A recent blog post about a writer who found herself in a wretched predicament when an offer did not lead to acceptance prompted a lot of commenters to ask about what writers should do between offer and acceptance.
First, you'll note that offer is NOT acceptance. You're not obligated to accept any offer given you. An agent who says otherwise is one I'd steer clear of.
Second, you should be able to ask questions of any agent making the offer. You can say "hey look, I don't know much about this, and I want to be careful" and have that respected. An agent who makes you feel foolish for being nervous, or not knowing things is one I'd steer clear of.
Now, here's the checklist:
1. Offer from Agent Good Taste received.
Do NOT say "yes!" even if you want to. You say "I need some time to notify the other agents considering this." A week is the generally accepted amount of time.
2. Notify all other agents that you've received an offer you are considering.
Be prepared to tell Other Agents who the offer is from.
Because we are seeing an uptick in authors claiming offers that don't exist, I always ask who the offer is from. I ask also because if it's from Dewey, over at Dewey Cheatham and Howe, I might direct you to third party websites for some research.
3. Ask Agent Good Taste for a copy of the author/agency agreement.
An agent who won't show you the agreement is one I'd steer clear of. If you're uncertain about whether the terms are fair or industry standard (or worse, neither!) do some googling. A lot of agents are blogging these days and most of us have covered the items in an author/agency agreement at one time or another.
4. Get out your list of questions to ask prospective agents and send them to her.
You should have this prepared ahead of time. If you have more than 20 questions, that's too many. If you only have one, that's not enough.
The most important question you'll ask is whether the agent wants you to revise before sending the manuscript on submission.
Some agents will not give you an editorial letter unless you've signed as a client. They've learned the very very hard way that some writers take editorial suggestions, revise the manuscript then shop it around again. As you might guess, this leaves agents feeling a little burned. This happens most often with new agents; the ones who have the time to do revision/editorial letters and are most vulnerable to "better" offers from more experienced agents.
5. Contact Agent Good Taste's clients (or some of them).
Ask what s/he's like to work with. An agent who will not let you do this, or won't give you names of clients or suggests in any way that this is not acceptable is one I'd steer clear of. I tell every prospective client they are welcome to email any of my present clients directly. I don't give them contact info (it should be on all my client's websites!) and I don't ask what the clients say.
Assume the clients like and respect their agent. I will never forget one poor prospect who had the misguided notion she should dig till she found what a client didn't like. She ended up with an email from the client saying "you don't deserve Good Taste as an agent." And the client had bcc'd the agent on every email. The agent and I are still laughing about that. And of course the agent withdrew the offer of representation, cause someone that determined to find fault is probably not someone you want to work with.
6. Schedule phone calls if you want to talk with the agent
7. Repeat this process with any other agent who offers.
8. Decide which agent, if any, you're going to work with.
Notify the others.
Clearly, things happen at a pretty brisk clip once that first offer rolls in. You'll want to be as prepared as possible. Here are some things you can do in advance:
1. Prepare the list of questions to ask a prospective agent. This list should be around 10 questions. There are lots of places to find lists of questions.
2. Know who the agent's clients are, and how to reach them. Most of my clients have their email address on their website, but do you know who my clients are? Sure some of them get mentioned here, but there are some you've never heard of I bet.
3. Know what's a dealbreaker for you. The LAST thing you want to be doing is researching what a three year agency commitment means when you've got an offer on the table.
Questions? Of course you have questions.