Monday, July 25, 2016

Probably a good reminder

Although I am up here in the wilds of Not-NYC I am checking my email periodically.  Last night I got a note from an author who had a requested full pending. 

"I've signed with someone else," she said.

Wait, what??

I checked my file and sure enough, we're well within the 90 days requested reading time.
And I hadn't heard from her that offers were pending, or she even had an offer.

Zoinks! Well! Huffily, I marked her file "W" for withdrawn and thought "harumph harumph."

In the clear light of morning, I realized I was miffed because I felt dissed. The author had taken an offer without giving me a chance to get into the scrum. From my POV that means she got an offer from someone she wanted more than me. From someone she wanted so much more than me, she didn't even want to take up my time reading the ms.

Harumph harumph, boy did my feelings ego hurt.

And yes, it is ego. I realized (again) that I like to be the one who says yes or no. All my talk about "don't burn bridges with agents" largely stems from bruised ego.

Burning bridges would be if I actually followed through on my "well, I'll never consider another manuscript from YOU again, I sure hope things don't go wrong with this Bright Shiny Agent you want more than ME!!"

But in fact, the author gets to sign with an agent if she wants to. Maybe this agent did a better pitch than I did. (I didn't pitch the author at all, just said I wanted to read the ms)  Certainly this agent was a faster read than I was.

And if the author didn't want me to read a ms when she knew she was signing with someone else, well who am I to fault her for what she thought was a kindness.

AND the self-involved three year old I become when thwarted from something I *might* want really should be kept out of my office!

BUT, just a reminder, that if you get an offer from an agent on your work, we (the other agents who've requested it) do like to know before you've made a decision if at all possible. Even if you're sure you're going to sign with Agent Nimble.

While it's  not burning a bridge with me (despite my snarling) other lesser mortals agents do get their pantaloons in  twist over this.


AJ Blythe said...

Oh, to be in the situation where I might have a shark snapping to read my ms.

But as you say, Miss Janet, two sides of the same coin. Nice reminder and insight.

Unknown said...

I’m at a complete loss as to how any writer could ever do this. When I get a request for a full or partial I’m rollin’ like a puppy who just got a tummy rub. I’m keeping a list so if I ever meet them at a writing conference I’m sure to buy them a drink and thank them effusively in person.

Bethany Elizabeth said...

I woke up this morning to realize, unfortunately, I'm NOT still at the beach, it's NOT a cool 72 degrees outside, and I did NOT prep my coffee maker last night. Also, you know, I have work and stuff - work where I still need to learn to leave my ego at the door. The culture of my workplace is very feedback/critique oriented, so sometimes it's hard not to stuff someone's well-meaning feedback into the 'you just don't like me!' box.

It's nice to know that other people have to deal with this too. :)

Back to work!

DLM said...

Whether it helps the sharkly ego or not I don't know, but it's worth remembering that some authors have no heirarchy with agents - that AN offer, ANY offer, is all they're after, and they'll take the first one that comes along.

french sojourn said...

O.K., so we're not beggars at the banquette, but at least place the napkin in your lap before you slurp out of your soup bowl.

Christ on a pogo stick, it just takes all kinds, don't worry plenty of fish in the sea...

Cheers Hank.

Timothy Lowe said...

I'm with Hank. Etiquette matters. In business, it matters tremendously. Guess that means one less MS to read and a bit more time to contemplate what goes through a cow's brain?

CynthiaMc said...

Thank you for the heads up. That's a mistake I might very well have made since you don't accept Popular Girl's birthday party invite if you've already accepted Less Popular Boy's birthday party invite for the same time and date.

So what do you say to Offering Agent?

Amy Schaefer said...

Basic politeness aside, from a purely cold, self-interested perspective, why wouldn't you make the effort to perhaps get more than one offer? Agents A and B might both love your manuscript, but Agent B may have a vision much more in line with what you see for your book. Give yourself the best opportunity to find someone compatible. As Janet has discussed in detail, agents expect you to notify all interested parties. It isn't rude, it isn't a black mark against your name. Don't close doors prematurely.

Donnaeve said...

CynthiaMc, I'll pull a Colin here (since he's not here) and channel Janet's inner agent with my guess as to her answer. Let's see how this works for me channeling Colin AND QOTKU together. If ya'll (yes I know how I spelled it) smell smoke, throw water.

You email the other agents who've requested a partial/full and let them know you have an offer pending. You give them a week to read. You tell Offering Agent you have other partials/fulls out and would like to allow the others to read. **Caveat - in my opinion - unless Offering Agent IS THE AGENT you wanted mostest. Then you do what this writer did - I guess.


Melanie Sue Bowles said...

What a lovely pickle to be in... several agents requesting a full. *sigh. Thank you, Ms. Janet, for sharing your humanness.

Emily Gracey said...

I'm with Cynthia. Usually Our Royal Sharkness does a great job at getting inside the heads of Woodland Creatures, but I really think she misses the mark by a wide margin here. Yes, I can see how this can be frustrating from the agent's perspective, but for most writers (who typically have no professional background in this industry and are trying to learn all the social niceties as they go), the difference between alerting other reading agents right after receiving an offer and alerting them after accepting (which might only be a difference of ten minutes if they're chomping at the bit) is an awfully fine line in the sand.

Plus, writers are always told that the agent that's excited about your book is the best agent for you. Other Agent was clearly excited enough to read and offer very quickly. Our QOTKU wasn't. According to most of the advice out there, that makes Other Agent a better choice.

Was it the best move? No. But was offense meant? Almost certainly not. I'd bet money she thought she was doing the right thing and had jumped through all the right hoops - not because, as Her Sharkness suggests, she already knew she preferred Other Agent, but because these hoops look so much alike.

Lucie Witt said...

Hey Reider!

It's been a hectic summer. Like Bethany I'm back from the beach and don't quite believe it (Gulf Shores, AL - Joseph Snoe was I in your neck of the woods when we stopped for lunch in Birmingham?).

This topic reminds me why it's helpful to keep an updated spreadsheet for queries. One glance at mine and I know immediately who I need to notify if/when I get an offer. Then I just have to tailor my notification based on if they have a full, partial, or the query is still open per stated guidelines. It doesn't take too long if you're organized and that way you know you did your due diligence before signing.

Lucie Witt said...

I'm saying hi to everyone despite my typos :)

Colin Smith said...

*pant* *pant* *pant* *aloon*

I'm here... *wipes brow*... just running over from the previous article. Didn't realize this one existed until just now. I need a better RSS at work...

Donna: Yes, that's exactly what I'd say. Well... you said it better. And I'd say "y'all." But you get my drift. :) Now, whether that's what Janet would say is a whole other tank of guppies...

Seriously, though, if I got multiple requests, I'd be so giddy with excitement, I'm sure I could easily forget etiquette. And to have agents pursuing you?? That would be so cool!!

Are we really such a needy bunch?

Yes. ;)

DeadSpiderEye said...

It's dog eat dog out there, my tip is read faster. Now I'm done with the facetious bit, yeah I do see a certain scope for irritation in a circumstance where you get pipped with no notice but realistically it's gotta happen some of the time. New authors are faced with something of a mare incognitum, with very little indication of positive progress, so when something does crop up on the horizon it's all hands to the gunwales. The launch with Chief Ongo Bongo on from the last island you passed, is gonna find itself floundering in the wake, doesn't matter how impressive his head-dress is. Of course there's no excuse for a lack of courtesy and it's nice to know this incident wont prejudice your view of the author, it's just that perhaps--avoiding some of those more fragile egos might not be such a bad thing. That last thought, courtesy of The Mike Curb Congregation.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I was so good at dodgeball and yet always last to be chosen for the team. Their loss, seriously I mean it, their loss.

Colin Smith said...

I don't know where your ego would find such encouragement, O Mighty Queen of the Known Universe, Agent of agents, She whose fin cuts through the deepest crap, Whose pointed teeth are the pointiest of pointy things, Whose steely glare freezes the hearts of the hardiest woodland creatures... ;)

Seriously, though, Janet, yeah it may just be a bruised ego, but that doesn't excuse not doing the right thing. The writer probably didn't mean anything by not telling you before signing, but it was still bad form.

DeadSpiderEye said...

Carolynnwith2Ns: I find that analogue to hold quite a profound insight into the topic.

John Davis Frain said...

I believe there's a name for this type of irrational behavior: Action bias.

It's very human, and you find it in all walks of life. We know the facts and the proper way to do something, yet as humans we can't stop ourselves from acting against our better judgment. Examples surround us: increasing the risk of an accident by changing lanes to save a couple seconds. Trading stocks when study after study shows a buy-and-hold strategy pays off better. The classic Israeli study that showed professional soccer goalies would show three times better results by standing still on a PK instead of guessing. I'd go on and on but I'll be past 100 words in no time.

Point is, action bias is human. Someone makes us an offer that excites us, and we look down that path and the potential is glorious ... well, it's tough not to take the action that you've set out to achieve.

So even though logic tells us one thing, thousands and thousands of years of history tells us another. This writer was just being human. And I find it hard to blame her for that. (But blame is pretty human too, eh.)

BJ Muntain said...

'Etiquette' was withdrawing the manuscript after the offer was accepted.

It's not 'etiquette' that says you have to give every agent a chance. Janet pretty much describes it as ego-stroking. As in, you don't want to bruise anyone's ego. That's not 'politeness', that's just being nice to someone you may want something from later. There is a difference.

So what happens if a author *does* give other agents a chance. Three other agents are given a chance, and two offer representation. Now the author has to openly reject two agents. Aren't those two agents going to have even bigger bruises on their egos? Any time someone has to choose between two or more people, feelings are going to be hurt. Egos are going to be bruised.

What I'm saying is, this author did not commit a faux pas. This was not bad manners or even all that wrong. It may not be the best thing to do with some agents, but it's not wrong.

Brigid said...

This rings a bell.

Craig F said...

My Queen, you have taught me the value of a requested full. Six of 'em and five bucks will get you a decent cup of coffee.

If a full elicits an offer you have to consider it. If the agent offering stokes the writers ego, pushes all the right buttons and talks about trying to organize an auction for your work you have to jump at that chance.

I am glad you reconsidered your bridge burning plan. The offering agent might be a one and done or two book contract type. Maybe the future will get you together with this writer just in time for that breakthrough book.

Lennon Faris said...

So before I read this blog every day, I would never have guessed that this author did the 'wrong' thing.

My previous 'real-world' common sense would say I needed to make a decision about the agent who offered, then if agent seemed a reasonable fit, notify all other agents in a polite way that the novel was spoken for (i.e. just like what this person did). I'm still slightly uncomfortable with the idea of telling a future agent who offers rep, 'Hey, I need to let others get in this game so I can pick from all of you.' I will do it bc I know that's what's expected (and I will be more diplomatic about word choice), but it still makes me cringe.

It feels like the agent who's offering rep will think, 'Oh this author has some agents that she'd rather have than me.' And it seems like an author would rather OTHER agents think that about her (as in the case posted) than the agent who's actually offering. I remember your reasoning, Janet, about letting other agents get a chance. I think it just feels different to people who aren't in publishing :P


julieweathers said...

In real estate, you're obligated to do the best job you can for the client, which is most often the seller. In this case the seller would be the author. That means presenting all offers. It also means even if people have just expressed an interest, if you're half n agent, you'll call the agent with the half interested people and say, "I may have an offer coming in. If your people are interested, I'd suggest they make an offer."

The person in this case probably didn't even realize it was standard practice to notify all agents with partials and fulls if an offer comes in even though most sites say that specifically. Plus, to be honest, every time I've had a request for a partial or full the agent has added please notify me if you get an offer. But, let's pretend the person didn't realize this. Common sense isn't common as they say.

Yes, they just got an agent. They didn't have to make a decision.

Now, how many posts have we seen here from people who are unhappy with their agent? What if they'd had three agents to choose from and had asked questions and decided agent c was better than agent a? This author will never know because they didn't give any other agents a chance.

I wish them well, but given the option, I am going to go to the sale barn that has fifty horses for sale, not one.

Sometimes you want the very best dragon slayer for the job.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

I'm confused. An author had a full request from our Queen and went with some other agent without following up with our queen first? Nope, I don't get it. I am following up with her majesty even if she totally ignores my initial query.

In all seriousness, agents are people. They help our careers. Be respectful. Even when saying I am picking different shiny agent.

Panda in Chief said...

Seems to me that it was not all that long ago that Janet wrote of the protocol for just this situation.
Ask offering agent for a week to notify other agents who have fulls or partials, find out more about whether you are a fit for this agent by adking questions, talking to them to find out if you have good client-agent chemistry, notifying said other agents with fulls, and then making your decision based on all of the above.

What surprises me most is not that Jamet would be peeved, but that if this author was querying Janet, they weren't regular or at least an occaissional blog reader. They should have read that post and acted accordingly.

I'm sure they didn't mean to dis you. Probably just got over excited. 😬

julieweathers said...

I'm sure the author didn't mean to offend anyone.

You see someone post on a forum about how they have to hurry and finish their book because they got some requests for it. This seems to be pretty common advice, don't query until the manuscript is finished, edited, revised, polished, ad nauseum. A week later. Ok the book is done and edited. Can someone answer some questions about a synopsis?

It seems no matter how much people offer advice, it still misses the intended targets.

Joseph S. said...

Lucie Witt

You were near me for sure. If you came up I-65 or 280, you came real close to my home. I live in beautiful Homewood about four miles south of downtown Birmingham.

My name is in the phone book. I wish you had called. Where did you stop?

And isn't Gulf Shores beautiful? (as though I've been there)

Lucie Witt said...

Joseph Snoe:

We came straight down 65. If it was just my husband and me traveling or I would have reached out in a heart beat, but as it was we had very grumpy six, eight, and sixteen year old boys with us so we were eager to make it to our destination (before I ended up short one first-born to offer the query gods).

We tried to stop at this taco spot but it was closed (this was last Sunday), and we ended up at Silvertron Cafe. The food was delicious and we found the area completely charming.

Gulf Shores was gorgeous - white sand beaches, pretty waves - and the people were very nice. We stayed on the Fort Morgan side and loved it. It was the first time we've vacationed south of KY and been the only non-white family there, which was a little jarring, but on the plus side it was extremely easy to find my kids on the beach!

Joseph S. said...

Lucie Witt

When I first moved to Birmingham I lived in Southside off Highland Avenue on Rhodes Circle. The Silverton was about five blocks from my apartment (The only Silvertron I know is on Clairmont). I haven't been there in 15 years. I need to go back soon. A former student wants to do lunch. I think I'll recommend the Silvertron. Two birds with one stone.

Even now that I live in Homewood, you were only four or five miles from me.

You don't "just" stumble on The Silvertron by the way. You were a good distance from I-65. Glad you enjoyed your stay in Alabama (even if it was hot and humid) .

CynthiaMc said...

Lucie and Joe - y'all are making me homesick. My hubby was raised on the south side of B'ham and I have cousins in Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook. I miss Gulf Shores every summer. As a kid I loved playing Hide and Seek at Fort Morgan. There's at least one sunken Yankee warship off the fort that we used to go diving on. Good times!

CynthiaMc said...

Jimmy Buffett's sister has a restaurant either in or near Gulf Shores. I hear it's pretty good.

Unknown said...

I'm sorry this author didn't follow standard protocol because she may have cheated herself out of a better fit. However, I sympathize a little bit because I would much rather be told no then have to be the one telling other people no. What if multiple agents make an offer for representation and spend their valuable time talking to you, and THEN you have to tell some of them thanks, but no, thanks. Rationally, I know this is part of the business. Psychologically, it gives me hives.

So I have indeed taken the Shark's advice and queried multiple agents. The query has done its work and all five agents asked for the manuscript. I've stopped there for the moment, but woodland creature that I am, I'm still second guessing: Is five too many? Too few?

I'll just be over here chewing on my tail...

Joseph S. said...

I’ve tried that give-me-two-weeks-to-decide route on law review articles. (Note: Law Review articles are long - Mine usually are 40 to 80 pages in print and take a year or two to research and write). Every time I've gone with the Review that made the first offer. I’m automatically loyal to the first offeror.

I assume I will be the same with agents. Any agent making an offer to me wants to represent my novel. Unless an intuitive warning bell goes off, I’d go with who calls first. That’s just my nature. I’m not a scalphunter. If I had three agents call, my guess is they would all sound wonderful. Bottom line though is there’s virtually no way I could tell which one would be best for me. So that automatic loyalty factor kicks in.

BJ Muntain said...

Syn Six - Five is not too many. And if you have five full requests out there (congrats!) then you seem to be doing well. The question you might ask is, if these agents offer, would you accept any of these offers? Are there other agents you'd like to have offers from? If there are other agents, then send queries to them (your queries seem to be working well.) That way, if one of the agents with the full offers, you can then alert those other agents to this offer, so you can really decide who to choose.

Just my thoughts on the matter. I'm not an expert.

Joseph S. said...


Small world. I love Homewood. but all the places you mentioned are scrunched next to each other. My dentist is in Vestavia Hills. My bank, post office and most-used grocery store are in Mountain Brook. My doctor and second dentist are in Southside.

I wish I could find a picture of three women who formed a highly ranked tennis team. One was from Mountain Brook, one was from Homewood and one was from Leeds. You could tell which was from which town by their tennis togs. I'll try to find it. It's a classic.

Kae Ridwyn said...

Syn six - FIVE fulls out with agents? Congratulations! That's brilliant! :D
And thank you Janet, for the reminder this morning. If I'm ever in the position of having more than one agent reading, and I get 'the call'; I'll try to remember correct etiquette, with regard to the others :)

MA Hudson said...

Syn six - awesome result with your query! Just wondering, did you agonise over it for months or did you nail it straightaway?

If I'm ever in the OP's position I hope I'll have the guts to follow Janet's advice and give the other agents a chance. However, no matter how much I understand that it's the professional thing to do, I think I'd still feel like a a bit of a deluded upstart.

Mister Furkles said...

Agent Fox says it's a sour manuscript anyway.

Adib Khorram said...

In about half of the full requests I've received over the years, the agent requesting has specifically said "Please let me know if you get an offer," while the rest have not mentioned that. I wonder how many authors assume this means the agent doesn't mind.

Fellow query trenchers, what have your experiences been in this regards? Do the agents you're querying specifically ask to be informed about offers coming in?

(Though I suppose this question would have had a larger sample if I'd posted it this morning instead of tonight. Such is life.)

Joseph S. said...


I wonder how many writers interpret that statement (Please let me know if you get an offer) as the agent wanting to know the manuscript has been withdrawn from consideration, as opposed to the agent wanting to know so she can decide on it and make her pitch?

Lucie Witt said...

Adib - on every single full request I've ever gotten, the agent has explicitly stated to let them know if I receive an author of rep. I also have read this as "so I can offer too if it's the right fit." I know Janet has said you are more likely to get passes in this situation because the agent has to drop everything and quickly read your book. But if they do, you know you've got a very interested agent!

Sam Hawke said...

I can't remember how often I saw 'let me know if you get an offer' but it was reasonably common from memory. I do know that after I spoke to the first offering agent for my MS I was sure I was going to go with her. But you don't know who's the best fit until you have all the information on the table, and in the end someone else was.

And perhaps it's my inherent need to be polite, but it just seems so discourteous to NOT give other agents a chance to offer. They've spent time on you, they've read your work, and you're not even going to give them the option? It's not rude to tell the first agent you need to check in with others. It's professional courtesy and they know that because they'd want to be checked in with if the tables were turned.

Unknown said...

Hmm. I don't think anyone I heard from specifically said they'd like to know if I received an offer of representation elsewhere, although a few have it stated on their websites. I suppose the kindest interpretation of this writer's actions, as Janet notes, is that she already decided she had a great fit with Agent #1 and didn't want to waste more of the others' time.

MA Hudson - I wrote the query in about twenty minutes. But before that twenty minutes, I spent a few hours reading examples of queries and boning up on advice from various sources, including the inimitable Query Shark!

JD Horn said...

I suspect she acted out of fear, worried she might not get another offer. A bird in the hand and all that.

Joseph S. said...

Anecdotal data for what it’s worth.

Earlier this year I suggested to a writer in town (she’s good but insecure) she query a certain agent who was looking for books in her genre. She did and the agent ask for a full manuscript. This morning the writer included the agent’s email in her thanks to me for bringing the agent to her attention. The agent did not request to be notified if my friend received an offer of representation from another agent. Here’s the email (after my blocking out names and email addresses)”

Thanks so much for sharing BOOK TITLE with me. I really enjoyed reading your query and sample pages, and I would love to request the full manuscript. Please send your full as an attachment to my personal inbox EMAIL ADDRESS and paste your original query letter and synopsis into the body of the email.

MA Hudson said...

Wow - twenty minutes! That's so impressive. I suspect it will take me about twenty weeks!! Congrats again, MA

Joseph S. said...

Syn Six - I think the common wisdom is to keep querying until you get an offer of representation.

But it certainly looks like you've put together a winner of a manuscript. Congratulations. I love good news.

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

Late to the party because life sucks.

I'm surprised no one mentioned the possibility that this author might be green. What if she's one of those isolationists who prefers to write privately, then decided to go the publishing route? What if she received some well-directed advice from the only published author she knew ("research agents on Agent Query, write a nice query letter, send it to ten, see what they say"), and that's about as far as she went? The fact she let Her Sharkness know she signed with someone else might have been her natural politeness?

I know a whole lot of what I call "private" authors. They want to write a book, but don't really get into the whole research/networking issue until they have to. Most of them are heavy readers who absorbed enough grammar, pacing, voice skills to write a decent enough ms to catch attention. They know what a ship looks like and that it'll take them to Bermuda, but they have no idea that each and every single rope here has a purpose. They just see a whole lotta ropes that don't make any sense.

Maybe this was one of those situations.

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

A story, inspired by CynthiaMc's first comment:

First Ladyship's birthday is at a time when lots of other kids have their birthdays. As a result, the Saturday around her birthday is full of parties.

One year we decided to do a Reverse Sleepover. We invited everyone to come at 6am-8am in their jammies. We started with breakfast, played a few fun party games tweaked to the theme and had a grand old time.

The cool thing was the invitation acceptance ratio: We invited 12 kids, we got 12 kids. Why?

One parent confided in me that when they got the invitation for 6am (stupid o'clock in the morning), they were baffled. Then they realised it was a Reverse Sleepover and didn't clash at all with any of the other parties that day. They thought the idea was so cool, they accepted.

They all accepted.

A good time was had by all, then everyone departed by 8, because the next party that day started at 9am.