Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Bad Manners

I've been querying for my first agent. Some queries went out a few months ago with requests for the full but no response otherwise. Some queries went out a week ago with almost instant requests for fulls. And then phenomenal turnaround times in reading the MS.

Great feedback, some rejections and one accepted offer of representation later, I emailed everyone who still had a partial or full manuscript to update them on my new agented status.

I got an email back from an agent who was holding on to the full the longest stating they had spent the day reading my manuscript and deserved to respond to the offer. Bad manners, they said. But there was no exclusivity attached.

Is it bad manners? Have I gone against established protocol? I should be happy to have jumped this hurdle and focus on revisions and preparing my manuscript for the next step. But that response really took me by surprise and made me question how I've gone about the process. How should I proceed during the next stage of writing life without making another stupid mistake? Many thanks for your insight.

If it makes you feel any better, I made many similar mistakes when I got my own agent this summer, despite my years of working in the business. It's a very tricky thing because some understandings are unwritten, and I honestly don't know how agents expect us to know them if they never talk about them.

In general, people who get an offer from an agent usually call up the other agents who were considering a partial or a full and ask them if they also want to offer representation, because authors like to keep their options open and are not necessarily sure that the agent that responded is the one they want. When I got my book offer, I called every agent who had a partial or full and told them I had a book offer, and would they like to consider my work more seriously? Most responded within 24 hours, some begging for more time. Then it became difficult to choose, and I wasn't quite sure how to go about doing it. It's not easy for anyone.

I don't think what you did was bad manners. Some authors do jump on the first (or second) offer, and leave other agents in the dust, because that was the agent they wanted in the first place. In fact, it was very polite (and correct) of you to inform the others that you now had an agent and they should remove you from their consideration pile. If they expected more from you, they should have told you so, or demanded an exclusive. I would mark that agency off your list for down the road; it doesn't seem like they're right for you, anyway.


GOD said...

Interesting. Good/bad problem to have. Congrats, though.

Rejecter, this applies to specific projects, right? I mean, I had non-fiction proposals out for two completely separate books, and received an offer for representation for one immediately. That agent only handles certain things -- not project B -- so should I contact the other agents considering project B? Doesn't seem as if it's relevant.

BTW...LOVE your blog.

The Rejecter said...

You should probably mention it, yes. That's a tougher question, actually. Most people do not have two agents unless their first agent sees the different project and says, "I'm not right for this, so go find someone who is."

Even I wouldn't know what to do with two agents making two offers on different projects, but you'll probably be heading into bad waters if you don't tell them and a conflict-of-interest comes up.

Anonymous said...

Quite a predicament! Remember to research the agents who give offers- when I got one, he turned out to be way better than any of the others I had been hoping for! So even if you don't recognize the name, check the agent listings.

Anonymous said...

There is no such thing as an implied exclusive. Either for agents or editors, the author isn't obligated to consider any requestor to have it exclusively of others. If the agent wants to consider more carefully or take more time, s/he should ask for this. Then it's up to the author. There is no question of bad manners on the part of this writer, and IMO the agency is merely acting snooty. They know their business better than I do, so they probably already know they have no right.

Anonymous said...

I had this happen once, too -- and as Dennis says, it's a great problem to have, so no complaints on my end. I think it arises partially because we've all been told so many times not to contact agents while they are considering our work; we're just supposed to know that this is an exception to the general expectation.

Personally, I would have preferred to know that in advance -- so hooray for your reader for writing in about it. In my case, because the agent who said I hadn't given her a fair chance kept telling me how angry she was (in an effort to get me to change my mind?), I asked her how she would have liked me to have handled it instead.

Her response was surprisingly simple: she set it out as a general Law for Writers (of which I had never heard before) that if a writer already has a manuscript being considered by one agent and is solicited by another, she should immediately tell both that there is more than one agent in the running. BEFORE anyone has made an offer, to maintain a level playing field.

It seems like a pretty good rule of thumb. But again, it would have been much more useful to hear about it before I was in the situation, rather than after.

Dave Kuzminski said...

Unless an agent asks for an exclusive, in which case an author should advise the agent if there are others already reading it, there is no obligation to state that other agents may be reading the manuscript. That's a given that there will be others who have also been queried and among which some may have requested partials or fulls. Any agent who claims an unwritten rule of that sort is playing head games.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like the agent wanted the book simply because another agent wanted it. A version of this happened to me as well. I did the correct thing by letting other agents I'd submitted to know I had an offer. Immediately one of them (who'd had the manuscript FOREVER) claimed she was "just now" finishing the book and offered representation on the spot.

I did take the phone call and chatted awhile, but all of it felt like a lie, frankly. The original offer agent loved the BOOK, the second one just didn't want to miss an opportunity.

Should you have contacted all the agents? Sure. But it probably wouldn't have changed your decision. And an agent that bitches out a writer over this is an agent that you are probabaly better off without. Trust me, this agent isn't thinking about YOU right now. Wash your hands of the whole thing.

GOD said...

the rejecter said...

"Most people do not have two agents unless their first agent sees the different project and says, 'I'm not right for this, so go find someone who is.'"

In my case, that's exactly what happened, and I really appreciate his honesty. This guy is awesome!

And I agree that it's only right to disclose the first project IF an agent offers representation on the second. Right? There's no need to go into that at the proposal stage, is there?

Sorry if I sound dense. This is all happening so fast, and the real kicker is that the agent I am currently working with has helped me put together a proposal for yet another project, which will begin its rounds with editors very, very soon.

I like my odds...throw enough crap against the wall, and something has to stick. Ha.

Josephine Damian said...

How does Agent A know the writer isn't lying when they say Agent B has offered representation?

Do agents call other agents, or rather their assistants, to confirm offers?

ORION said...

When my agent asked for my full after I first queried her she asked for an exclusive that I couldn't accept- that was fine she just asked me to keep her posted on any offers I received - When she offered I accepted as she was my first pick- the others offered when I notified them I had an offer of representation-
It's a major plus to have that enthusiasm that makes an agent be the first to offer- IMHO
With no exclusives I don't think the writer did anything at all wrong - it just sounds like sour grapes-
BTW my agent DID ask who the other agents were that offered and agents DO talk among themselves...

Anonymous said...

Here's a good one.
A few years ago I sent out a manuscript to various slush piles and received a few nice rejections with hand written comments and a few form rejections. Then I queried an agent, thinking it was time to leave the marketing to the pros. I never ever ever did get a response from said agent. Meanwhile, I sold the manuscript to a big house. Then I wrote another and sent it to the same agent with an update of past publishing success. Again no response [it's been a year] and again I sold this book by myself. Recently, I sold book three and totally skipped the agent idea. I don't think they are interested in me or my work or receiving 10% of the big royalties I've received.
Whatever. I'm now onto book four and will continue selling stuff myself until I get a phonecall from them. And in the event I decide to query an agent again, I will send out my info to many.

GOD said...

Anon 3:12,

Your story is incredible, and assuming you can negotiate a good deal for yourself, a great way to keep more of your money. At the same time, based on what I've learned, you are the exception. I don't think I could negotiate on my own behalf...the contracts I've seen are like a foreign language to me.

- Dennis

Anonymous said...

I've got five fulls out with agents... one of whom was really excited to receive it... OVER TWO MONTHS AGO.

But he hasn't read it yet. None of them have read it yet. But he was REALLY excited.

If one finally drops the dime and calls me, I will give the others the courtesy they expect. But I can tell you right now, if HE suddenly wants to be considered over someone else -- he won't be my first choice and he will never know why!

Cocky, I know. But I'm hoping it comes to that. I'll let you know if it does. Anon of course.

Deb said...

Hey, Anon 4:28--why feel cocky? We authors are part of the relationship, too.

Sometimes I think we feel it's really all about the agent. It isn't. It's partly about us. It's mainly about our writing, the sine qua non of the whole smash.

Heather Moore said...

Anon 3:12 Congrats on your contracts! How did you get past the "agent-query only" at a big house?

Maybe you should be an agent :)