Last year I asked a query question which you responded to on your blog. It had to do with pitching an incomplete manuscript during a conference.
The pitching resulted in four agents requesting the partial I had already completed. Two responded rather quickly with complimentary declines and the recommendation that I keep querying until I find the right fit. The other two ignored my original submission and a 90 day follow-up email. In addition to those four, three agents and three editors requested the full manuscript upon completion.
During the time since pitching and now, I've read on your blog that if I'm looking to sign with an agent I should not be submitting to editors. To follow your recommendation means not submitting to three people who were kind enough to request the finished manuscript. I'm not in the habit of making a commitment to do something and then not doing it, so my instinct is to go ahead and send them the now completed manuscript.
On the other hand, it has been a year since I pitched, and the likelihood that they remember me or my novel is slim to none. So, do you recommend I pitch to agents only at this point, and then submit to the requesting editors at a later date if I don't pick up the representation of an agent? And if I do sign with an agent, is it appropriate to send any sort of thank you note to the editors, explaining why I didn't fulfill the request? How long past a conference pitch is too long to submit? It has already been a year.
Let's review why it's more effective to pitch agents first (or in your case, send the now-completed manuscript to agents only.)
Once you've sent your manuscript to an editor at a publishing house, an agent can't come in and say "oops, sorry, wrong editor!" unless she's very very deft, and knows this "wrong" editor well enough to pull that off. I can think of about ten editors I know well enough to do that, BUT it's something I'm only going to do once every five years, and only in the most dire of circumstances. In other words, this move costs me with the editors, and your project has to be something worth that cost.
The chance that the editor at the conference is the right editor for your book is a whole lot lower than if I put together an editorial submission list. A lot of editors I work with don't do the conference circuit at all.
A lot of the editors who do attend confernces are young, starting out and looking to build a list. In other words, the ones with the least juice, or pull at a publisher. They're certainly good editors, but when the art department runs amok on your cover, are they going to be able to put a boot down on the drawing table and say "hey, this is for a book cover, not the local art gallery"? Depends on the editor, and again you have no way of knowing.
So yes, I thnk sending to agents first is a smart tactic. I understand why authors ignore this; any kind of interest in your work is too beguiling to pass over.
However. Since you have had requests, and you appear to be well-mannered in your business dealings (an appealing trait in a client I assure you) what you do here is write to the editors NOW and say "Dear Editor Good Taste, we met at the Carkoon Kale to Jail Writing Conference in (location) on (month/year). You kindly requested to see my manuscript when it was finished. I just wanted to let you know it's finished and I'm querying agents right now. "
Notice you do NOT say "I'll come back to you if I don't get any bites" or "I'll make sure my agent queries you."
In other words, AVOID the temptation of future action. Simply let them know what you're doing.
The vast majority of editors will prefer to receive a manuscript from an agent, not direclty from an author. You're not going to offend any of them by taking this course of action.
And a year isn't too long.