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On Submission Etiquette and Offers

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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