Friday, August 26, 2011

Torn between two lovers

After experiencing some recent Slightly Dodgy Potential Client Behaviour, I thought I should say a little something about what an author should do if he or she finds that he or she has two or more agents or publishers to choose from (and if, in the latter case, there is no agent to advise).

We'll vault past the initial querying stage to the point where your full manuscript has been requested by an agent or publisher (editor, if you're in the northern hemisphere). Let's call this agent Agent A. If another agent, Agent B, then requests the manuscript, the polite - and professional - thing to do is to email Agent A and let her or him know, so that Agent A is aware that there may come a point at which the author tells Agent A that he/she has been offered representation by someone else; plus it may cause Agent A to hurry up with the reading. It is also polite to let Agent B know that Agent A already has the manuscript, so Agent B, too, can hurry up with the reading.

If Agent B reads faster than Agent A - which can happen for various reasons - and comes back more quickly to the author with an offer of representation, the polite and professional thing for the author to do is to contact Agent A and say something like, 'Another agent has made an offer of representation, but I'd still really like to hear from you. It would be great if you could let me know what you think of the manuscript by X date [allow a week or so].' The incorrect thing to do is to contact Agent A and say, 'Another agent has offered to represent me - see ya.'

This is the incorrect thing for the following reasons:
1. No matter how excited you may be about Agent B's offer of representation, how do you know if Agent B is the better agent for you when you haven't given Agent A the opportunity to tell you what s/he thinks?
2. It's kinda rude, and publishing people value manners. Gods help you if you ever decide to leave Agent B and seek out Agent A again, because Agent A will remember you and will likely say 'no way'.

Agent B will not withdraw the offer of representation if you stall for a few days - not even if you say why you're stalling, because Agent B would expect the same if s/he was in Agent A's position.

In short: it costs nothing and takes very little time to be courteous to people whom you hope will support your career for years to come. This also applies to dealing with people you meet along the way in publishing - today's editorial assistant is tomorrow's agent or publisher. Why not behave in a professional manner towards people you expect to behave professionally towards you?


Natalie said...

I think I would be scared to hesitate with Agent B and tell them I was giving Agent A a chance to get back to me, just in case Agent B dumped me.

I recently saw an Oprah show with some woman who had done regular appearances on Oprah 15 years ago and who then got an offer for her own show from another network. She mentioned this to Oprah, to open negotiations for getting her own show with Oprah's network, but the response was basically, "if you love them so much, why don't you marry them?" And she was dumped altogether. And the other network didn't give her a show after all.

The lesson being, that Oprah felt it was a betray of loyalty. But perhaps this senario wouldn't apply to your case, as the author doesn't actually have a history with either Agent A or Agent B.

Perhaps I am too vividly imagining Agent B on her gilded throne, magnanimously making an offer to a lowly author who should be weeping with gratitude, and then withdrawing favours at the least hesitation.

I have not yet tried to get an agent, so I don't speak from personal experience with the breed, but I have the impression it is hard to get one.

Che Gilson said...

What an enviable situation to find oneself in!

I think authors tend to panic. I know I would. If it took me X number of years to even get a request I would worry that If I said no to anyone I'd never get an agent again.

But I'm glad to have read this post if I am ever so lucky! I will certainly keep all parties informed!

Shirley Patton said...

As always, great advice. Thanks. Shirley Patton