case, I wish she would have just let me know. I’m a big girl and can handle a pass.

    As for the offering agent, we had a phone call, and are in touch. He is on vacation right now, but will be sending me ideas for revisions when he returns, and he also knows that my full is out to other agents and I am waiting to hear from them too, and I have nudged those agents, who all responded with deadlines. So hopefully things are on track, but you never know.

  4. About two years ago, I received an offer of rep for an agent and sent out the obligatory email to the other agents with my MS, asking for them to get back to me within a week if interested. After reading some author and agent blogs, I also decided to send out that same email to agent’s who also had my query. Oh, I should also mention that this was two days before the Thanksgiving holiday. Awesome timing on my part, right?

    One of the agent who had been sitting on my query, my “dream agent,” immediately got back to me and requested the full. I sent it out. Two days later I got another offer of rep. It was very hard to choose between the two agents because I liked both, but when I saw my “dream agent’s” client list, I ultimately decided to sign with him.

    Guess what? He wasn’t communicative at all. He wasn’t as passionate about my project as the first agent who’s offered rep was. I had my MS on submission for months, and never knew what was going on. Like a good writer, I didn’t want to bother him so my MS apparently sat in limbo until the market for that genre died down and no publisher would take on my novel.

    OP, I know this isn’t the same circumstance you’re dealing with, but trust me when I tell you that you should pick an agent that responds to your emails within an appropriate time frame. Either your dream agent is too busy, or there was a miscommunication and a perfectly good agent (who could make your career take off) is waiting and wondering if you even want to work with her/him.

    Just a different perspective from someone who’s been in the fortunate position to choose between agents: make sure you choose someone who communicates. It’s far better than having a super agent who won’t. And there’s nothing written in stone that says you can’t move amicably on to another agent if you (and/ or your current agent) realize your professional relationship not working.

    Believe me when I tell you that buyer’s remorse is a miserable thing.

    Good luck! 🙂

    1. Yes, these are my thoughts exactly. While I really admire her client list, and thought we’d make a good match, at the end of the day, it IS like a date – someone is either super excited about you or they’re not.

  5. LOL. This made me wonder if she was following this post:
    Bad Literary Agent ‏@BadLitAgent 29m29 minutes ago
    I had the pleasure of rescinding an offer today. The author took a full three weeks to reply after I took a mere 6 months to read the full.

  6. And I just wanted to clear up that I didn’t say I wouldn’t send any more fulls – just that I won’t do it willy-nilly without asking for a time frame on a read. While some agents post their time frames, many do not. I had naively assumed there would be some sort general consensus on when fulls were read – and now I see there really isn’t. So rather than sitting there twisting in the wind for months, and possibly stalling on other agents who are more proactive, I will ask for a time frame or give a time frame. And I would recommend other writers do this too. If I had done that to begin with, I guess I wouldn’t be in this. 🙂

  7. Emily, I think it’s all been covered here – that’s what happens when you are late to the party!

    One thing I read very recently was by an agent who said sometimes when they are notified the author of a requested full has had another offer and now have a week to also respond, they don’t read the full and reject because they don’t have time that week to read the full. Something to bear in mind.

  8. Midnight Writer, I agree with you. I had an agent who seemed enthusiastic and told me he was going to send out my novel ‘to five major publishers next week’. I heard nothing for months but, like you, thought I should be a good little writer and not pester. Eight months later I got an email from someone who said she was Agent’s assistant, ‘We’re just about to send out your book, can you tell me which year it’s set in?’ I should have said goodbye at that point, but couldn’t face starting all over again to look for another agent. More months passed and again, I heard nothing. I had no clue what he was doing with the book. Probably nothing. I wrote the goodbye letter. Even that took weeks for him to acknowledge.
    Extremely dispiriting, and it affected the book I was writing.

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