An Offer!

This post has been updated to clarify some points that were obviously confusing. 5/20/16

Oh my god, you got an offer of representation! Congratulations! That’s HUGE. So exciting! The very next thing you need to do is freak out. I mean, go into full on panic mode. The clock is ticking! Email all the other agents who have your manuscript and tell them they have 24 hours to decide whether they want to make an offer too.

This is a good idea, because then agents, very very busy people, will all say “Oh, crap. I don’t have that kind of time,” and drop out, making your decision very easy.

Obviously I’m being facetious. But this is something we see ALL THE TIME. Most weeks we get follow-ups to queries saying the author has an offer of representation, and the offering agent has given the author until x date (often a week or two) to claim their prize.

WTF?

I get the other agents’ motivation. Putting a time limit on these things prevents the endless stringing-along while all the other agents read and decide. Authors: You don’t have to agree to it. If the offering agent really wants to sign you, they’ll wait. They’ll wait and do battle with other offering agents. They’ll wait, and check in, and tell you again how much they love your work. If after two weeks, their interest in your work expires, well, they probably won’t be the best agent for you anyway.

Here’s the other side, and I’ll speak for myself. Other agents may have different feelings. But when I have a pile of urgent things that need to be done for my existing clients, and say this week someone has been particularly taxing, getting an email saying “you gotta read this and decide if you want to get married in the next week”, I may start to think, “Ugh. Here’s a demanding author. Do I really have time for her? Will she always be so insistent?”

Here’s a better way, in my humble agenty opinion: When you get an offer, tell the offering agent, “Hooray! Thank you! I need to get back to some people, and I will give you my response as soon as I can.”

If OA says, “You have two weeks to decide.” you can say, “Ok, I understand your time is valuable. I will try to respond in that time, but it may take a little longer to hear back from everyone. I hope that time limit is flexible.” Hopefully OA will understand. ETA: This doesn’t mean you should string them along for the next six months. But if it takes two weeks and 2 days, or three weeks, or a month, OA should be ok with that.

Then you go back to other agents, and say “I have an offer, and I’d like to be able to respond to it within two weeks. But if you need more time than that, please let me know.” Instead of “I need to know within two weeks or else.” ETA: You’re making a very big decision that will impact your career for a long time to come. Easing up on the timelines gives everyone the room to breathe. You can interview people. You can think about things. You can weigh out your options. Yes, two weeks is usually enough to decide. But sometimes it isn’t.

Also ETA: I’m not advocating for the process to take forever and ever. We all need to be respectful of each others’ time. What I’m saying is that 1. an offer of representation shouldn’t expire after a certain number of days, and 2. you can tell agents you want to hear from them by a certain time, but if they are interested and need more time, it’s in your best interest to work with that.

We’re all human, and believe it or not, we want everyone to succeed. So when we hear you have an offer, we’re happy for you. We may want in, but if you seem like a demanding diva, we may walk away on that basis alone.

ETA: Asking for what you want and need is not acting like a diva. Not being flexible to force someone to do things your way with no leeway is.

If time is money, is more time more money?

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23 comments

  1. rosiepova · May 13, 2016

    Another excellent post, Heather! Thank you for the insight and for sharing your thoughts from all the different angles you cover here which help us, writers, navigate through stressful times in the best possible manner, making informed decisions and not foolishly blowing any chances along the way. I love hearing about the agent’s perspective since oftentimes things become blurry in regards to etiquette–I especially appreciate the example on how to word the status update when emailing the other agents, with respect to their time as well.

    Like

  2. Pamela Courtney · May 13, 2016

    Thank you for your insightful post. Knowing proper etiquette be overwhelming. Equipping ourselves with this brand of wisdom makes me a bit more secure. So I thank you so much for this.

    Like

  3. writersideup · May 14, 2016

    Heather, thank you for always giving us the “real scoop” and taking the time to do so πŸ˜€

    Like

  4. rsonenshine · May 14, 2016

    Great post, Heather! This will be so helpful for authors seeking representation.

    Like

  5. Jennifer Nelson · May 17, 2016

    Two weeks is industry standard. And while I can see this mindset if the submission was just sent within days and now the writer has an offer, then fine. Stepping aside is common. But what the article doesn’t address is the fact that agents usually have mss for months at a time. So the time frame feels reasonable to me.

    Liked by 5 people

  6. philangelus · May 18, 2016

    When you get an offer from an editor for a client’s book, do you give other editors a deadline to get back to you, or do you tell the offering editor to cool her jets until everyone feels like getting back to you?

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Kim Chaffee · May 18, 2016

    Keepin’ it real! I love that! Thanks!

    Like

  8. Heather Alexander · May 18, 2016

    philangelus, for your analogy to work, it would be the editor setting a deadline. “I’ve made an offer, but it expires in x days.” That’s called a pre-empt, and it works differently than other offers. The client, or agent, still has the option to decline it, and the offering editor can still make an offer outside the pre-empt if they so choose.

    And to answer your question more directly, of course we set a deadline. Whether or not editors comply is another thing entirely. They often have reasons they cannot, like their boss is out of town, or they’re about to leave on vacation, or they have a 3-day meeting we didn’t know about. In those cases, we take those factors into consideration and compromise the deadlines. If someone really, really wants to make an offer, we let them. And that’s what I think authors should ask of agents as well.

    Like

  9. writersideup · May 18, 2016

    ALL of this is invaluable information for we who are not privy yet. Thank you πŸ™‚

    Like

  10. philangelus · May 18, 2016

    A pre-empt is not at all the same thing as what you’re describing. According to Janet Reid’s blog, not once but in several places, the industry standard is to give all agents with requested material two weeks to get back to the writer after an agent has made an offer. You’re asking for writers to go against the industry standard for fear of looking like “divas.”

    But at the same time, you’re also saying it’s perfectly fine for you as an agent to set deadlines and not be a diva.

    In the same position as the writer with an offer, (NOT with an editor setting a deadline but with an editor calling you with an offer,) would you do as you expect the writer to do? To just sit around for six months or so waiting for everyone else to get around to reading the material and maybe replying? Or would you not rather alert every single editor reading the material that an offer has come in and that if they want to stay in the game, they need to get back to you?

    That’s bad business, and taking that approach will inevitably lead to offers getting rescinded.

    Like

  11. philangelus · May 18, 2016

    Actually, thinking more about it, the implication of your post is that you would never take a book to auction, either, since that would be giving editors a very tight deadline and would look very diva-esque.

    Like

  12. Michael McDonagh · May 18, 2016

    This article seems pretty far afield from industry practice. An offering generally agent gives the author a couple of weeks to accept so the author can deal with other agents who have the MS in this manner. It is a courtesy to both the author and the other agents, allowing anyone who might otherwise be in the mix a chance if they’re interested.

    What, exactly, are you advocating as an alternative? Receive an offer and NOT tell other agents that if they don’t offer within two weeks it doesn’t matter how much time they’ve untested or how interested they are, you’re going to pull the plug, without warning, on some arbitrary day they have no idea is coming? Is that the more respectful and polite approach? Or are you saying that the appropriate approach is to let the offering agent’s deadline pass without getting back to her?

    Since letting other agents know you need to make a decision in two weeks is supposed to be off the table, are you advising people to simply let agents invest time during that two weeks only to be told the author is going with someone else?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Michael McDonagh · May 18, 2016

    I should add that I realize you’re saying the author should tell the offering agent the deadline should be completely open-ended, presumably lasting until she’s heard back from everyone with fulls, but that date will likely never even occur (there are nonresponders, even to full requests). And, at some point, the author is still going to have to decide who she’s going with. Making an offering agent wait six months for a “yes” seems far ruder to me than letting others know they have half a month to offer if they’re interested.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Sarah Ahiers · May 18, 2016

    Yeah I guess I’m confused because for years and years agents have been talking about how asking for 1-2 weeks to respond to an offer of rep is industry standard. This is the first time I’ve ever heard anyone say that it’s unreasonable.

    Let’s unpack this a bit. If I’m a writer (and I am,) I send you my manuscript. Then, weeks or months later, I get an offer of rep from another agent, and I nudge everyone. Am I then supposed to wait more weeks or months before all the agents can finally get around to reading the whole thing? What’s a reasonable timeframe? What do I do in the mean time? Write another book for sure, but what happens when I’m done with that book and still waiting?

    And from the agent point of view, if I offer rep to an author I’m super excited to work with, how long do I wait to hear back from them about if they want to work with me? After a month, isn’t my excitement going to dim? Aren’t I going to think “boy, clearly this author isn’t excited to work with me?”

    It seems like this puts authors in a tricky position. If we ask to hear back from other agents within a reasonable time frame of two weeks (which has always been standard) we risk being labeled “a demanding author” Someone the agent might “not have time for”

    But if we leave off the time limit, then we risk being seen as not interested in the offering agent’s offer.
    It’s a bit of a damned if we do, damned if we don’t, situation.

    When I had my first offer, not a single agent blinked when I gave a 2 week time line to consider.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. alythiabrown · May 18, 2016

    More commonly, I’ve heard agents complain when writers string them along, waiting for a better deal. Now, I get where you’re coming from with authors demanding an answer in 24 hours. That’s insane! (Do people do that? Sheesh.) But I have to second/third/fourth that I’ve always heard 2 weeks is the standard time.

    Most agents know within 50 pages if they want to keep reading, or not. It’s not diva-ish for writers to let you know they have another offer on the table–that they intend to make a decision in 2 weeks. Far too often, there are double standards for writers, who are led to believe they can’t set boundaries without being called demanding. But this is business. There are deadlines in business, and sometimes people miss out if they’re too busy.

    If an agent came back and told the writer at the end of the deadline, ‘I’ve been slammed! I just started reading and I love it so far. Can I have two extra days?’ I think most people would be okay with that. We’re all busy–we get it! But to leave it open-ended is inconsiderate to everyone else who was able to read in time. Maybe that’s what you meant all along, though? The post makes it seem like you’re calling for authors to just wait until every agent has had time to read at their leisure…

    Like

  16. Briana · May 19, 2016

    This is really interesting!

    I have to agree with the other comments just with the general idea that this does seem to conflict with the advice that’s given to writers other places. It makes sense to me that a two week deadline can seem pretty demanding on the agent’s end if they have projects that are taking priority those two weeks. Yet it also seems as if telling an agent who has actually offered you representation that you’ll get back to them in a month or more with your decision make make them think you’re not particularly excited to work with them and are really holding out for a different offer.

    Consistency is hard to get across agents because everyone has a different working style, but clarification on some of these points would be useful to writers. While I haven’t actually submitted a manuscript to an agent, I know plenty of people who have, and the frustrating sense that agents all want different things is very real for many writers. When popular advice also suggests that writers submit to dozens of agents at once, it can feel pretty daunting to sort out the different expectations that 60 different people have–particularly when there’s the sense that making one wrong move can be what gets your manuscript rejected.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Krysta · May 19, 2016

    Many agents never respond to queries at all, so it seems odd to suggest than a writer with an offer should tell the offering agent to wait an unspecified amount of time to see if he or she can find someone better. Doesn’t this make it look like the offering agent is not the writer’s first choice and that the writer is secretly hoping for a better deal? Would the offering agent feel like the author was a “diva” if the writer told the agent to wait on them? What if the offering agent then rescinds the offer because they are tired of waiting on this writer who appears to not want to work with them–and then the writer has no offers at all? I certainly wouldn’t tell someone who offered me a job that they had to wait until I made sure no one better asked and it seems just as risky to do this with an agent.

    Liked by 1 person

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  19. Freda · May 28, 2016

    I certainly understand and even agree with this perspective, but I can’t help wondering about the double standard. Why are authors expected to be so courteous to busy agents who have had their manuscripts for months and yet so many agents don’t even bother to respond with simple form rejections?

    Liked by 1 person

  20. writersideup · May 28, 2016

    Freda, that’s the one thing I’ve always had an issue with—the “no response” thing. Even if it’s a form rejection, at least the author has closure and isn’t left hanging, which is how we spend all that time—in limbo, which is just awful 😦 In email, it’s a few clicks (split seconds) to do that: Reply > paste form rejection > Send. If it’s by mail, IF the author includes the SASE > slip a form rejection in the envelope > seal and drop in the mail, even if it’s done in bulk on a weekly basis. Sure, it’s nice to get personal comments if an agent or editor sees our work as worth that time, but I never expect it. Form rejections USED to be the order of business and are VERY welcome, especially in comparison to “no response.”

    Whoever came up with the “no response” way of doing things lost sight of the fact that the people on the “sending” end, along with their time and well-being, are just as important as those on the “receiving” end. Not all queries are sent by unprofessional writers who send the infamous “horror/ridiculous” queries we hear about which, in that case, I probably wouldn’t want to waste my time either, but many of us are serious and professional in the way we go about things. It takes a tremendous amount of work—blood, sweat and sometimes tears—to do so. We’re all busy, but even so, I see a response as common courtesy, not just in this case—but in life.

    Liked by 2 people

  21. philangelus · May 28, 2016

    I don’t believe the author of this piece is a no-response-means-no agent.

    You are correct that it shouldn’t take a long time to give a response. Janet Reid on her blog says her query email address has a few different “signatures” that are actually the entire response to a query. When she wants to reject a query, she hits reply, pulls down the signature menu to the one she wants, and hits send. It takes maybe three seconds.

    Yes,it does take some nonzero amount of time: if an agent is rejecting 60 queries every day, that means the agent has spent three minutes extra rejecting queries instead of just deleting them. πŸ™‚

    Like

  22. writersideup · May 28, 2016

    Yep, my response (can’t vouch for others) wasn’t directed at Heather—it was a general statement about the state of this aspect of the industry. And you reiterated my point—somehow 3 minutes a week isn’t much of a price to pay which relieves the author of something MUCH more weighty πŸ˜€

    Like

  23. Alison · May 30, 2016

    This is horrible advice. I don’t know why authors are given so little respect these days. “No response means no” is one thing (and seriously, it takes 2 seconds to send a canned response). But to be told they’re divas for setting a reasonable two-week deadline on responding after another offer of rep is just wrong. No reputable agent I’ve dealt with has reacted with “WTF” when an author sets a 2-week deadline. Many authors have sacrificed making a comfortable living in the hopes that someday they’ll be able to support themselves from their writing. They’ve usually waited months or years for that first offer of representation. Why on earth should they have to wait an indefinite amount of time AFTER receiving an offer of rep? After two weeks, they should be working with their new agent to make final polishes on the MS to get it ready for sub, and hopefully a sale. If an agent can’t make the time within two weeks for what’s obviously a hot project, I’d consider that a red flag and would move on.

    Like

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