Thursday, January 30, 2014

What to do when you get an offer while your MS is still with other agents?

So you’ve got an offer from an agent or publisher... congratulations. That’s pretty awesome news.

I quite often see that writers don’t really seem to know what the protocol is when they get an offer while their manuscript is still out there with other agents, so I thought I’d help you out by looking at the three most likely scenarios.

Scenario 1: you get an offer, talk to said agent or editor, and know instantly that they’re exactly who you want to work with and no one else will stand a chance:

Withdraw your manuscript from all other agents and editors. A simple “thanks so much for your consideration, but I have decided to accept another offer of representation/ publication” is enough. I’d send it to every person you submitted to – whether they have your query, partial, or full. A subject line reading “Withdrawal of query/ manuscript: TITLE” works wonder by the way. And believe me when I say we really appreciate it when you let us know ASAP. Every hour and every day that passes increases the probability of us reading – and thus spending time on – your manuscript. Please don’t waste our time if you already know that your manuscript is no longer available. That’s time we could spend on a partial or full of one of your fellow writer friends. They will appreciate it just as much as we will.

Scenario 2: you get an offer and decide to give the other agents a heads-up and the chance to throw their hat in the ring:

You write a polite email along the lines of "I've received an offer of representation/publication and would like to be able to make a decision by [date], so I’d appreciate it if you could please let me know your position with regards to [TITLE] by [date]" giving the agents the chance to read and make their decision by that date. Put “Offer of representation/ publication: TITLE” in your subject line; that way I will see that it’s not just another query and will check it out immediately.

Whenever I get an email like that I look at the query and decide straight away how likely I am to be interested in said manuscript. If I already know that it’s probably not for me, I’ll let the writer know. Also, if I reply that I won’t be able to review their material in time, it already tells you that I probably wouldn’t be a great fit anyway. Because if I think it’s a writer/ manuscript I might seriously want on my list, I will make it happen – no matter how much else I’ve got on my plate. At the end of the day, it’s all about priorities, I guess. But there are two things to consider.

a)  You give me an unrealistically short deadline. If you only give me 4 of 5 days, I will probably pass on your manuscript. Just because the day doesn’t have enough hours as it is. Please don’t force me to read through the night and make a shotgun decision. I’d like at LEAST a week to consider your work. Ideally between 10 and 14 days.

b) If you think “why not lie about an offer... it’ll make an agent make a quicker and more favourable decision”, think again. Yes, as soon as I hear about an offer, my decision is super quick. However, that’s not always a good thing. If I have a deadline of, say, ten days, I will only play the game if I’m seriously interested. I don’t base my opinion/ decision on the (alleged) interest from another agent. So lying about an offer won’t get you anywhere. It might just lead to a quicker “no”. You might rob yourself from the chance of me actually reading the entire manuscript.

Scenario 3: you get an offer and think about sending out a few queries to maybe garner even more interest:

Please don’t. If you don’t want to accept the offer you’ve got, that’s fine. No one forces you to. That’s completely your decision, and if you’re not comfortable with the offer, it’s your right to decline it. In that case you’re obviously free to send out as many more queries as you like. But please don’t send me a query saying: “Here’s my submission. I already have an offer so please get back to me by [date] if you’re interested.” Why I don't want to see that email in my inbox? Well, first of all… you had your chance to query as many agents as you liked. I assume you queried the offering agent because you did your research and liked what you found. [Please only query agents you’re happy to work with. If you don’t really want them as your agent, DON’T QUERY THEM!] I also assume that the offering agent had some time to make their decision while you're really giving me a fair chance to consider your work. You force me to skip all the queries that came in before yours (not really fair) and rush through your query and partial (and maybe even full). I will most probably send you a polite "thanks, but no thanks" response.

Same thing if you have an offer from a small press. If you want an agent, do not submit to small presses. Query agents. If you want to be published and don’t really care about having an agent, that’s fine – as long as you make a conscious decision. Don’t use an offer from a small press to attract an agent. a) there’s no guarantee it’ll work (I’ve passed on a lot of projects that had offers from small publishers. It’s the same as an offer from another agent. Either the manuscript is for me or it isn’t… another offer will not sway me.); and b) it’s not really fair on the small press to string them along on your quest to get an agent. So ideally, you submit to EITHER agents OR publishers. But don’t use the offer from the publisher as a query booster in a new round of submissions. (Again, you had your chance to query agents.)

Most things come down to manners and common sense to be honest. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt to ask yourself how you would feel if you were an agent or editor in these situations – that might help you whenever you wonder how to handle things. 

Wow, this has turned out far more serious than I had planned. Please accept this fine young man as my apology:


  1. I have to say, sending those, "I am no longer available" e-mails was such a nice feeling after landing my agent. There wasn't a doubt in my mind she was the agent for me, so I sent off those notices right away. After 15+ years of rejections from agents and editors, it was the only time I've felt like I was on the other side of things!

  2. It is always good to give others a chance at the what a deal brings, so for those who abuse it and take up that slot stringing along agents is wrong in so many ways. Be lucky with what you have gotten and be happy you have made it this far.

  3. We strive to make our way through the chaos and torment to that day when, finally see our work upon the shelf or on a computer screen. We want nothing more than to say "i did that" and to see the joy in someone's face as they read it.

  4. Wonderful info. Also, Zac Efron. *slurp*