Q: I have been querying agents, but I also just received an offer from COOL PUBLISHING HOUSE, from an editor I met at a conference. I want to get an agent before I agree to the deal. What should I do?
A: Email the agents with whom you have open queries, and let them know about your offer. This will probably move your submission to the top of the pile. Tell them you need to hear back by a certain time. Within a week, or two weeks, for example. Near the end of your stated time frame, follow up again. Most agents will respond to one of these messages, either to open a conversation with you or to directly decline to represent you. If they don’t respond, move on.
Q: Do I go with the first one to get back to me?
A: No! Well, not unless you have done your homework and you already know that particular agent is your first choice person. You need to hear back from as many as possible. And you need to interview them, to be sure their working style is really a good match for you.
Q: But the offer is hanging out there! The editor is pressuring me to respond. She’s so excited. I don’t want to lose an opportunity.
A: That’s great. But if the editor loves your book and her house wants to publish it, that enthusiasm is not likely to fade. When they get to the point of making an offer, the editor and the house have already spent a fair amount of time and energy thinking about your book. They are on board. If they give you an expiration date for the offer, it is usually a pressure tactic. Generally such offers will be renewed, especially if you explain up front that you are excited about their offer, but that you need to get an agent in place before you feel comfortable accepting any publishing offer. Keep them apprised of your timeline, and they will most likely stick with you.
Q: Can’t I accept the offer myself, and then just have the agent negotiate the contract?
A: You can, but there are some basic terms that you may inadvertently agree to upon accepting the offer that may be harder to change later, such as whether you are selling World rights vs. North American rights, in just English or all languages, audio rights, whether there will be royalty escalation, etc. An agent will help you get the best deal from the get-go.
Q: How do I know that an agent is right for me? Interview them?
A: Yup. Set up a phone call and ask them things like:– How much editing do you do with your writers before submitting a manuscript to editors? – How much communication do you have with your clients? How do you generally work with people? –How much transparency do you maintain during the submission process? Do you tell me who the manuscript is out with? Will you show me the feedback and rejections I receive? – Do you represent all the types of material I write? – I hope to publish many more books after this one. How can you help shape a writer’s overall career? – What would be your strategy in responding to the offer I have on the table?
Q: I’d be so excited if anyone at all wanted to represent me! My book is going to be published!
A: Yeah, but you are looking to make a long-term business partnership here. You don’t want to rush into it. The agent that negotiates your first book deal will always be attached to that project. You will be connected to and working with that person, or that agency, in some capacity, for the rest of your life. When you think of it like that, you can see that spending a couple of weeks making sure the agent/agency is a good fit for you will be time well spent.