Earlier today, I got into a debate with an agent on Twitter. I won’t name names, but suffice it to say they are somewhat new to agenting, with a handful of clients, no reported sales on Publishers Marketplace, and not part of an established, well-known agency. That isn’t to say this person doesn’t have other knowledge and experience in publishing, only to mention this isn’t a seasoned agent. It all began with these tweets:
My response: “If author has fulls w/other agents, a mutual commitment has been made that work has been read. It should be honored.” Followed by: “Also, an author has the right to consider offers from multiple agents. I’m glad I gave others that chance before deciding.”
She did not see it that way:
Meanwhile, she continued to argue her side:I replied, “Yes, but writers query agents of different tiers. And they should be able to ask for a week before deciding regardless.” I followed with, “It would probably help for you to ask for exclusives if that’s what you believe. Most agents don’t operate this way.”
But that’s not how she wants to work:
This is where I started to get riled up. You can do business any way you want, but do not imply I’m not a “serious writer” because I queried multiple agents and considered more than one offer before getting representation. Because this also implies the dozens of writers I know are also not serious, and I won’t stand for that. But I kept my cool and countered with, “I know dozens of ‘serious writers’ who do/have done it that way. But yes, we’ll have to agree to disagree.”
That is how we left it, but not before this agent blocked me and anyone who favorited my tweets on the matter, before she made her account private. She did have one parting shot:
I’d also add my six years of publishing experience from back in the day, working at Trident Media Group and HarperCollins, on top of research I did on literally HUNDREDS of agents and their practices when I was querying. But that’s not the point.
Here is what worries me: a writer might see an agent with “guidelines” like these and think they should accept the first offer of rep that comes their way. This is not true.
What a writer should do is make sure the offering agent has a vision for the book and writer’s career that matches their own. They should also make sure communication styles and personalities mesh to a comfortable degree. They should respect agreements made with other agents who requested material and let them know of the offer.
To clarify, you should only query agents from whom you’d seriously consider representation. Never try to get an offer only to leverage it for a so-called better one; that’s shady. But the key word here is “consider.” There are likely to be numerous agents who a writer would be happy to get rep from, with various working styles and experience levels, and you have the right to entertain offers from any/all of them.
If an agent asks for an exclusive, that’s another story. In that case, you’re making a promise to submit your work to only this agent. Personally, I never subbed to agents who asked for exclusives, preferring to cast a wider net. But even if you have an exclusive with an agent and they offer, you don’t have to say yes.
However, that’s not what my argument above was about. If this agent wanted exclusives, I would’ve kept my mouth shut. From her tweets, you can see what she wanted was for you to say yes if she offered first. I don’t think this is a sound practice. If you are head-over-heels for the offering agent, go for it. But don’t do it because one agent says so.
Here is what I think is a better practice:
1. Get an offer. Ask tons of questions to ensure this is an agent you’d want to work with.
2. Suggest a 1-2 week consideration period to the offering agent before giving them a final decision.
3. Email EVERY SINGLE AGENT who has your query, partial, or full manuscript. Let them know about the offer. If you’re no longer interested in their potential representation, withdraw your submission. If you are still interested, let them know about the deadline and offer to send them your ms if they don’t have it.
4. Be open to any other offers that may come through. Some agents may look great on paper/online, but may not be as good a fit when you do more research, communicate with them, etc. Similarly, other agents may not have a big presence online, but end up being a great match for you. My agent isn’t on Twitter but has oodles of industry experience/connections and reps multiple NYT best-selling authors, in addition to being part of a reputable agency. (Incidentally, hers was the second offer I received.)
5. Use the time to seriously consider who would be the best advocate for your career. Remember this is somebody with whom you’ll ideally develop a relationship that spans many years and many books.
6. Make the choice that is right for you and you alone. Let all the agents in question know when the deadline arrives.
7. Do a happy dance and celebrate, because you have an agent! Be proud of the hard work that led you to this moment.
I wouldn’t have gone on about this if I didn’t feel strongly than an agent was offering questionable advice on Twitter to querying writers (particularly since she was using high profile hashtags checked by hundreds—if not thousands—of aspiring authors). I don’t believe it’s right to tell an author they should say yes to the first offer that comes along. They should have the opportunity to consider other offers and say yes only when they are certain.
I think most writers and agents would have my back on this one, but if you side with the agent above, we’ll have to agree to disagree.