Saturday, April 22, 2017

S is for Selecting an Agent When You Receive Multiple Offers #AtoZChallenge

The #AtoZChallenge 2017 Theme at Operation Awesome is the Publishing Journey.

At Operation Awesome, we strive to provide writers and readers with the resources they need to succeed, at every stage of the journey. With that in mind, let's discuss some tips for choosing among agent offers.

It seems like an embarrassment of riches: you've struggled through the query trenches, revised your manuscript countless times, and nearly given up hope. And then you find yourself with not one, but multiple, offers of representation from agents. There's no defined process for making the choice, and even though you know you're incredibly fortunate to be in that position, it's going to be a very difficult decision. So how do you make it?

Why does this multiple offer scenario happen? 

Typically, authors query more than one agent at a time. Thus, authors often have multiple full manuscripts out at any given time (whether from contests or slush-querying). Several agents may independently decide they love the manuscript and want to offer rep. Or, more commonly, once one agent has decided she loves the manuscript and wants to offer rep, the other agents may take that as validation of the manuscript and decide to throw their hats in the ring too. This is sometimes called the 'blood in the water' phenomenon.

Once I get an offer, what do I do? 

Step One, talk to the offering agent, if you haven't already, to get all your questions answered. Here are some great resources for what questions to ask: from agent Rachelle Gardner, agent Janet Reid, and Writer's Digest. You can also ask the agent what she thinks you'll need to do to revise your book to get it ready for submission, so you can get an idea of the types of changes she'll require and whether you can live with them.

Also, feel free to ask for a copy of the agency's representation agreement so you can review the terms before signing. And ask the offering agent if she has a few clients who'd be willing to speak with you to share their experiences and answer questions. 

NOTE: you'll be repeating this step with all of the agents who end up offering, so make sure you're allowing yourself enough time to do this!

Step Two, ask the offering agent for a set amount of time (usually between 1-2 weeks) to consider the offer.

Step Three, email all the other agents who have your partial or full manuscript. Let them know you've received an offer (it's good to revise the subject line of your initial email to include something like 'OFFER OF REP' so the agents know to pay attention to that email). Then, tell them when you need to hear back from them by. Let's say you got your offer on January 1, and you told the offering agent you'd let her know by January 15. When emailing other agents, ask them to let you know by January 12, so you have a few days to make your decision.

NOTE: Opinions differ on whether to also inform the agents who only have your query letter (and have not yet requested pages). I think the best way to handle this is to only contact those agents that you know you would sign with (you'd choose them over the offering agent), should they also offer rep. If you choose to contact any of these agents, let them know you've received an offer and you'd be happy to send your manuscript if they'd like to review before the deadline.

NOTE: DO NOT START QUERYING NEW AGENTS AT THIS POINT. This is considered unprofessional and bad form.

NOTE: The other agents may ask you which agent has offered rep. While you aren't obligated to say, there's no harm in doing so. Often, it's because agents want to know if they stand a chance against a 'superstar' agent, or they want to make sure whoever you're considering signing with is legitimate. 

Step Four, keep a spreadsheet or chart of everyone you've submitted to, their responses, and any follow-up. You don't want to lose track of anyone in the shuffle.

Step Five, once the deadline for responses has passed and you've heard back from all the agents you contacted (it's fine to ping them for responses if the deadline has arrived and you haven't heard back), set up calls with any other agents who have offered representation, and repeat Step One for each agent.

How do I choose? 

Here's where things start getting really stressful! Let's say you go through all the steps above, and you end up with four agent offers. All of the agents are legitimate and none have any glaring red flags. How do you decide which one to sign with? Here are some methods:

Method One: Create extensive pro-con lists for each agent, including factors such as level of experience, number of prior sales, communication style, etc. Weigh the terms of the agency agreements you received, to make sure none of them have non-negotiable terms you can't agree to. Determine if there are any 'deal-breakers' for you (for me, it was if agents did not provide contact information for any current clients for me to contact). Then, see which agent has the most 'pro's and the fewest 'con's and choose that one.

Method Two: Go with your gut. Even though you might feel you have to make the decision scientifically, maybe you've known the whole time which agent you really want to work with. It could be the agent who offered rep first, or the agent you've long considered your 'dream agent.' It could be someone you didn't know much about when you queried, but you really clicked with over the phone.

Method Three: Put all the names in a hat and choose one.

Most authors use a combination of Methods One and Two. That's what I did, and it was still one of the hardest decisions I've ever made. All the agents I was considering seemed great, so I made pro-con lists and comparison charts, talked to several of the agents' clients, and in the end, I weighed all of that, came up with a tie, and went with my gut.

I've never heard of anyone using Method Three, but hey, it could work.

What do I do after I've made my choice?

Once your decision deadline arrives and you've made your choice, first email your chosen agent to accept the offer. Wait until you get confirmation from the agent that she's received your acceptance and you'll be moving forward. 

Then, email the other agents who offered rep to let them know. Make sure this email is polite and professional - you don't want to burn any bridges. Write something simple, like 'Thank you so much for the time and effort you spent reviewing my manuscript and extending an offer of representation. After much thought, I’ve decided to decline your offer. I ended up with several offers and had to make a really difficult choice. I wish you the best with all your future projects, and thanks again for taking the time to consider me.'

Finally, celebrate! You've survived an agonizing week (or two) and come out of it with a contract with the agent who is the best fit for you. Now it's time to work on revising your manuscript to prepare for submissions!

Have you found yourself in the position of having to choose among multiple agent offers? How did you choose?

1 comment:

Deb Atwood said...

Thorough advice for any writer in this enviable position. I'll keep this one on file just in case...