experience, attitude, enthusiasm, and boundless optimism

Ask Daphne! How long can I make her wait?

Famous big shoes for Paula, who writes:

I recently submitted my first book to several agents. This is my first time, and I really wasn’t sure what I was doing. I got names off the internet. Anyway, two of the agents requested a partial. One of them requested the full the next day, and the day after that called me with an offer for representation. She was nice, and guided me through the q&a. I haven’t heard back from the other one yet, and there are still queries out there. Bottom line: I’m hoping to be with a bigger agency, even though she and her agency have plenty of sales in my genre. How long can I keep her waiting for an answer? She didn’t give me a timeframe. I’m thinking of using this offer to try and get the other agencies to offer. Is that appropriate?

First of all, Paula, congrats, and I hope you haven’t had to wait too long for my answer to your pressing question. I think a week ought to be enough time, once there’s an offer of representation on the table, to tell the other agent considering your manuscript that you’ve received an offer, ask her to get back to you with her reaction, and get back yourself to the first agent who offered.
Now, you said the other agent considering your material only has a partial, and you haven’t heard back from her yet — did you mention you had an offer? You should do so, soonest. You can make your own decision about informing the agents who only have queries; I know I’d be happy to be told I had one less query to read, if a manuscript was no longer available to me, but other agents might be happier if you didn’t flood their inbox.
But there’s another part of your email I want to discuss. You mention wanting to be with a bigger agency, even though the agent you offered representation has strong sales in your genre. That’s a fine line you have to walk to find an agent, and some folks you may approach with it might not be thrilled. It’s one thing to tell someone you’ve already been in touch with that you have an offer of representation, but if word got back to the agent who offered that you were contacting other agencies after the fact, she might withdraw her offer.
You need to consider honestly if you truly believe you NEED to be with a big agency, or if you can be happy with your book in the hands of a quick, enthusiastic, efficient agent with a strong track record of sales, whether she’s with Giant Agency, LLP, or out on her own. Good luck!

The famous shoes, by the way, are Vivienne Westwood platform mock-crocs that Naomi Campbell was wearing in a runway show when she fell in them. They live in the V&A in London, now. Link.