Wednesday, May 04, 2016

So the offer fell through...what about those other agents?

I received an offer of representation, and I did what I have heard you should do--I emailed the other agents who had my manuscript and let them know. During the two week waiting window, I also received a copy of the offering agent's agreement. There were a few terms in it that, based on my research, didn't sit well with me. The agent and I went back and forth, but ultimately I decided it was best to decline the offer.

Some of the agents who had my full never responded or made "it's not for me" declines. But a few others came back with something more along the lines of: "If you didn't have an offer we might have taken this on or asked for an R&R".

So my question is: Should I just write off these "almost" agents and start querying again, or should I contact them and let them know about my decision to decline the offer (and also a subsequent decision to revise a few things based on the feedback I received)? If they ask, should I mention my reasons for declining (not who and where but the general issues with the agreement)?

I would appreciate your thoughts from the other side. I never quite expected to be in this position, so I am at a bit of a loss.

Yup, this is a very big problem, and it's one you did not create, but you're still the one who's going to pay.

The problem is that we are seeing an uptick in writers telling us they have offers when they do not. It's a strategy for getting us slacker agents to read requested manuscripts that have been languishing here for a couple days.

I understand the temptation to do this. I have editors who don't read things until there's an offer from someone else. The temptation to make sure there is an offer from Carkoon Publishing rears its head more often than I wish.

(If you are tempted to do this: don't.)

Now you're in the predicament of having an offer for real and turning it down, putting you back in the active submission category. Agents are going to raise an eyebrow, suspecting skullduggery.

The best way to handle it is to be honest: I had an offer but the agent and I had different views on some key points, so we decided not to proceed.

If you were to come back to me with this news the very first thing I'd want to know is what you disagreed on. Was it revisions for the manuscript? (I know from your question it was not, but your email to the agents won't be so specific) Was it something else? What exactly was it?

And here's where Problem The Second arises. If you didn't sign with the first agent because of terms in her author/agency agreement, you're going to need to tell me what those were and why you had a problem with them.

I'm VERY leery of clients who are difficult at this stage of the process. Generally I back away from working with them. If yes, you're nitpicking the author agency agreement, we've got a problem.

If on the other hand it was something else, like her clients all hate her and are hoping she'll retire soon, well, you share that info discreetly as well.

This is a real problem, and I don't see how you could have avoided it.

Oddly enough, I recently had an offer on a client's book, did exactly as you did [email all the editors who also had the book with the update] only to turn down the offer three days later.  I then had to email all the editors again with "hey, just kidding!"  I felt like a whacko, but there was nothing to do but suck it up.

And of more interest to you: I sold the book for realz a week later.

So again: be straightforward with the agents, BUT with the caveat: make sure you aren't being too picky about things you shouldn't be at this point, (How you'll know that however, I don't know!)
and you are prepared to explain what exactly was the sticking point with Agent The First.


Lisa Bodenheim said...

I am SO glad this blog exists. What an excruciatingly difficult situation for Opie. Not to say you can't get out of it. Janet has shown you how.

What's that saying...forewarned is forearmed? holymoly.

And that's all I'm going to say in my non-caffeinated state.

AJ Blythe said...

Oh, I feel for you OP. Just when you think all your stars have aligned it must feel like they are all shooting from the sky instead. As always, our Queen's advice makes sense. Be honest and open and hit the trenches again. Keep your chin up and all the best with landing another agent.

AJ Blythe said...

Going to slide OT now because I read our very own Donna Everhart's debut "The Education of Dixie Dupree" on Sunday. I won an ARC, but Donna didn't ask me to comment - it was just so good I have to share. I couldn't put it down. My family were left to fend for themselves while I read! From page 1 Donna sucked me in. As Reiders would expect, Donna's writing flowed beautifully and 11 year old Dixie was an easy character to like/sympathise with. I don't usually read books on such heavy topics (hence why I write cozies *grin*), but through Donna's great storytelling she managed to address a range of issues (including depression and abuse) in a way that was organic to the story, not thrust upon the reader, and deal with them in a forthright way. I didn't find the topics overwhelming which is why I usually avoid them (I don't go near Jodi Picoult for example). Alabama is completely foreign to me being Down Under and all, but Donna brought it to life. I'm not sure whether it is the southern setting, or the young protag, or the heavy subject matter but when I was reading this it reminded me of "To Kill a Mockingbird". Ironically, a few pages after I thought of TKAM her main character reads it. For everyone who has pre-ordered, you aren't going to be disappointed.

Colin Smith said...

As I read Opie's question, I was thinking, "Yes! Write back the almost-agents and tell them you're back in the marketplace." So a half-yay to me. That insight about people actually faking an offer of rep just to move the process along is... amazing! Maybe I overestimate people's honesty and good sense, but I can't imagine someone would actually do that. If there's one thing I've learned reading Janet's advice over the years it's the truth of the old Biblical adage, "Your sin will find you out" (Numbers 23:32).

Congratulations, Opie! You have a novel that almost got you an agent, and certainly stirred interest among others. I hope you take Janet's advice and find better success elsewhere. :)

Colin Smith said...

Wow, AJ. The TKaM comparison is high praise indeed. I'm really looking forward to reading it now!! :)

And since Donna isn't here yet, let me encourage you to post this mini review in Amazon and Goodreads and B&N and your blog and anywhere else you can think of. Every little bit helps encourage people to pre-order the novel, which in turn encourages Kensington to keep publishing Donna's books. :)

Unknown said...

Oh dear God. I've managed to make it through several recent blog posts without a panic attack, but this? Yikes! How does this happen? So frustrating for the OP. And, I really want to know what the obnoxious terms were. I'd love OP to follow up with a question to Janet about them.
By the way, I love the word realz, I use it all the time. But I thought it was spelled realzee.

AJ Blythe said...

Colin, yep, planning on doing mostly that. It's already on Goodreads. Planning on getting to Amazon and blog as well. Not sure about B&N - we don't have it here in Oz; I didn't even know you could post reviews there.

Colin Smith said...

AJ: Excellent!! I think you can post reviews to B&N...? Maybe not. Anyway, if you don't have it in Oz, then no worries. :)

Fo Realz. ;)

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I really feel for OP and all the writers who occasionally venture into the Reef in similar situations (offers falling through). You are so close. This begs a question. If you are a writer that actually gets an offer and you have other fulls out, can you mention to the agents with the full the name of the agent/agency that is making the offer so that the other agents will be able to check and know you’re not being a liar, liar pants on fire writer? Publishing is a small enough community that the other agents could check if they are suspicious, yes?

A writer claiming to have an offer who does not is kind of a disgusting technique for writers to use, as if agents are not already busy enough. It also hurts other writers when they genuinely have an offer and are just trying to be polite by notifying the other agents with fulls.

Slightly off-topic, I think I am retiring from the query trenches for a time. On my own, after my R&R rejection, and after looking at my manuscript with fresh eyes after the A to Z challenge, I think I am going to do a complete rewrite. I see ways to make my story so much better, so much tighter, and much more intense. This is just a gut feeling. My beta readers love the thing, but I feel like the book is good, not great.

Is that crazy? I have two requests, one partial and one full, from pitch sessions. Does this mean I have lost those opportunities? If so, that is fine. I can query those agents later and explain, can’t I? I think this could take me as long as six months. It may go faster as my vision is quite clear now, but I do wonder if I have lost my mind.

Anonymous said...


OP sorry about your predicament. Hope all turns out well for you. Good luck.

Sam Hawke said...

Oh, man. That's just not fair. When you've done all the right things and stuff like this still happens... I say again: Just. Not. Fair. Feel for you, Opie.

The Sleepy One said...

Yep, you can post reviews on Barnes and Noble. Although they don't get as many reviews as Amazon.

Unknown said...

OP - tough situation, but good advice from Janet. If it makes things any better, you're doing something right to be so close. I've posted a fortune cookie saying on my office cork board: "Life always gets harder near the summit." I'm still stuck at base camp. You're almost there!

& Apologies for this late posting to yesterday's FF contest results -

Kudos and brava/bravo to all entries. The elegant balance between story and language is breathtaking and inspiring. Reading all the FF stories for each contest is like taking the best writing class ever.

Still stunned after Janet's thumbs up from my second entry back in January. Working to climb out of my present White Rabbit hole to reach Cheshire Cat status.

Thank you Janet for creating, nurturing, and maintaining (you too Colin) this safe space of creativity.
Appreciations to all for sharing positive and insightful comments.
You all provide newbies with the courage to swim with the big kid sharks.

Lennon Faris said...

It's annoying that what other people have (untruthfully) done makes the situation difficult. If you explain what happened in a rational, non-petulant way, though, I feel like an astute agent would pick up that it wasn't your fault. Best of luck.

EM - I don't think that's crazy. Maybe those agents who are reading it now will get annoyed and leave if you tell them you have a new version. But, would you rather 1) possibly get your story published sooner and know it will be 'good', or 2) get published down the line, and have your story be completely awesome? Not that I'm saying it isn't awesome now, but if you have an idea to make it that much better, you'll probably always think about it!

Ellipsis Flood said...

That sure is a pickle, and all because some people can't resist the temptation . But I think explaining yourself will get you farther than just going "whoopsiedaisy, turns out I have no offer at all." Good luck to OP for this endeavour.

PS: Congrats to Donna. Not really my cup of tea, otherwise I'd look into it, too.

Unknown said...

E.M. Me to with regards to naming the agent I've got an offer from. I'm still waiting to get thrown into that briar patch, but I'd be sorely tempted to do this. If the agent is a rogue then the other agents will probably know, thus not be as skeptical when the offer falls through. Maybe, just maybe this would have helped OP. Besides, I almost always tend to think more honesty is better.

By the way, I wouldn't give up on your outstanding requests. If they love your book when it's good, they should love it even more when it's great. Besides, if you are on the right track with you revisions then they will probably agree with you. Good luck with the good to great! Aim high. Sounds like you are almost there.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I am so excited for Donna's book. I can't wait to read it.

nightsmusic said...

Okay, I'm going to be the bad guy here and say that, while I totally agree with Janet as far as being honest with those agents you are now going to try and contact again, why would OP jump the gun and tell everyone else she'd gotten an offer without waiting to sign 'on the dotted line' first? So, so many things can happen between the offer and the contract signing. Why burn your bridges before you're positive and everything has been ironed out? Can anything still happen after you've signed? Of course. Your new agent could keel over and you're left on your own again, but at least that doesn't sound like you're trying to pull a fast one.

Lucie Witt said...

OP... man. That's rough. Like Robert these kinds of scenarios send me into panic mode. It's a good reminder that the query trenches aren't something you leave behind so much as conditioning for all the bumps, setbacks and heartaches that stretch ahead if you really want a career in publishing.

What doesn't kill you makes you drink more bourbon. That's how the saying goes, right?


Now I REALLY can't wait to read Donnaeve's book.

I know many people here have dealt with loss. Patton Oswalt wrote this for his wife, true crime writer Michelle McNamara, after her recent passing and I found it very beautiful:

Lucie Witt said...

Sam Hawke said...

@nightsmusic - you tell everyone else you've got an offer so they have a chance to offer too. If you wait til you've signed on the dotted line, you haven't given them a chance! The OP told the other agents that they had an offer, not that they'd accepted one, so they weren't burning bridges.

@Lucie Witt - that was so sad and lovely.

nightsmusic said...

@Sam, I'm sorry, but I disagree. I wouldn't tell anyone else I have an offer until I knew all of the details. Then, and only then, would I tell the others. Because if you don't like the details, you're not signing anyway. Why do you want to play a game of things? Unless you're looking for better representation than the one offering and if that's the case, why are you considering the offer? Because you're desperate to be published? But getting an offer and immediately telling the other requesters that you've gotten one without knowing what the offer entails, to me, is exactly that. Burning your bridges. To me, it sounds like the OP did exactly that. Got the offer, emailed everyone else to tell them, then got into the details of the offer and didn't like what he/she heard. And not knowing what those unliked details are doesn't help the speculation here, but no. I'm sorry. Because now, OP has to scramble to try and get picked up with one of the others and Janet already mentioned that the red flags would be flying at this point.

Madeline Mora-Summonte said...

OT - Just added DIXIE DUPREE and also ADRIFT to my TBR shelf over on Goodreads. Looking forward to reading them both!

Unknown said...

OP, I'm so sorry to hear this! What a stressful situation. I guess the lesson learned is to read the agency agreement from offering agent before contacting the other agents who have fulls and partials. The agent who offered me rep (which I later accepted) sent the sample agency agreement almost immediately after we hung up the phone.

I hope this story has a happy ending. Good luck!

Cindy C said...

Yet another potential hazard on the road to publication. This is a long and winding and dangerous road!

My question is similar to what nightsmusic brought up. What is the best timeline when you get an offer? Get offer--let other agents know--get details--sign/not sign? Or get offer--get details--let other agents know--sign/not sign? I can see advantages and disadvantages for both.

Adib Khorram said...

nightsmusic, I'm afraid Sam and the OP both followed standard industry practice: as soon as you receive an offer of representation, you let the other agents with your work know about it so they have time to read. Janet talks about it here.

It sounds like it wasn't details that tripped up the OP, it was the terms of the author-agency agreement itself. Is asking to review such agreements something authors should do in their initial call, or is that considered too forward?

Timothy Lowe said...

Nightmusic brings up a good point. What is the timeline like? I would imagine the offering agent provides the contract right away. You could review it very quickly (cross-reference with the post on this blog about what it 'should' look like), THEN let other agents know - you should still have the better part of a week or two to decide?

Timothy Lowe said...

(...I am also super excited to read DIXIE - having read TKAM more times than I'd care to count, these comments make me anxious to get my hands on it!)

Karen McCoy said...

Thank you to this blog for tackling the difficult questions!

In facing a situation like this, before signing with the agent, would it be acceptable to say to the other potentials, "I have received an offer but would like to read the agent agreement before signing." Or does the contract not appear until the acceptance of an offer has been received? In other words, is there flexibility in the timeline of this sort of thing?

Donnaeve said...

I think, like QOTKU says, OP did everything right and didn't create this situation for themselves. In reading the comments, and then going back to read OP's again, some are suggesting OP should have waited to receive the agreement before contacting the other agents to tell them they had an offer. Except...they already had the "offer" which is why the agreement was on its way. Only...and sadly, after reading the agreement, some red flags popped up for OP.

**Personally, I don't get the two week window part. When I had an offer of representation - the agreement came the very same night of The Call.**
Anyway, during the two week window, the other agents replied to OP's email about having an "offer," with one thing or another.

I think OP did the right thing by going ahead and contacting them. IMO, you don't wait until the agreement is in hand, and you're about to sign on the dotted line to let other agents know. To me, this is no different from a book being on sub to editors. If an offer comes through, Agents then scramble to let the other editors who have the book know, "this one has legs." The other editors then get a chance to read it. This doesn't happen after an offer is made and the agent/author are about to close the deal, only to find out the offer's not what they wanted...

OFF TOPIC: AJ BLYTHE! Here's a big fat virtual ((((((((HUG))))))) from me! Again, thank you so very much for saying such great things about DIXIE DUPREE, and for sharing it here. It is truly appreciated more than you know. THANK YOU to all of you too. The support here is really something else.

Craig F said...

To me it seems like someone started their happy dance too early. I don't think you should tell all those slacker agents that are dawdling with you work where to go until you are ready to sign on that dotted line.

You don't, usually, have to tell agents who else you queried. Why tell them when you get the first feelers of an offer. It is not even really an offer until you accept it. When the sailing looks clear tell the other agents that your ship has sailed. Don't do it too early.

Laura Mary said...

Sisi, It's a tricky question, and would depend on the timescales given to you by the agent, and an acceptable timeframe for you to give the other agents to read.
I think it's been said before that an agent should be happy to give you two weeks to consider the offer, and that one week is an acceptable length of time to give to outstanding queries.
In theory that gives you a week's breathing space to find out as much about the offer on the table as you can.
In theory.
In reality you may only be given a week to consider and it's 5 days before any kind of agreement gets to you.

I guess this is a cautionary tale to cool your jets and wait a while before waving the offer banner, but in all honesty I can't say I would have reacted any differently if it were me.
Good luck going forward OP - polite honesty will see you through :-)

nightsmusic said...

Janet has a long, very long list of questions to ask the offering agent. IIRC, and I might not, many of those questions cover red flags that could arise. If those questions aren't asked prior to accepting an offer, shame on us wee woodland creatures. And if they're not asked, one shouldn't be letting any other agents know that the offer is until they are because it appears to me that this is how the problem started. But what do I know? I'm only published in magazines so far and that's a whole 'nother ball of wax.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

If I were OP I would cry first and then do exactly as OP did, hit the Queen with a question.

If I were Donna I would cry, because ALL OF WHAT WE DREAM ABOUT, as writers, is coming true.

If I were a republican I would cry because...well just because. I could go on as to what we are witness to but chose not to here. Where's my tissues?

Joseph S. said...

I hope the original poster tells us how the agents respond that he or she re-contacts.

Panda in Chief said...

Boy, OP, I feel for you for your dilemma. Hindsight being 20/20 and all that, but in my life, I've never known what I could possibly screw up until I have done so. Once again, Janet's advice is sound. Get in touch with the other "almost" agents and be honest about why you reconsidered signing with agent A. And maybe think about whether your objections were reasonable or not.

I did not ask to see the agency contract before popping the question to my mentor, but we had been working together for 6 months, I followed the agency's news letter, and felt I had a very good sense of my mentor's (now agent...huzzah!) integrity and knowledge of my genre.

I've had enough things go south on me over the years and so am overly catious and probably would not have alerted other agents until I had a signed contract in hand, but not because 'm smart, just because I am aware things can go south with little notice.

OT can't wait to get my copy of Dixie Dupree which I preordered last month. Donna, I am so excited for you!

I continue to be overwhelmed about how much I don't know, or even don't know that I don't know. Makes a panda want to take up hibernation.

Donnaeve said...

I still can't figure why some think OP jumped the gun...

Did anyone go out and read QOTKU's post Adib provided the linkyfied link for?

After an offer of representation, (and she gave three scenarios)one answer for all three: "Ask for some time to give other agents who've requested fulls time to read."

But aside from that answer, QOTKU explains why it's the right answer.

THE NEW twist to this is what she highlights today. *Some* writers are saying they got an offer - when they didn't. You can thank that person for now creating yet another way for agents to suspect writers of something fishy when they email to say an offer didn't work out. (Fishy. Un, no offense to The Shark. :) )

John Frain said...

OP, I feel for ya. And I believe I would have acted in the very same way you did.

Here's one place that stumped me in Janet's answer:
"The best way to handle it is to be honest: I had an offer but the agent and I had different views on some key points, so we decided not to proceed."

And then:
"If you were to come back to me with this news the very first thing I'd want to know is what you disagreed on."

Logical. I'd want to know the same thing. So why not answer that right up front in the first correspondence. I had an offer but the agent and I had different views on some key points, so we decided not to proceed. Specifically, X and Y were things I could not agree to. However, I'd be willing to A and B.

My guess is the sticking points with this agent are unique to this agent, so it'd be wise to get that point out right away in talking with other agents. I'm easy to get along with! Turns out I had an offer from a bit of a crackpot!

Otherwise, as you suggest, new agents are going to assume the worst unless you tell them early that it's not so.

Good luck, OP, remind yourself that you have a ms people are falling in love with.

Donnaeve said...

Thanks Panda - I had my comment in for several minutes but was contemplating and re-writing it over and over b/c I'm not wanting to sound like I got up on the wrong side of today.

Julie Weathers said...

To the original questioner, I'm really sorry this happened. It has to be a kick in the gut.

There are just so many things that can go wrong with offers. The agent might say, "God almighty, I can't imagine listening to that voice for the next ten years, nosiree Bob. I changed my mind, no offer." You might object to the firstborn clause in the contract. You know, the one you penciled in where they take your firstborn so you can write and the agent crossed it out?

I, being wise in the ways of the world, try to avoid kicks to the gut. This is why you stand close to an animal instead of far away. Close up they can't do much damage. The more room you give them, the more momentum that leg has to knock you into next Sunday.

In order to minimize the danger of getting kicked in the gut, I would have contacted agents and let them know I had an offer, out of courtesy in case they were also interested. I would NOT say I have accepted an offer until ink is dry on both sides of the deal.

I'm going to minimize as much damage as possible.

BJ Muntain said...

Again, honesty is the best policy. And straightforwardness.

I hadn't realized that there were that many authors saying they had offers when they didn't. I mean, I could see there was that potential, but for someone to actually do that? How would they think they wouldn't get found out somehow?

I can see why being precise in the reason it didn't work out might be necessary in this case, but that's not something I would have assumed. Interesting. But if so many are playing the system now... that really makes life harder for the rest of us. Our agent has to be able to trust us, as we have to be able to trust our agent. To break that trust before even starting? That's shameful.

A note on reviewing on Amazon: An author needs a certain number of reviews before their book will be 'recommended' by Amazon (in the 'others who bought this' or 'you might like' areas). I've heard that number is 20. So by leaving reviews, you're helping an author get their book in front of readers.

EM: A request opportunity from a pitch session is never lost. It's been requested, and there are no best-before dates on requests (unless an agent says so specifically during the pitch session). As has been said before, agents want to see your best work. They see and request so many things at conferences, they're not going to remember or keep track of who has sent something in and when.

When your manuscript is the best you can make it, send in the requested materials. Remind them when they requested it. You might include a reminder of your pitch. It's still a foot in the door, even if that foot is starting to fall asleep. Querying after receiving a request is unnecessary.

nightsmusic: When an author receives an offer of representation, it's customary to let other agents with your manuscript know, so they can read and make their own offers. Janet has said in the past that she gives very hard looks at people who don't do that.

To others: Just because the OP and the offering agent didn't agree on one or two points in the author/agency agreement doesn't mean the offering agent is a crackpot. It just means they didn't agree. That happens in business.

Stacy said...

One of the overarching concepts I've gotten from reading this blog is that, while creating is a lovely and necessary thing, there's an inherent risk in trying to go pro. There's a risk no one will like your book, and there's a risk that if an agent does, it won't be enough to get past contractual issues. There's a risk of the OP's situation arising.

It doesn't sound to me like the OP did anything wrong. If you have an offer, you can't assume it will work out, and if you have other fulls out there, it's only fair (and in your own best interest) to let the other agents know. The more irons you have in the fire, the better.

And I think there's a way to salvage this. If the OP finds agents are backing away after learning what s/he objected to in the contract, s/he should express a willingness to learn why s/he was wrong. Some agents may not bother answering, but others might respond positively to that. And the OP would get a chance to learn something about the industry s/he might not otherwise have known. And hey, s/he might find an agent after all. You never know.

Julie Weathers said...


I had several requests for fulls on Far Rider. I wish I'd gotten the remarks from the last Super Agent Dude early in the process. I would have pulled it and taken a serious look at rewriting before every agent on ten continents saw it. As it is, I have a list of agents who have invited me to send my next work to them. I have some specific ideas where to go if I do rewrite.

It's up to you, but if you aren't confident it's the absolute best it can be, I would pull it and rewrite. You have one shot with an agent and that manuscript.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

Thanks B.J. And Julie. I am going to rewrite. I know it is right thing to do. But boy, it slows things down. But I will feel better if I just do if.

Colin Smith said...

Lucie's link:

Also, a reminder that Janet's list of questions to ask a prospective agent (compiled from a couple of blog articles) can be found in the Treasure Chest

Colin Smith said...

Claudette: Thank you Janet for creating, nurturing, and maintaining (you too Colin) this safe space of creativity.

I'm honored that you include me, but this is all Janet's doing. And if you love this little writing community, I believe a wise person once said, "If you want to get the measure of a man/woman/shark, take a look at his/her friends." Or something like that... :)

Her Grace, Heidi, the Duchess of Kneale said...

Julie said, "You might object to the firstborn clause in the contract. You know, the one you penciled in where they take your firstborn so you can write and the agent crossed it out?"

Love this!!

I am wondering if Opie's situation is common or rare? I have a List o' Questions for my future agent that gets longer and longer every time we have a post like this. Am hoping the chances of a sad ending to this particular chapter of my tale are greatly reduced thanks to the experiences and wisdom of others.

Sam Hawke said...

I know this is days late but @nightmusic, I think you're much more likely to offend people and burn bridges by not giving them a chance to offer and potentially wasting their time. I mean, you wouldn't query someone you weren't interested in being repped by, right? And most agency agreements are pretty similar. If an agent offers, you talk to them, everything sounds fine, you ask for a standard week (looks like OP managed to get 2), that's when you let other agents know. If you wait any longer, how are the other agents supposed to have time to read and counter? It's not your fault if the agreement itself (which you won't necessarily get straight away) ends up containing terms you're uncomfortable with. I just don't think the OP did anything wrong.