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Handling an Offer of Representation

I have talked a lot about the best ways to handle an offer of representation, about how an author can take that initial offer and turn it around into the best offer–to ensure that you are signing with the agent that is best for you. My most recent post on the subject can be seen here.

But no matter how many times I have written on the subject, and for how many years, we still have authors regularly (okay maybe a few times a year) who pull their work from consideration because they’ve accepted an offer from another agent. Now, of course, there are a number of reasons this might happen, but it still always leaves us scratching our heads and wondering. We can’t help it, agents are naturally curious people.

Why would an author do this? I can only speculate since I’m not an author, but hey, speculation can be fun.

  1. The author hasn’t fully done her research and assumes she should always accept whatever comes through. I feel like we see this more in nonfiction, from authors who don’t spend years learning about the business in the same way fiction authors do. Usually, in these situations, we aren’t even notified until we either go to request more material or offer ourselves.
  2. The offering agent was top of the author’s list and she feels no need to talk to others. This may or may not be a mistake. Sometimes you do absolutely know and this is the right fit, but also, sometimes, you’re basing your decision on what your friends say or on an agent’s reputation instead of really ensuring that the agent you’re choosing is the right one for you. Of course, maybe in one phone call you know. That happens too.
  3. The offering agent pressures the author into signing by giving an unreasonable deadline and even bullying the author by threatening to pull the offer if the contract isn’t signed in a very tight time-period. Yes, I do know of this happening.
  4. I was never the first choice for this author so even though she did talk to other agents she didn’t include me in the list. That makes sense too. If the book is out with 20 people, but you have a top five it makes your life easier to immediately slash some of your list.
  5. You just want the process over and to move on to next steps. That’s fair. I get it. But this is your career you’re talking about and as much as you want the next steps to happen yesterday, it’s more important they are the right steps.

Either way, we accept the author’s decision and always keep our doors open. You just never know. And of course, always, we wish everyone publishing success because there really is room for everyone out there.

 

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6 comments

  1. #3 happened to me. I have since (amicably) parted ways with him. I think the pressure coupled with—this is my only shot!—compelled me to sign without giving other agents enough time to consider. *sad face* Lesson learned! (Now I’m back to querying and worry that being previously represented leaves a stain on my query.)

  2. I think there is a natural instinct to scream “Where do I sign?” to an offer. After so long in the trenches it’s hard not to act on instinct (and to quell the little voice whispering “what if they change their mind?” incessantly). The other fear is of offending the agent by not accepting instantly. Saying “I’ll let you know next week” doesn’t seem polite. Is there a better way to phrase that, or is it accepted in the industry that’s what happens?

    R. Adams, I don’t think you have to mention your previous representation in your query. But if it goes further you tell the agent then. Make sure you have a list of publishers/editors the book was sent to as that will have a big impact on your chances of representation – like us with agents, once an editor has declined that rules them out as an option for your future agent. If it is a new book you are querying it will be easier to find a new agent then with the old one, especially if it was on submission. Good luck!!

    1. AJ, for me personally (and other agents may respond differently), I don’t find that impolite at all. When an author tells me, “I’ll have a decision for you in two weeks to give other agents an opportunity to respond” I thank them and encourage them to let the other agents know they have an offer to be sure they have all possible offers to consider before deciding. I’m here to advocate for the author’s career, and if they don’t choose me, sure I’m sad, but it’s a personal decision I don’t want them to take lightly, either. So telling an agent you need time to decide is not only expected, but encouraged. We want you to be as happy with your representation as we are to offer it!

  3. Thank you for your posts, Jessica! I wrote 10 traditionally published NF books a century ago, but am a first-time novelist. I’ve completed my (sneaky, get-it-all-in plug to follow) up-market contemporary romantic comedy of 67,000 words (TMI, but WHEW!), yet here I stand, staring into the void, terrified.
    Is my query too short? Is it too long? Am I too old to have written this book? Am I w-a-a-y too old? ERK!
    You’ve said you’re not an author. Lucky you!

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