I recently received a query that mentioned an impending offer of representation. Shortly thereafter, a follow up email said the writer did indeed have the offer, but wanted to give me a chance since they liked the cut of my jib.
Well, this ship has sailed, and here's why.
Unless the offering agent has embarked on a three-hour tour aboard the SS Minnow, you're asking me to drop everything I'm doing for the next two days to read and evaluate your manuscript, then talk to you. Trust me when I tell you that is a Very Big Ask.
Aside from the size of that ask, you don't do this is because what you're doing is called shopping the offer and it's considered very bad form. Remember, the purpose of a query letter is two fold: tell me about your novel, and show me you're not an asshat. Shopping an offer is textbook asshat.
So what is shopping an offer?
Shopping an offer is sending initial queries to agents saying "I have an offer/I think I'm getting an offer." Shopping an offer is sending initial queries to agents to see if you can essentially trade up.
Once you've got an offer you stop querying until you've said yes or no to the offer. You notify agents who have the FULL; you notify agents who have had the query for less than 30 days; you do NOT query anyone new.
This means you need to be judicious in who you query first. If your first query is Felix Buttonweezer at Readem, Cheatem and Fleecem LLC, just to test the waters and see if your query is working, and he offers, you're stuck with saying yes or no to him before you query any further.
This is yet another reason you do not NOT NOT query one agent at a time, or offer exclusives. If you get an offer from one agent, you must say yes/no without any further querying.
And I can hear all you devious loophole finders thinking "how the hell will they know??" so I will remind you this is a very small world and many of us know each other. One writer famously shopped an offer from an agent at a writers conference the offering agent's friends were attending. Agents Amused, Confused, and Annoyed watched the author go from agent table to agent table (at pitch sessions) collecting interest like souvenirs. It won't surprise you to learn the initial offer was withdrawn.
Another idiot writer took an offer to a conference, met with several agents without mentioning the offer, only to discover we all knew her because the offering agent had worked on the manuscript in revisions for almost a year and had talked about how much she liked it. Initial offer withdrawn. Subsequent offers not forthcoming. Writer unrepresented to this day.
This is EASY to avoid by behaving like a pro.
And the balm for you: this applies to agents as well. When an editor offers, I'm not allowed to take that offer and start pitching new editors. I let all the editors who already have the project know there's an offer, but I don't pitch new ones. Editors get very crabby if they suspect their offer is being shopped around, and I don't blame them one bit.
What that means for me in terms of strategy is that I pitch my top tier first. And that means I better have my pitch fine-tuned, and the proposal or manuscript in tip top shape before I make that first call.
This all seems like plain old good manners and common sense.
So if (when, dammit) you get an offer, you tell agents with the full and anyone who you queried less than 30 days ago. What about agents who only have the partial? And I admit I'm a little confused about the less than 30 days part. Let's say I queried an agent 60 days ago and I know from query tracker stats that their average response time is four months. Would I really not let that agent know I had an offer? Why is it bad form to let an agent know you have an offer if they've had the query for more than 30 days? I have most the etiquette in this post down pat but admit I would have probably let all agents I'd queried (who aren't Normans and who state in submission guidelines they respond) know I had an offer.
Well, it all makes perfect sense to me!
My own work in tip-top shape? Well yes, that's all I really have control over, anyway, isn't it?
Thanks for the reminder!
*heads off to continue editing*
Any agent I query is an agent I genuinely hope will represent me. Same with my short story submissions; any market I send a story to is a market I hope will say accept my story (well, and pay me, but I ascertain that before submitting). Getting an offer on my novel, or on a story, and rushing around trying to find somebody "better"? I guess that's exactly what some people do. For once, I get to call somebody else weird!
Kae *heads off to continue editing*
Hmmm. That's one way to do it.
I love any of Janet Reid's posts that might veer into the rant lane, but I really love a post that offers free advice on not being an asshat.
I was hoping for a dog meme, however, following that "Any questions?" closing.
This is a very good pro tip. When I started querying my first queriable novel, I read two pieces of conflicting advice:
1) Query your "top" agents first, then if they all reject, you can reassess whether you want to continue querying, or rank the next batch of agents as to which you want to work with most and query them.
2) Don't query your "top" agents first. Use the first round of querying as practice, so you can fine-tune your query (and maybe even get some ms feedback), before you send to your "Dream Agents."
I can see how really neither piece of advice sounds very complimentary toward agents. Yes, we all have our favorite agents, but I daresay that favoritism is based largely on the fact we enjoy their company on social media, and they seem like really nice people. Fact is, the best agent for you is the one that loves your work and will best represent it. And that person may be #200 on your list at the moment. Case in point: I know our own dear Donna Everhart loves Janet, and considers her a fine and worthy agent. Perhaps some years ago, she would have considered her a "Dream Agent." But Donna's agent is John Talbot of the John Talbot Agency Inc. Guess who's Donna's "Dream Agent"? The one who has sold her novel and is 110% invested in her career. Was he her first choice agent? I don't know. Maybe. Maybe not.
So... the point... the point... umm... oh yes. Have a list of top agents. But don't think if they don't pan out, you're stuck with "second best." As Janet says, make your query as good as it can be prior to querying. Yes, you can fine tune it after the first few rejections, but chances are, if your "Dream Agents" didn't respond positively to you the first time, they probably wouldn't be interested even if you tweak it. After all, you've workshopped that query enough that any further tweaks are minor. Right?
I'm babbling now. Yeah, what's new? I need more tea. And some sinus meds. Bleedin' sinuses. I'm not even sick but just being near to someone with a cold sets them off...
Over to the coherent commenters! :)
Talk about the small boat author negotiating the shoals of agent fishing. I appreciate the great guidance here at the Reef. Even when it is common sense information, I find it helpful to have the Shark's explicit explanations.
Off-topic to yesterday's column:
Congrats to the weekend's Flash Fiction winner and all of the mentionables. Colin's and Just Jan's really grabbed me with how they told their story in different formats. Same with Steve Forti. But really, all of the finalists. Great stories.
My weekend away was wonderfully inspiring with Rev. Traci Blackmon as our keynote speaker on Saturday. And then to wake up to Sunday's news. Busy times of providing pastoral care in the church when people hurt and feel unsafe to be who they are.
"What can one person do?" Any act of kindness and courtesy, no matter how small. We will not always know what ripple effect we may have.
It's good to be back at the Reef.
Talk about a writer shooting their bad self in the foot. Geez. I can definitely be an asshat - too little sleep, too little or too much caffeine, real world interfering with writing world- I can get cranky as a cornered viper, but Lord I hope I have enough good sense not to offend the whole of the publishing world by doing something as arrogant as shopping an offer.
Hopefully, Janet will chew my head off if I start acting like the backside of a nauseated donkey. Also, due to all I have learned here (I love you guys- I really do), when I finish revising and polishing my WIP, I will query top tier first. It's going to be a while I think. I have much to improve upon and have set myself a high standard by hanging about so many truly gifted writers. Thanks for that, you little chum high bar writers.
I have a question *waiting to see if razor sharp teeth snap this way*
If you get an offer from an editor, is sending an "I have an offer but want you to consider..." query to agents still considered shopping?
Asking because I am pitching to an editor at a conference later this year, and the answer to this particular question is the only thing that has me worried. I don't want to shoot myself in the foot because I really want an agent.
And to clarify, I'm not going to traditionally pitch. I've learnt a few things swimming in these waters. I'm going to take my query letter =)
Be a pro.
If you're here at the Reef, you're capable of being a pro and you know what it means. So walk the walk. (Or swim the swim, I suppose.)
I heard a tale at a recent workshop I attended that was similar to Janet's cautionary tale. It was a different story because it had a different ending, but it too involved a writer who had been working with an agent on a WIP for the better part of a year. The agent had afforded this writer quite a bit of time and a number of tips for their WIP. At the workshop, the writer told the agent he was stopping by to say hi, but was going to meet with a couple other agents.
"Oh no you're not," she told the writer. "Or else..."
Suddenly, there were a couple agent one-on-one slots open. He was lucky, from what I could tell. Not only did the agent help with his WIP, she helped him (in the nick of time) keep from being an asshat.
AJ, a few weeks back Janet had a post on exactly how to query agents when you have an offer from an editor. It's not considered shopping around but you do run into the issue mentioned here - leaving agents enough time to review.
Thanks, Lucie. I'll read back through the posts.
This is one of those moments I can see an author does not commit the sin with sin in their hearts, so to speak. This is why educating ourselves is so important. In publishing, as in life, it's just too easy to pick the wrong hat; the one with a sphincter in it is not a winning look.
What about a small press offer? I understand all of today's post, but I thought it was possible (and polite) to seek an agent when you have an offer from a small press in hopes of finding something better. The publisher of my first novel moved and was very busy with his new job and location, so I thought my second book with him wasn't going to happen. He recently asked me about the second book, and I was honest, saying that some agents were considering it. He was very understanding about it and we agreed to discuss when I hear from the agents. I'm still sending a few queries out, with the title: Offer of Publication - is this wrong? Most of my requests have been from agents who already knew me. Thanks Janet.
Re: Colin's Query Top First/Don't Query Top First dilemma,
The best advice I've gotten was to mix them up. Query a few of your "OMG I NEED THIS PERSON LIKE BREATHING" agents and a few of the "I would be satisfied if this person reps my MS" agents. If you query ten agents at a time, send to, like, four "dream" agents and six others. That way you're not rushing through your fantasy [s]football[/s] agent list with a query that might need tweaking, and you're not going to be tempted to be an asshat if you get a satisfactory offer before you try them. Seriously, though, if someone is worthy enough for you to submit to after you've done your research, they're good enough to rep your novel, whether they put stars in your eyes or not.
One of these days, Janet's going to use words like sphincter, a**hat, norman, chapeau, and derriere in a writing contest, I swear!
Hmmm... maybe I shouldn't have said that... :-O
But I don't understand. How could a writer “trade up” in agents. I know how it works in baseball where the general managers have all the numbers on all the players. But where could we get inside info on agents?
There are agents listed on websites (e.g. Query Tracker) but they don't tell the naive writer whether the agent will be effective selling his manuscript or whether the relationship will work well.
It may be a small world inside publishing but we are outside publishing; there are only a few small windows and they are heavily frosted.
Can you imagine what kind of stories the Reef would create with words like that? The Carkoon Little Veggie Press would explode and smell even worse.
Colin, stay tuned for my entry, "Hat of Assness" when that day comes.
Elise: When I was at Fuzzy Print on Carkoon, we did get a ms from a guy called Norman Sphincter. Very strange chap. Eau de Derriere I think the book was called. We had to pass. Hats off to him for trying though. It was a story about a French kale farmer with some kind of intestinal issue. Carkoonians would have loved it, but they don't speak French.
Noted, JR. Now if I can just be AT the point of querying, I could hopefully apply this wise advice.
As recommended by others, I do have separate groups of Agents that I plan to query to in bunches, and of course because of the valuable advice we receive from JR; she's on top. Well, she's always on top, that QOTKU thing and all. But I cannot thank her enough (HER blogs have made an impact!); I have learned so much valuable information that it has felt like a college course at times.
How does one know when their work is ready to query? I think I may be almost there, then I get "wet feet" and go back to editing. Its almost as if I'm my own worse writing enemy right now. I've rewritten whole chapters, and this is a book proposal. I think I have the query letter nailed, thanks to Queryshark and the proposal itself seems straight forward. But it's the storytelling format, style, etc.I know my voice, but my confidence ebbs (isolated writer syndrome!)- who the hell wants to read this versus OMG YES. So how do I know when to just let it go?
Colin, too bad about Carkoonians missing that book. They definitely can't speak French but they sure can talk out of their backsides. Makes extended conversations with the natives a bit malodorous. My dog would love the Carkoonians for this reason alone.
I agree with Jennifer R. Donohue. I don't query anyone who doesn't look like an effective agent for me. I realize it's important to have a full discussion with any agent before accepting representation, but I would never think of firing off queries to other agents when there's an offer on the table.
I also agree with Maggie Maxwell. Every writer of course has "dream agents" on their list, even though it could well turn out that some aren't as dreamy (for us) as we first thought. It's a good idea to send queries in batches and to mix up the dreamboats with the average-looking agents. You never really know which one is going to be a perfect match.
I love that the word asshat was brought up. It also came up during a recent conference panel I attended, and I was surprised how many people in the audience hadn't heard it before. Perhaps they should follow this blog...?
Mister Furkles: A few places offer agent info--but mostly, I defer to my professional writer friends. I think we've talked about this before, but other writers can be wonderful resources for everything from craft to business.
I like Maggie's mixing it up idea, and am curious to hear from others regarding the querying order of operations, if you will. I like Janet's idea best so far--having the query ready from the get-go.
Karen: I think Janet ought to open every presentation she makes by asking the audience for a show of hands if they understand the terms, "a**hat, NORMAN, and Carkoon." A quick way to identify regular blog readers, and perhaps a good way to know how to direct the presentation. Naturally, those who are not regular blog readers will need a bit more help. ;)
AJ, thank you for your comment and Lucie, for your reference to past postings (Mar 8, 2016 & June 4, 2015 worked for me).
Even with those guidelines in hand, conferences can be tricky (especially if few and far between in time).
I hope "interest" or even "keen interest" expressed by editors after viewing one or two pages at group sessions does NOT count as a submission, let alone an offer. (I was hoping for revision feedback on a secondary project, the primary project got constructive feedback from agents).
The order of presentation can get complicated quickly.
I am warned to be exceedingly careful with submissions I send out post conference.
Thank you Janet for today's warning post.
Ha, Colin! They would indeed.
And, for your flash fiction:
An asshat on Carkoon
Shopped an offer too soon
And no amount of sphincter clenching
Could diffuse the gut wrenching
Of a derriere-chapeau NORMANed past June
Woohoo! Very good, Karen!! Is that the sound of a gauntlet being thrown, or is 2Ns looking for her flip-flop again?
Can you tell the sinus meds are kicking in? Ahhh... Advil Cold and Sinus. Well, Equate brand actually. But a nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat, as they say... :)
No gauntlets thrown, and I hope 2Ns isn't sans flip-flop. Good luck with the sinuses!
Mr Furkles- I think the inside information you speak of is publisher's marketplace, lists of clients with work similar to yours that is published by a company you know and available where you can easily find it. Research won't tell you whether your relationship with an agent will be everything you ever wanted, but it will give you an indication of what that agent sells and whether that fits with your writing.
I think by 'trading up' QOTKU means, querying the agent you presumably want more after getting an offer from an agent you want less.
When I first started trying to get short stories published, the literary magazines all said, "Start small first, then move up."
I tried this - I really did - but literary magazines were not interested in my work, anyway. At that time, it was very rare to see anything genre in a literary magazine.
Then I got better advice: Start at the top, because if you sell to the smaller markets, you'll never know if you could have sold that piece to a bigger market.
When I started querying, I continued following that advice. If you start with 10 'practice' agents, what do you do if one of them offers representation? As we heard today, 'shopping the offer' is not good form. So there are probably ten (or more) 'dream' agents out there who will never get a chance at your novel.
Unless you tell the 'practice agent', "I'm sorry. I didn't really want you in the first place. I was just practicing." I'm sure that's going to go over well, too.
Get your query and submission into tip-top shape before you query anyone.
Then query as if you KNOW that all the agents you're querying are going to offer representation.
Janice: You need critique partners or beta readers. People you can trust to tell you that yes, it's ready. And remember: There will be more editing, even after you find an agent and publisher. There will be more chances at making it perfect. (Though it will never be perfect. Because writers are human.)
Claudette: 'Interest' is only a submission if they ask for a partial or full. An offer will say 'offer'. And even then, get it in writing.
May I add something to BJ's point about editing? I want to because this is an important point Janet alluded to recently that I never considered before:
Your first novel will probably be the most polished novel you submit to an agent. After you get an agent, sure s/he will want to see your best work in the draft you send, but s/he already knows you and what you're capable of, so s/he is more willing to work with you to whip that novel into shape. With that first novel, though, that's your introduction. That novel will tell the agent whether you're going to need way too much hand-holding, or whether edits are going to be easy. That's why we sweat blood over every last syllable of the novel that gets us an agent.
Correct me if I've misunderstood, Most Noble and Highly Majestic QOTKU.
BJ - Thanks for clarifying.
What a thorny forest this is for the woodland creatures.
Colin: Of course we sweat blood over it all. The problem is, we have to stop at some point or we'll bleed to death. And we may even revisit the novel once it's on submission. But if we just edit and edit and revise and edit and edit until we think it's great, then edit and edit some more... we may never get around to querying it. And that's what I was telling Janice - yes, make it the best you absolutely can. Then send it off. Kick that baby out of the nest and let it fly. But that doesn't mean you're saying goodbye to it forever.
Claudette: Getting interest from editors is a good thing! And if an agent asks, you can say that Editor Best and Editor Great showed a keen interest in it, in case the agent wants to pitch to them. But if she doesn't, there's still no harm, because there wasn't an actual offer on the table.
The first 15 or so queries I sent out, I didn't do it right. I was following a list I found online for YA fantasy reps. I started with the "A's" and queried any agent that actually did fit my genre and wasn't closed. Then I got a partial request and after the initial adrenaline and whooping, I re-researched her, and realized I wasn't entirely feeling the 'vibe' when I went to her website. I almost hoped she didn't express more interest. Well (luckily?) she didn't, but that taught me an important lesson: don't be a douche.
I think there is a fine line here though. I still wouldn't contact all the agents you want most, first. I know you're supposed to have your mss and query in tip top shape by the time you start querying, but in reality I feel you learn a lot from the query process itself. I know I did and still am.
Also, Lucie asked my 2 questions already. What to do with partials out and why only 30 days, when you get an offer?
BJ: I guess my point really speaks to the fact that writers tend to take years over that first novel, but subsequent novels don't seem to take as long. And I *think* that's because we need to be as sure we can that we're presenting our very best work to an agent. In other words, that novel needs to be as close to publishable when we submit as we can get it. You're right--we do have to stop editing at some point, and when we've finished, it will more than likely still need work. But that novel needs to be as presentable as possible.
When it comes to writing novel #2 for that agent, a) you've already started it; b) you'll have deadlines; c) you'll have a ready-and-willing editing team that includes your agent, and the publisher. That, at least to me, explains why subsequent novels tend to take shorter time to write.
Or I could be talking out of my sphincter. :)
Guess the word of the day, folks... ;)
What about a small press offer? I understand all of today's post, but I thought it was possible (and polite) to seek an agent when you have an offer from a small press in hopes of finding something better.
Once you have an offer in hand, you can try to get an agent. But that's separate from "trading up" publishers. You could sign with an agent and ultimately decide to decline the small press offer. But that why submit to a small press if you didn't want to work with them?
... here's an analogy to my point above: On my first date, I wore the smartest suit I had. Now, my wife tells me what tie to wear, and makes sure I don't leave the house looking like a complete fashion disaster. :)
But you did go out on that date, right? You didn't spend the evening putting every hair in place. You put on your best suit and went out.
Did you have someone helping you pick out that suit? That's what I suggested to Janice - if she's not sure, then get some outside help she can trust. And once it's as sharp as she can make it, it's time to go out and meet her future. There are bathrooms and mirrors everywhere, if she wants to put a hair back in place or touch up her makeup, but at some point you just have to put your dancing shoes on and brave the world.
Absolutely, BJ--good follow-up. :)
Late, late, late. Therefore skim, skim, skim.
Although Colin's comment did POP out. You got it Colin - he's my "dream" agent for all the reasons you mention. Here's something to elicit groaning and WTF's from a LOT of you. I didn't query. Ever. How's that for a blog tease. (one day I'll write about it)
I would have LOVED to query Ms. Janet all those years ago, but she doesn't rep what I write. Boo! I mean boohoo!
I'll admit, at first I was confused by this "shopping an offer." As I read along and saw the emphasis on certain words, I had the bell ring in my head. (translates to - you ding dong!) Ooooh, she means query an agent you haven't queried yet - then saying you have an offer.
I DID have the thought...but maybe they didn't know any better? I swear I heard the Jaws theme song in that brief second of thought. Yep, it fizzled like a raindrop hitting a sidewalk on a 95 degree day, because, if they knew her, they'd have read her blog. And they would have known better. Right?
This is the best place ever! Metaphors- you are speaking the language of my people :D
Thank you for sound advice. I have three beta readers lined up, one who I would trust my checkbook with. One has a Degree in Literary Science. All prolific readers. I need to utilize them pronto, instead of fretting and trying to perfect on my own-
*saying to myself, in a small stage whisper*
They have asked where I am in the process last month. I haven't told them I am in the fretting stage. If I did, they would tell me to get over myself and get on with it. Thank you again, BJ, for the prompt. I need to trust my beta readers and send some emails out today...
And now I feel compelled to go out and buy some shoes too for some reason.
I'm confused too because hawking for the best deal is bad form in the letter but it's hunky dunky when the prospect is in an agent's queue; as in, put the offer on hold for a fortnight and inform other agents. There might be a distinction there, if there is, it's a mighty fine one that's gonna be lost on most authors. Personally I've never been convinced, that and agent putting forward an offer is going to swallow being told to wait for a fortnight, so the author can try and trump the deal. I suppose though, that would depend on the author but... wouldn't that apply in this case too?
I nominate DLM's comment for the next subheader: In publishing as in life, it's just too easy to pick the wrong hat. The one with a sphincter in it is not a winning look.
Thanks for clearing up the difference between shopping an offer and letting recent queries and agents who have fulls get a chance before you accept an offer.
Ooo! Donna, I do want to hear your " how I got my agent" story someday. While I did get mine without exactly querying, well, not querying at all, i did spend some time in the query trenches on other projects, getting a variety of rejections all the way from NORMANS to form rejections to very encouraging ones.
And I do love a good rant!
I know this might sound twisted, but I really want to be in the query trenches with so many of you. I feel like a new recruit stuck in basic training who hasn't mastered the obstacle course.
I am part of an unbelievable critique group now (I can't believe they let me in!) so there's hope for this little woodland creature to train into a Queen of the Jungle (I would rather like to be jaguar, though, not a lion).
In a way I'm getting some training at work, too, because my boss is working with her old agent to develop a series of books. As the writer for the department I get to do a lot of work on the proposal, and will do a lot of writing for the books (of course the agent is guiding it all).
The agent is amazing, btw, and thankfully I paid attention to Janet's advice on non-fiction even though I never thought I'd need it, so I didn't sound like a complete idiot on our first phone call...
Trying to figure out why this comment feels on-topic to me, even though there is no textual evidence to the support that feeling.
I thought this was an implication from the post about the "Call" a while ago. You get the call and start your in depth background check on that Agent. If you decide to go with that offer you pull all of the other queries you have out there.
You can always reject the offer and stay in the trenches for a while longer. It is easier if the Agent balks on giving up the names and contact info for their clients but you can still say "Thanks but no thanks" and walk away. It will burn a bridge but that might be advantageous in the long run.
Thanks, The Sleepy One, for your comment on my question. If you read my whole comment, it explains. I didn't submit to the small press - it would be my second book with them, the first one published 2 years ago. Forgot to say before, that we didn't sign for the second book, so it's still up in the air.
Rachel: I have to say, for all the anxiety and nail biting that goes with querying, I kind of enjoy being in the trenches, and look forward to doing it again hopefully in the not-too-distant future. There's something about the excitement of waiting on replies, the thrill of seeing an agent response in your inbox, the disappointment of that rejection, the elation of a request. I guess it's the same reason people like to ride roller-coasters, or play Russian roulette...
Gosh, I praise your blog so often I look like a suck-up. Nonetheless, I have to say, “terrific post.” And that is sincere praise.
On behalf of asshats everywhere (and. yes, I excuse myself from that company) here is how it looks from out here in the fields: There are a lot of things New York superagents consider self-evident that may not be evident to the Asshat Community at all. One of them is of course that most asshats cannot write, but that is another program.
Speaking for myself, I would never consider pitting agents or editors against each other. But I can see how somebody who lives in the Asshat World of Office Politics could think that is an OK thing to do. I can see how they could act out of genuine ignorance and not any desire to violate any rules. The last I noticed, someone painted over the sign that said, “This Way To The Blacklist” and wrote on it, “Publishing Wonderland Straight Ahead,” Any cautions you may care to post are therefore most appreciated.
I had a legit small press offer to publish while 1st 20 pgs of manuscript were in hands of agent to critique for SCBWI conference. I waited for the conference. Was that bad form? I figured editor wouldn't read it until just before attending. I did sign with original Poisoned Pen imprint offer but person in charge of conference was irate that I wanted to sign with press before seeing the agent so I waited. Press was aware of my situation and waited it out with me for which I am eternally grateful!
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