On Submission Etiquette and Offers

November 3rd, 2010 • Kate

etiquetteI tweeted a bit about this earlier, but I thought I could share my thoughts on the subject in a little more detail here. And, after all, it wouldn’t hurt to have this information easily searchable in the future.

So, say you’re an author with multiple submissions out to agents — maybe a few queries, a couple of partials, a full or two — and you get the magic call. An offer! Someone loves your work enough to offer representation. Huzzah!

Before you sign on the doted line, know that many agents expect authors to take their time responding. After all, this is a big decision. And unless an agent has a policy of only looking at exclusive submissions, it’s common practice for them to suggest that the author get back to them with a decision within a set amount of time.

So, as an author, what do you do with that time? Well, you could just say yes, and do a happy dance about having an agent. But if other agents are looking at your work, the polite and expected thing is to notify them of the pending offer, and give them a deadline within your time frame for a response.

Now, I will admit that I usually don’t bother asking an author if anyone else is looking at their work unless I’m requesting a full. And maybe I need to be more clear when I ask for a partial, and specifically request that I be informed if there’s any movement on the material from other agents.

I think I place a lot of trust in the authors that query me, that they’re tech-savvy and follow not just me on Twitter and my blog, but also follow other agents. And while I think this is widely known and accepted etiquette, maybe isn’t as clear as I think it is. Thus this blog post.

I know that getting an offer is an exciting time. And I do appreciate being told not to bother reading a partial that’s no longer available — it’s much better than reading it, being interested, and contacting the author for more only to be told then that the manuscript is no longer available.

But here’s my perspective on things — if you queried me, hopefully that means you researched me, and found something that you liked about me and the way I work. And in the query process, at some point, you wanted to be represented by me, right? And then I said yes, please send me the partial. Given that you were interested in me, and I’ve shown I was interested in you, wouldn’t you want to give that a chance?

As I said on Twitter, I know I’m not everyone’s first choice, and I don’t expect to be. But if you only have one dream agent, maybe you should only send to them, and wait to hear their response before submitting to others. The other possibility is understanding that what may seem like a dream agent from one angle may change based on your perspective, and that the dream may not be found in a single person, but in an approach to your work.

I don’t want to make any author who gets an offer of representation feel bad about that fact. It’s a great thing, and you should celebrate it! Maybe I’m just a comparison shopper — to me, if I know I can get a great deal on an item at one store, I’m even more curious to find out if I can get a similarly awesome deal somewhere else — maybe with a better parking space, or points that get me coupons to use in the future.

But in the same way that we as agents hope that we get a chance to have an auction for a project, because we know that having multiple people interested means the chance of finding the best situation is even greater, I hope authors see the benefit of having multiple agents reading at the same time.

Does that make sense?

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19 Responses to “On Submission Etiquette and Offers”

  1. Bethany Says:

    I think something being common knowledge doesn't always translate into action when the situation really arises. Excited brain sounds a lot like sleep brain sometimes, in that it makes excuses to stay in the happy place. "Well, an agent requesting a partial isn't as invested as those who wanted a full, so s/he probably won't care anyway" means I can skip straight to the happy dance and not bother with the logistical obligations.

    I do not approve this, I'm just offering the perspective. 😉

  2. Kate Says:

    I do understand the different perspectives, which I hope came across in my blog. I guess I'm laying out what I think is the best case scenario, for both author and agents.

    In all honestly, not even being given the chance to read and respond hurts my feelings a bit. Yes, I do have them.

  3. Weronika Janczuk Says:

    I completely agree with you, Kate, and with Bethany as well.

    I've found that writers have prescribed notions of who they think their "dream agent" is, and they query widely in case the dream agent falls through — if the dream agent (or the pre-ranked #1 agent) offers representation, they take it and run with it.

    I've also been in positions in which I've read a partial or a proposal, only to email the author for more or to schedule a phone call and find that they've been offered representation elsewhere and accepted.

    It's frustrating. I can understand it, particularly among the YA crowd that draws so much on the excitement and frenzy of the blogosphere (and the energy and joy that is associated with finding an agent — you want to get there as fast as you can), but at the very least I hope writers get that they need to take a step back, to process, and to be fair/professional.

    Great post, and one one etiquette that I think a lot of aspiring writers may be unawares of.

  4. Krista V. Says:

    "And maybe I need to be more clear when I ask for a partial, and specifically request that I be informed if there’s any movement on the material from other agents."

    Kate, it makes complete sense that you want to know if a writer receives an offer of representation from someone else, but does the above statement imply you also like to know if another agent requests the full after reading the same partial you have? Or does that fall into the category of unnecessarily cluttering up the inbox?

  5. Noelle Pierce Says:

    Notifying agents who have the full and partial MS makes sense to me, but what about the agents who only have queries? Should we also let those agents know, even if they haven't requested anything from us yet? I've wondered this recently.

  6. Sue Harrison Says:

    I appreciate this post very much and certainly understand the agent's point of view on this. I'm wondering that if an agent requests a full, gives suggestions for revision and is given exclusivity by the author on a second read, is there a point in time when the author should withdraw the manuscript? How long should an author expect to wait for a second reading?

  7. Mark R. Hunter Says:

    I know multiple submissions to agents are usually considered okay these days, but I only submit to one at a time. It slows the process down for me, but I keep getting a mental image of upsetting someone by having to choose between two offers. More realistically, it allows me to first target the agents I've researched and feel would be the best match for me.

  8. Krista V. Says:

    Mark, I'm going to respectfully disagree with your approach to querying. You might have to send out 100 queries to find the agent who gets your writing style and your story, so even if you hear back from every agent within a week (which is probably an underestimate), you'll spend two years trying to find that agent. And even if you only have to send out 50, you're still looking at a full year. You could have your book practically on the shelves by then if you'd found your agent in a few months.

    Yeah, you're going to upset someone if you have to choose between multiple offers, but having multiple offers to choose from is in your best interest. I say, query widely (but responsibly, of course – no sense firing off your John-Grisham-style thriller to Kate, for instance).

  9. Jess Says:

    Oh of course I check my blogroll in the mornings and didn't see this. ^_^

  10. D. Friend Says:

    Make perfect sense!!!! Thank you!!!!

  11. Shannon Says:

    Hmmm… Today's blog makes me wonder if writers are taking the time to read some of the fabulous forums and websites out there. SWFA has an entire section on Writer Etiquette, so does Absolute Write – and if you aren't sure, you can always ask questions on the forum.

    I don't know, maybe I'm old school, but I'd like to think that if I ever got a request for a partial or a full, I would take 5 minutes and read up on what MY job is as the writer – what's expected of me – even if I've read it all before.

    Happy Dance aside, why possibly burn bridges with agents that you may need someday? I've noticed that many great authors change agents for a multitude of different reasons. So, email the 20 or so agents that you first sent your MS to and let them know what's going on. Soemday, you might find yourself querying again.

    I have no dream agent. I think that my dream agent will be the one that believes in my MS and my writing as much as (or more) I do.

  12. Mark R. Hunter Says:

    Oh, crap — I just sent my Grisham style thriller to Kate. 😉

    I understand what you're saying, Krista, and I weighed that while making the decision, but I decided to go old school for now. There are certain specific agents I'd like to work with if possible, and I want to try them first before casting a wider net. If they don't work out, I'm prepared to have a submission right back in the mail (or e-mail). Meanwhile, I stay busy preparing to publicize the book I sold earlier this year, and I'll work on selling my two finished category romances myself, so I won't sit around in a holding pattern.

  13. Krista V. Says:

    Sounds like you've got a plan, Mark. It definitely is a whole different scenario if you already have books out there.

    Oh, and you're so versatile, writing category romances AND Grisham-style thrillers 🙂

  14. Mark R. Hunter Says:

    I'm eclectic in what I like to write, and my newest book is a mystery — but only jokingly would I ever compare myself to Grisham!

  15. Meghan Says:

    Noelle, I have wondered about that too. I'm inclined to think I wouldn't bother letting an agent know if I've received a partial or full request if that agent has only had a query letter and I haven't heard anything from them. Then again, if I received the partial request very soon after sending out that query letter, I probably would let them know. It seems like a different scenario if they've had your query for weeks with no response before you received the ms request from a different agent. I don't know if this is right, though!

    Sue, in regards to the the second reading, I imagine that the agent could probably give you a timeline if you ask how long it might take. They might tell you they'll try to have it read in two months, or whatever, and hopefully let you know if it's going to be longer than that.

    This has been a very interesting post – there are so many insightful comments. Like Krista, I am also impressed by your wide range of writing styles Mark! Also, I'm jealous of your patience in querying! 🙂

  16. Mark R Hunter Says:

    Thanks, Meghan! I think the key to patience in querying is to keep busy — with my hands full of other writing and/or selling jobs, I always have a feeling of moving forward. It took me some years of writing to get to that point!

  17. Folake Taylor Says:

    The post makes sense but it's not every agent/agency's perspective necessarily. Therein lies the problem. I have found that many agencies or agents state what they prefer and how they operate on their website. Some want you to submit to them exclusivly and some don't care. The rules are not the same so each person has to make it clear in my opinion. Some agents don't get back with you if they are not interested and you may not be sure if it means they're still working on it, haven't gotten to it or are not interested. It's as frustrating if not more for the author.

  18. Folake Taylor Says:

    My point is this: If you want queries/partial submissions/full MS submissions to you to be exclusive till an author hears a yay or nay back from you, it is perfectly alright to state this but not entirely fair to automatically expect that because every agent is not the same. 🙂

  19. Mark R Hunter Says:

    I suppose it all boils down to communications: Everyone has a certain responsibility to let everyone else know how they operate, and what's going on. That's especially important with agents, since the agent/writer relationship should be considered a partnership.