So, You’ve Got an Offer . . .

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Jan 09 2012

So, you’ve got an offer . . . but what if you’ve already been rejected by agents all over town?

I was going to leave this as a comment on your post “You Have an Offer” but decided to email you instead…

What if you’ve been rejected (or just not heard back from… no answer means no) by pretty much every agent on your list and THEN get an offer from a publisher? It feels kind of silly to email all the agents who’ve just told you no thanks and say “I know you didn’t want this, but hey! Certain Publisher does, can someone represent me please?”

I’m facing this situation myself at the moment. I spent all last year querying a sci-fi with romantic elements, Atrophy. I got some great rejections, agents who said “I can’t take this because it falls right between sci-fi and romance, so don’t know what to do with it, but write something else and send me that!”

After I’d pretty much exhausted my list of potential agents, I was given the email address of an editor at HarperVoyager Australia from one of their authors I know and sent a query. The editor got straight back to me and said she wanted to see the first 10 chaps. A few weeks after that, the editor emailed again to say she was enjoying it immensly, there was so many things about it that were great and wanted to see the entire manuscript, plus was going to get another editor to read it as well.

Now, I know this isn’t an offer and there’s still every chance they could say “thanks, but no.” Excpet taking into account how enthusiastic she seemed about it, I’ve got to consider what I’ll do if they offer a contract. Some other published authors have advised me to forget about an agent since I got rejected by so many. If HV offer a contract I should just get a lawyer familiar with this sort of thing and go it without an agent. I now have several books published with Noble Romance Publishing and doing that without an agent it one thing, they’re a small press, the contract was pretty straight forward and I was confident having a lawyer look over it and then going ahead on my own. But obviously HarperVoyager are a whole different ball game and honostly, I know that to make the kind of career I want, I need an agent.

So, on the chance HV do offer me a contract, what does an author do who has already been rejected by agents all over town do?

Would really appreciate an answer to this question that has really been stressing me out.

Well, what’s interesting is it sounds like you have great feedback from agents who just didn’t know where they could take the book, or they didn’t feel they had the contacts, or could do you justice because they felt the risk was too big, and, sometimes, agents don’t want to get an author’s hopes up when they know something is a long shot. What I’d suggest is wait until you have the offer, and when you do, let the editor know that you’d prefer to work with an agent so will need two weeks before you can get back to her. Then I would immediately follow up with those agents you felt you got a good response from. Those agents who sounded very interested in you and your work and, if they asked to see other things, clearly your voice. Let them know you have an offer on that book and ask if they would consider offering representation.

Sure, you could definitely hire a lawyer (make sure it’s a literary lawyer, someone who understands the publishing contract), but if you already have agents who are enthusiastic about your voice, this is a good opportunity to start building a relationship. When you interview those agents, really talk to them about their vision for your career, not just their strategy for selling this particular book, although that should be part of the conversation as well.

I hope this helps. It sounds like you’ve gotten some good news lately so congratulations!


15 responses to “So, You’ve Got an Offer . . .”

  1. Avatar Huntress says:

    Great advice. I want the 'normal' route with agent and agency but if going to the publisher directly is in my future, this is good to know.

    Thanks for answering this question so thoroughly.

  2. If the author receives an offer of a contract from the publishing editor, would it be possible to go back to one of the agents who turned down the initial query/manuscript? With a publisher's offer in hand, I would think an agent would be willing to take on the book without much hesitation.

    In fact, couldn't the author be more-or-less able to pick their top choice agents to send the new request for representation to?

    (And, what would the reasons for an agent to turn down a "I've received a contract to publish my manuscript and now need an agent" request?)

    — Tom

  3. Avatar Julie Daines says:

    Interesting situation. And one that I think many aspiring authors find themselves in. Thanks for the advice.

  4. Avatar AE says:

    I lit up when you said, "interview them" and "ask where they see your career going". As a writer, I don't think many blogs address this issue… that as writers, we have a right to ask an agent to perform. Perform may not be the right wording, but hopefully you get my idea… that agents have a job and responsibility to the writer as well, and it's not just a one way street.

  5. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I found myself in the same situation as the writer. I just shrugged and sold the book to the publisher. The publisher was Random House, and I had heard nothing to their detriment, and the contract, while wordy, isn't as hard to understand as all that. I read it through several times and anything I didn't understand I googled.

  6. This is great advice.

  7. Avatar Anonymous says:

    "I've got to consider what I'll do if they offer a contract."

    Get it in writing, hire an attorney, and sign as fast as you can. You don't get many chances like this in life…or in publishing. Worry about hiring an agent later.

  8. First of all, congrats! And I second Jessica; she hit it on the head. If the only reason an agent rejected it was because they didn't know where they could sell it, contact them again now that you've pretty much got a great idea of one place. I'd still have a discussion with them to figure out if this would be a one-book deal or if they would be willing to represent you for the rest of your career, and if the latter, whether they would cultivate contacts with editors in this genre if you plan to write more of it. I've been hearing more and more about SFR, though, so best of luck with it!

  9. Avatar Anonymous says:

    @Tom M Franklin – An author may be in the best position to choose an agent when they have an offer of a contract in their hands and it does generate interest from agents. But despite liking your work, agents don't necessarily offer to rep you.

    Why? Speaking from firsthand knowledge, I had two agents on my top list who I queried when I received a publishing offer.

    Both liked the ms and wanted to offer rep. after talking to me on the phone. The first though, when we discussed my other work and she read samples of them, realised she'd judged these mss in a writing contest and wasn't as enthusiastic about them.

    The second agent realised she had another client who was submitting work that was similar in theme to mine and didn't want our mss competing with one another when it came to selling to a publishing house. She felt it would be unfair.

    Most agents look to sign with clients for the long haul, not just one book. Agenting is a partnership so they need to know if they can work long term with a client as much as you want to work with them.

    So I understood both these agents viewpoints and reasons when it came to not offering representation.

  10. Avatar Debbie says:

    This was a terrific question, and the answer was very heartening. Thanking you for sharing.

  11. Always good to hear advice on the potential "what if?"s. Thanks!

  12. Avatar Rin says:

    Thank you for this! It's always nice to know that an alternative is available!

  13. Thanks for sharing such an interesting information.

  14. Avatar J.L. Murphey says:

    Actually, this type of thing does happen on rare occasions… it did to me over thirty years ago. I wrote a short piece and was asked to expand it into a full nonfiction by a publisher. I simply requested the publisher recommend a list of agents they work with often. Even though some of the agents listed had originally turned down my proposal, the agency I picked was great.

    Yes, I understand I went about this backwards. There is something about not having to sell a book that agencies love! LOL and I might mention they still represent my nonfiction.

  15. Avatar Filigree says:

    OTOH, if an agency is only interested because you have an offer in hand, they may not have your career goals in mind, too. They'd have to be interested in your long-term writing plans, not just a quick sale.