A reader asked about what a writer should do if they happen to get offers of representation from multiple agents. First of all, congratulations are in order. An offer of representation is professional validation to a writer who has, most likely, not really gotten such praise and confidence from an expert source. A lot of writers, though, think this is an embarrassment of riches and a great problem to have. It’s not. It’s a really stressful situation where you have to make a major business decision under time pressure, all while being wooed by really nice, really encouraging, really savvy people.
When you first get an offer of representation (see a previous post on this topic), send an email to all the other agents who have your partial or full. More often than not, in today’s really busy climate, you’ll probably get another offer by doing this. Agents want the hot commodity and will likely chase a writer they know already has an offer — that means someone else thinks they’re good, too! (Occasional truth: some busy agents screen their slush pile by focusing on the writers who email to say they’ve gotten offers…that way the agent knows which projects are worth reading.)
So now you, the writer, have multiple offers of representation. The first one feels great. The second one starts to feel confusing. By the third, you’re queasy. Who to choose? They all love your book, or should. If you get a lukewarm offer, that person is just playing the game, most likely, and can be cut from consideration. They all have editorial advice. They all have enthusiasm for you and your career. Well, what now?
Talk to each of the agents. Get a feel for their passion level and for their ideas for the manuscript. Try not to let the gushing or hype or big promises go to your head, even though it’s hard. What do you want as a writer? An agent for the long-term or for just this project? An agent who gives editorial notes or one who is more hands off? An agent who communicates openly or who just gives you the verdict after the submission round is over? An agent who communicates by phone or by email? An agent who does small, careful submission rounds and waits to hear editor feedback or an agent who submits you all over town in a huge, splashy round?
You are hiring this person. Let your needs and your feelings and your understanding of what’s right for you guide your questions. Good questions to ask:
- How many clients do you have? (You may have trouble getting a straight answer here.)
- How big do you want to grow your list?
- What houses do you work with? (It’s the agent’s job to make connections, so if they only know or sell into a few houses, that might be too narrow.)
- What is your submission style?
- How often do you follow up once on submission?
- How much editorial work do you do?
- How do you see us growing my career together?
- How often do you communicate? How do you best communicate?
- Are you receptive to questions from me? How quickly do you respond? (Some agents are more standoffish, others do a large amount of “hand-holding” and support for their clients.)
- Do you share submission lists and rejections as they happen? (Figure out if you want to know this…some authors love transparency, others like not hearing bad news.)
As about your agent’s path to becoming an agent, where they see themselves going, what their hopes are for your project. Ask them for client references if you think talking to one of their existing clients will help you. This definitely helped me eliminate a few agents when I was in these shoes.
From an agent’s perspective, this is our time to feel you out, too. How open are you to our editorial ideas? (I will often give three big ideas but save most of my editorial notes for later. I don’t want to overwhelm the writer but I also don’t want to give them some of my best ideas in case they go elsewhere with their project but still use my notes.) How savvy are you (in terms of being part of the publishing scene, having an online presence, knowing how the business works)? Do you have stars in your eyes or are you realistic about the marketplace and about how much work it is to be a published author? What are your career goals? How high-maintenance or easygoing are you and how easily would we work together?
The question you’re seeking to answer, as a writer, and the question I’m seeking to answer, as an agent, is this: Would we have a long-term, profitable, communicative, respectful, productive business partnership?
Now, this is a difficult question to answer. It comes down to a combination of gut feeling and your impressions of an agent and their prestige and record. You can check an agent’s sales in Publishers Marketplace. For $20 a month, month-to-month, you have access to a deals database that is pretty comprehensive (some deals aren’t posted there for various reasons, but you do get a pretty good picture) for each agent and agency. Agency reputation is really important. Has the agent’s agency been around for long? Have they brought many books to market? Are they known for the genre or age range for which you want to write? Publishing is a business of relationships and reputation.
You also need to take the agent’s rank into consideration — are they a newer agent with the agency or pretty senior in the organization? How long have they been agenting? There are pros and cons for a younger agent vs. an established agent, and I think that will be my next post.
Of course, if you ever have multiple offers from agents and I am one of them, you go with me, obviously. But very seriously, this is a big decision. And multiple offers from agents are becoming more and more common, from what I’m noticing (a post on this later, as well). For every writer in this position, I just want to say: this is your decision. Take your time and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Agents are intimidating to a lot of writers but, at this level, you really are in control. Use it.