I plan on querying soon. I have 30 agents on my first round list of querying. I plan on sending these queries out in a series of 5 queries at a time for about 1-2 weeks. I am sending them out in alphabetical order by Agency because I would be happy with any of the agents. I do have a query etiquette question though.
I have all reputable agencies on my list, but the agents have varying degrees of expertise from the power agents to the newcomers. I added newcomers because I believe they might read my manuscript faster and if the newcomers offer me rep, that would allow me to email the other agents with an offer which will in turn speed up their reading. Does this sound shady? As I mentioned I would be happy with any of the agents, but it would be false to say it wouldn't be intriguing to pick a proven power agent over a newcomer. So to summarize my questions:
1. Does this sound shady? I hope not.
2. What benefits does a newcomer have to an "old head" power agent (I would assume the "old head" power agent's submissions hold more credibility with editors)
3. How can you tell if the newcomer is in it for the long haul with their own career and will be a power agent one day? Are there any little tricks you know in helping us determine this?
I kind of like the idea of having a newcomer because we can grow in the industry and they should have a bit more time on their hands (my guess, this of course could be absolutely false). But there is a kind of luster with having a power agent. In addition,it seems like some authors have one agent, then their book makes it big and they switch to a power agent, so there must be something behind that. Thank you for answering these questions.
(1) It's not shady at all. The trick is to make sure you only query agents you're willing to sign with. What will damage you badly (and you won't even know it) is if you email agents with "I have an offer" and then don't actually sign with anyone. Yes, we watch for that. Yes, we watch for that cause we've gotten burned in the past.
(2) I'm not sure I want to see "old head" become the designation for those of us who aren't newcomers, but that's a rant for a different day.
Agents with established relationships with editors do get things read faster, but I can garandamntee that our young agents here at New Leaf get their work read a whole lot faster than Agent Experience at BumfuckLLC does. No matter how long Agent Experience has been in business. A good agency name carries weight. Thus it's not just if the agent has experience or not; it's where they work you want to factor in as well.
(3) Well, if they worked for me they're probably headed to the New York Times Bestseller list soonishly. On the other hand none of those agents could be remotely thought of as newcomers now, so it doesn't really answer your question.
You want to look for passion and excitement for your project. You want to find out who's backstopping the young agent (ie who she's got on her team that's watching out for her.) And you want to ask what happens to you if the agent decides to hang up her hoverboard. That's a fair question to ask any agent, but you'll want to know for sure if you're one of her first clients.
As to how to tell: I wish I had the answer. Some great agents I know burned out. Some pretty crappy agents I know are still around. You're going to roll the dice here. Make sure you haven't burned any bridges in case you need to sound retreat at some point and hatch a new battle plan.
Opie, congrats on being at the querying stage and having a plan. Great questions. And best of luck.
The posts these past couple of days about querying get me all het up about getting my MS done and out there.
And a new word I've never encountered. Garandamntee. Need to tuck that one away too! The many and varied things we learn here.
I can personally garandamntee that if I signed with BumfuckLLC I would be their number one nitwhityNYT best selling WTFauthor.
And that's what I have to say about that.
Off to stack dishes while wishing every one of you the kind of fame which begets celebrations greater than confetti from the office shredder and champagne from a vending machine.
After 2Ns what more is there to say but all the best with your query, OP.
Good luck, OP. With Janet's advice you will be a savvy queryer.
garendamntee <-- big smiles.
Good luck, OP. Do not query someone you would not sign with is great advice. That way you are covered.
I will echo something Donna expressed the other day... These are things that wouldn't even dawn on me to ask and/or worry about. But, as I've mentioned before, I sorta frolic through life trusting in the benevolence of the universe.
Garandamntee is an old word my gramma used to toss around.
I have a particular fondness for made up words. I'm loving soonishly.
And my final thought: "Old head" made me stumble. As in, huh? Who calls someone with experience an old head?
It's raining here at the sanctuary. And that makes me happy. I love rainy days. Love. Speaking of love, I'm off to pour a bunch of that stuff on our new little filly. She's not out of the woods. Not even close. Have a great day, everyone!
That's an interesting point about mega successes switching to 'power agents'. Presumably the original agent retains the commission from the record-breaking bestseller but would no longer do any work on it. Is that an issue? I'm not sure I'd mind finding out the hard way....
I'm sorry, I'm still giggling over 'old head.' And John (mss) Frain's comment from yesterday. Please tell me when you write a book, or else. (And, congrats Colin --> Sarah!)
OK, OK, yes use your brain, then roll the dice. Got it.
Melanie - sending warm thoughts your way. Hope the little filly makes it.
OK... let's see if I can do "intelligent commentary" (see end of yesterday's comment thread)...
It's good to have a querying strategy. But query with integrity. No tricks. Don't query newbie agent just to get not-so-newbie agent to take interest. Query new and not-so-new alike because either would be a good fit for you and your novel.
And the whole "superstar" agent thing is really hard to get past, but we must (speaking to myself here). Yes, there are agents who have been in the biz a long time, and have client rosters that read like the NYT Best Seller list. But a) they might not be the best agent for your/my work, and b) all of those hot-shots had to start somewhere. A rejection from "old-head" agent at BumflipLLC might be the best thing that happens to your novel, because that agent clearly doesn't love your work as much as they should. And if they were to take it on, feeling the pressure from the number of offers you're getting from less experienced agents, they wouldn't be doing it for love of your work. And that's a guarandarnteed recipe for disaster. :)
This is what you look for in an agent:
You want to look for passion and excitement for your project. You want to find out who's backstopping the young agent (ie who she's got on her team that's watching out for her.) And you want to ask what happens to you if the agent decides to hang up her hoverboard.
All the best to you, Opie! :)
I dunno, Opie. To voice what may be the minority opinion here, using new agents to leverage more experienced agents does sound shady to me. The fact that you worried about it in the first place is a red flag - we don't question our finer impulses, because we know they fit with our own internal compass.
Yes, if you are truly happy to sign with anyone you query, fine. But don't put anyone on that list you wouldn't be happy to work with (pending a good call/discussion of your work, obviously). Otherwise you are using people, and that's not cool.
On the topic of great words, the Merriam-Webster word of the day is tatterdemalion: in a tattered or decayed state. I love that!
OP, congrats on querying. Keep up your spirits! We're all rooting for you!
Colin, congrats to Sarah.
Janet, thanks for yesterday's explanation about why feedback is not a part of this blog. It makes great sense. Although I never thought of it before, allowing commenting on WIP would ruin what you've created here.
Have a great day all. I'm putting the final touches on a workshop about teamwork for scientists that I'll be teaching in California this weekend. Much as I've loved putting the workshop together, I really want to get back to my manuscript...
Echoing Colin and Amy, the only thing that rubbed me a bit the wrong way here was the idea that the less experienced agents are on your list mainly to expedite the process with the "power agents." As long as you have inherent enthusiasm for each one of the agents on your query list, your plan seems fine.
My other minor suggestion would be to query in random order instead of going alphabetically.
>>In addition, it seems like some authors have one agent, then their book makes it big and they switch to a power agent, so there must be something behind that.
This makes me think of Lightning McQueen. When he finally arrived at the big time, and the power agents he'd always wanted asked him to jump ship and sign with them, he decided to stick with the Rust-Eze guys, because they're the ones who believed in him and gave him his chance. And it's that one line that completed his character arc and proved that he had in fact grown up.
Sign with the person who has passion for your project. Then when you're a power client, you'll make your agent a power agent.
A suggestion from the "I wish I'd known that" file: Save your dream agents for the second or even third round of queries to make certain your query is effective and gets responses. Once you know you've got the query letter right, send to those dream agents. I sure wish I'd known that and didn't blow through all my dream agents with a problematic query. Super good luck to you OP!
Not to split hares this close to Easter, but...
I'm hoping the query police only nail those writers to the wall who claim an offer of representation with deception in their hearts and nothing in hand.
the single writer politely notifying agents with full/partials of an offer that never goes to contract.
I now politely step off my wheel and eat some kale.
I'm with Beth on this! On my latest round of querying, I created a list of about 60 agents that I would be delighted to have, then I started to send out queries to randomly-selected agents on this list. The beauty of this approach was two-fold: I queried some agents who seemed great but for whatever reason we're not on my somewhat arbitrary list of dream agents, and I didn't immediately blow through my somewhat arbitrary list of dream agents. I especially appreciated having used this approach when I halted my querying for a major manuscript rework.
Starting out off topic, who would have guessed? I know, I'm shocked, as well. I was also surprised that John made it home alive from Walgreen's given his series of unfortunate deaths lately. I need to go catch up on his blog. I've been hip-deep in edit since I pulled the beginning chapters of Rain Crow from the workshop and now everyone is bottlenecked. The joys of early feedback revealing some potential problems or at least opportunities for improvement. Anyway, I'm behind on blog reading, but I shall get there.
I'm looking forward to the A-Z entries from everyone this year.
Back on topic. OP, as Janet said, don't query anyone you seriously wouldn't want to sign with. There are pros and cons with the old hands and the young rising stars. There can be only so many stud duck agents, so if you set your heart on them, you may be disappointed.
Most agency keep a close eye on their junior agents and they are mentored as they want them to succeed. A while back someone was upset about getting passed off to a newly promoted junior agent. I thought it was a grand opportunity as the mentoring agent was going to do all in his power to make the book and the junior agent succeed. Win-win.
I won't query a few stud duck agents, even though I like them very much, simply because you are pretty much on your own with them unless you're G.R.R. Martin. I'm not and never will be.
It goes back to what kind of agent do you need in your partnership?
I'm with Amy S and the rest who said they read this as OP trying to leverage their way to more experienced agents. I can't see that ending well--or as expected. The advice given here is sound: only query the agents you can see yourself working with (and in batches, as Beth recommends). As Janet usually says, you might find they're actually your dream agent all along. Good luck!
Colin: Many congratulations to Sarah! It sounds like she'll be happy at UNC (and a little closer to home for you, yes?). Is there any cake left to toast to her success?
Melanie: The pictures of your recent rescue are heartbreaking. She seems like such a sweetheart. Thank you for everything you do for these precious souls--wishing you both lots of strength in the days to come.
Thank you so much for answering my question! And thank you to everyone for your feedback. I am actually leaning more toward a newbie agent from a respected agency (like New Leaf) and I am only querying agents who are actively looking for MG fantasy.
If I did have multiple offers, I think I just needed more advice on saying no to a "power" agent (sorry about Old Head! It was used more as a compliment) and yes to an up and coming one. I really like the idea of growing in the industry together, which is why I am including newer/future power agents to my list.
My first thought was that this was on the shady side, Amy S. Not awful, but a bit gamey, if y'all will pardon the puntendre.
In other made-up words news, two of my favorites (from exes of varying favoriteness) have long been perplexion and porculent. I was surprised a few years ago when perplexion did turn out to be a real word. The later, though, is what my husband used to say when he'd had too much to eat and felt the worse for wear. Heh.
The thing about a superstar agent is this: they have the most marketable work to sell, but they're not the ones producing it. We are the makers of the product in the publishing industry, and it's our job to provide the most marketable work for the best selling product.
Whether we choose to make the next superstar ourselves, or cling to the idea that only the already-superstars (I'm not nuts about the sound of "old head" either, Janet) are worth working with, is an important component of an author's career. But if we're producing writing, even wonderful writing, that isn't the most sellable product, even the superstar isn't going to make millionaires out of us with it. Remember just yesterday, everyone discussing Dan Krokos' really interesting novel that did not sell?
At the end of the day, our careersare always going to come down to our work, and the market is the second force there. This is not to say one agent is the same as the next, but predicting a career based on the agent repping it versus the work itself or the market it debuts to (or not) is missing an awful lot of the point.
OT to Susan, someone asked you yesterday whether it's possible to comment on your blog. I have actually wanted to ask the same. Janet, my apologies for digressing; however, it's in the name of community. :)
I think I am going to take a Santa approach, "making a list and checking it twice." Then I will only query those on the nice list. If anyone then makes an offer, I would be slide-dancing across the kitchen floor in my socks.
Melanie, I love that you pour your heart out over your animals. At this moment we have a chicken in our bathtub missing a third of its feathers. It survived the night so we will return her to our yard, where a neighbor's dog used it as a hunting preserve. Owner of dog's response, "I'm from XXX, we don't keep dogs on leashes, sorry. Isn't your property fenced?" Uh. what?
Sorry, still kind of mad. Yeah, I go whatever route that includes treating each other nicely. And with respect.
What will damage you badly (and you won't even know it) is if you email agents with "I have an offer" and then don't actually sign with anyone.
The first time I read this, I was like, of course, why wouldn't that be damaging. No one likes a player. But then I wondered, how would a writer handle damage control(or simply handle the situation) in this scenario: Writer queries agents. Writer gets requests. Writer gets 2 or 3 offers from reputable agents. But after asking all the questions, writer doesn't get the impression that agents are passionate or excited for their project, or doesn't agree with their vision for their project.
Hope the querying process goes well for you, OP! And good for you that you don't want to do anything that might come across as shady.
When reading today's post, my thoughts turned to something similar to what Kregger commented about. (And "Not to split hares this close to Easter" got a laugh from me.) A couple of years ago, I read something on a writers' forum from an author who let an agent who had requested his manuscript know another agent had offered representation (as we're supposed to do), and the agent asked for the offering agent's name. The author reported being surprised by being asked, and he was hesitant to say who the other agent was. He asked forum members whether we thought he should "divulge" the other agent's name. The agent who hadn't offered rep ended up saying she was no longer interested in reading the manuscript/possibly offering representation, apparently because of the author's hesitation to provide the offering agent's name. I got the impression the author was really trying to do the right thing, and thought it not fair to the offering agent to "reveal" her name to the "competing" agent. I think that's how the situation was in his mind. In trying to figure out why an agent would ask for the other agent's name, I eventually came to the conclusion that maybe some queriers dishonestly claim they've been offered rep. But if I had been in that author's situation back then, before coming to that conclusion, I too probably would have thought it the right thing not to "reveal" the name. Poor guy. (A theme that enters much of my writing is wrong assumptions and unwarranted accusations. Could that stem from a particular personal experience that was awful, awful, awful? Hmmm... We try to make something good out of the bad.)
Kathy: Funny that you brought up tatterdemalion, Merriam-Webster's word of the day. When I was going through my inbox and saw it, I liked the word too. And I checked it out carefully to see if there were any smaller words in it that Janet might use in a contest. :) Well, now that I've said that, any little advantage I might have been hoping for is available to all, and as such is no longer an advantage. (One of my current goals in life is besting that Steve Forti at his own game. I can dream. Moohoohahaha!)
Melanie: Sure hope things go well for your new little gal.
Welcome to the reef, AYL! It sounds like you know what you're looking for in a writer-agent partnership, which might be half the battle when receiving offers of rep. Good luck to you!
Diane: I caught that question early this morning. I used to accept comments and have a great community with my old blog, but I found I was censoring my words too much. Keeping my blog on lockdown now let's me be vulnerable and have a necessary outlet. And I often cross post in other places that do allow comments like The Mighty and Medium. I'm also readily available across social media, so I'm able to nurture that community in other ways.
Sorry for the long-winded response. Hope that helps explain it :)
'Old head'? I've never heard anyone in a senior position called that. I would simply call these agents 'senior agents', or 'the senior agent of the agency'.
Many senior agents aren't looking for new clients, or if they are, they're being very picky about it. They usually have a pretty full roster of clients already and don't really need new clients - and may not have a lot of time for a new client. That said, a previous questioner from a week or two (or three? they all run together) ago gave my dream scenario: Query senior agent. Senior agent gives it to junior agent in agency with more time and more drive and more need to sell stuff. *sigh* Man, would that rock.
I will query anyone I find who seems to like what I have to sell. Is anyone looking for space opera with a near future twist? With 1980s buddy-cop show vibes? How about, fun, exciting science fiction with characters that rock? There seems to be more agents looking for that. Although sometimes I get a bit disheartened, and look at agents' lists saying, "Well, it's like a space thriller, and they sell thrillers..."
MA: Janet has noted in the past that, yes, agents continue to get commission for books they represented. She talks more about that here on her post on author-agency agreements. She answered questions about it in the following Week in Review 4/24/16.
Kathy Joyce (whose last name rocks, by the way): That's the sign of a true writer - "I love my job, but I really want to get back to my manuscript."
Being Beth: The problem with saving your dream agents for later is simply that you're treating your original query as a test. What if you get several requests and an offer from agents you aren't as excited about? Do you tell them, "Oh, I'm sorry. I was only testing my query." Or do you cold-query your dream agents when you've already got offers? If you only query less-than-dream agents with your first round of queries, you risk never querying your dream agents. I think the lesson is: Make sure your query is the absolute best it can be before querying anyone.
That said - nothing says you have to query ALL your dream agents in the first round. Just be prepared to never query some of your dream agents, if you get offers that round.
2Ns...where is this champagne vending machine of which you speak? I think I need one in my studio.
Interesting question and answers.
Okay...now I need to get back to work.
I believe BJ is right. Don't borrow trouble by getting offer from your 2nd or 10th choice simply because you never queried your dream agent brigade. Put them at the top. Yes, that rings true.
That invites a rather feckless question on my part. Please do not cast me into the kale fields of Carkoon for this.
So you've shined up your glorious new novel to perfection and are ready to query. But you have QDD (Query Dysphoroa Disorder) and you feel quite insecure about your querying ability. Dare you send your best effort of a query through query shark prior to entering the query trenches instead of waiting to see if it is inadequate as you fear? Would this simply turn you into shark chum to be chewed up and never heard from again? What if our Queen or one of her court at New Leaf is on your dream agent list? Would sending an appalling query through Query Shark find you forever disgraced in the eyes of those agents?
Not that I am worried or anything. No, I am perfectly fine. I can write a query. I think. Maybe. Is there a bar here at the Reef? I need a drink.
You know, when it comes time for querying and hopefully making a decision on an agent, I mainly want someone who "gets it". I want an agent who understands why this story is important. I want him or her to say, "Oh my gosh, I laughed, but why did you kill so and so? I cried."
If they aren't passionate about it, they're the wrong agent.
Anyway, the gruel is finished. I am renewed. Back to whatever mayhem I'm up to today. I think I'm still murdering someone or going to church. As long as I don't murder someone in church, I guess.
Writer's quote: “The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible”
Ah missed this post, welcome AYL. You have to go with your gut, but a lot of young agents are very good. I have a list of power agents I'll be querying first round on my next book, but it's because they asked me to remember them on my next work. As Being Beth said, it usually takes me a couple of rounds to get my query right, so I don't hit all the power agents up front normally.
Rosanna I would be fighting mad. I don't care where your neighbors are from, if their dog attacks your animals, the animal is subject to being destroyed. Call animal control if it happens again.
We went through that at our place and had the neighbor's dogs wipe out a couple dozen barn cats and a bunch of our chickens. Then they started on the horses and killed two colts. We should have called animal control instead of arguing with them at the first occurence or just got the shotgun to begin with. Once dogs start, they don't stop.
I think Being Beth has a point about testing the waters. BJ's question, "What if you get several requests and an offer from agents you aren't as excited about?" is something to consider, but if your first round results in several requests for fulls, the test is over. Send out that query to your dream agents at the same time you send the manuscripts to the interested agents from round one. If the query isn't working, you can tweek before you try again. It's not as though anyone is going to offer representation based on a query and a chapter or three.
And, catching up from yesterday's commenter news:
Melanie: thinking of you as you tend your newest filly who's in need of so much care.
Colin: Congrats to your daughter. And yes, have a piece of cake for me too!
Catching up on the why you don’t ask for feedback here, I’ve actually gotten feedback or personal help from two people here. One I emailed directly after reading her posts on this blog. I didn’t email to ask for help but somehow she volunteered to read my WIP. – 18 months later and I’m still revising off her “quick observations.”
The other was A.J. Blythe, who provided invaluable assistance in getting my Australian slang or common usage down. (One of my bad guys is an Aussie). One thing I learned: The only thing that cusses more than a drunken sailor is a sober Australian.
Look, I knew old "heads" back in the sixties, I worked in a head shop, I was an old head, my brother still is an old head, and Janet Reid is no old head.
EM Goldsmith, there is no perfect query. At least, you'll never ever write a query that 100% of readers agree is The Good Stuff. Yes, show it around, get feedback, sit on it, revisit and revise, but eventually you just have to get it out there. Use the query to intrigue an agent, then blow her away with your amazing pages.
Put another way, a query can't work unless you send it.
Hey, AYL! Welcome back. :) Good question, and you've got some good responses here. Thanks for asking!
And thanks again to everyone for their well-wishes to Sarah. When the cake thing happens, I'll be sure to think of you as I eat slices on all your behalves. Mmmmm! :D
I wonder how many agents have passed on projects they would have requested if it wasn't for an awful query? This is why, I think, many agents ask for pages. If the query sucks but the pages rock, you may still get a request. If the query rocks but the pages suck, you may get a request, but not as likely. If both suck, you're done. So if you're worried about how bad your query is, I say make it as good as you can, get it critiqued, and polished to as shiny as you know how to make it. But pour your best efforts into making that novel sing. Especially that first chapter. Remember: the query is like dissolvable stitches--once it's job is done (i.e., the agent requests more), it no longer matters. Only the novel remains.
I too love Kregger's line about splitting hares. Brings back fond memories of the time I served tandoori Easter Bunny to my cow-orkers.
And I'd love to find DoubleN's champagne vending machine too. Not that I have anything to celebrate at the moment, but it'd be good to know where it is. Just in case, y'know? And maybe a mimosa or two would lubricate the ol' thought processes.
Anyway, to be vaguely on topic, my ever-growing list of agents to query includes both newbies and more experienced folk. I too work in batches, and I mostly go down the list in the order I added agents. So that way I get a good mix in each batch.
Oh, and E.M., I'd like to see the answer to your question as well. I'm coming to the conclusion that I write lousy queries, and my next one is gonna go straight to QS. If that brands me as a disgrace, so be it*.
* I've seen that written as "sobeit" which sounds more like a frozen dessert than an expression of personal philosophy. "Yeah, I'll have two scoops of sobeit topped with whipped cream, chopped nuts, and an offer of rep instead of a cherry, please."
Splitting hares... takes me back to cadets in school and learning how to skin a rabbit and make gloves from the fur. Fun times! :)
Casey: I'll have a sobeit with albeit on the side. :)
Can't make a good Brunswick stew without splitting a few hares either. Best recipe for it I have starts with two hares and three squirrels.
I have never noticed an agent's name on the NYTBSL. You can run through all the schematic crap you but you are better off paying attention to your writing. Good writing will always be the final test.
Pick an agent who seems to understand you a little. Writing good stuff is hard enough when you have people around that support you. Take the emotive road.
Julie,, your situation sounded way more severe than ours. Hopefully this was a one-time issue. The logic just escaped me--I should fence our yard to keep his dog out? That dude has a backward brain.
Thanks for caring.
PANDA IN CHIEF, Couple of nights ago I saw a story on the news that they are selling champagne in vending machines, don't remember where though.
Wait. Wait. What is disgraceful about running your query through Query Shark? I can't think of a better place to get help with your query, once it's the best you can write. Just remember to read as much of the archives as you possibly can, first. If she's addressed your problem already, she won't do yours.
I'm sorry. Every time I tried to think of something coherent to say on this topic, the words "old head" slipped into my brain and I was overcome. Don't take that the wrong way AYL. I'm glad you asked the question. When it's my turn to enter the querying round, I'm sure I'll have many similar thoughts/questions.
Based on the comments so far, it seems like sensible advice to mix it up with some of your "dream" agents included in every round. I'm rooting for those passionate newcomer agents to find you and connect with your work. Best of luck! Keep us posted.
My goodness, thanks for the comment about dangerous dogs. We have not had any of that around here, but I have heard of it elsewhere. You are right. Zero tolerance is too lenient.
BJ - thanks for the link. If the time ever comes, I hope I have my wits about me to read the fine print of an agent contract. I suppose most authors don't change agents until most of the rights on their books have been exploited anyway. It all seems complicated though, and definitely best avoided, and absolutely not something I need to worry about any time soon!
(Sorry about late comments, but I'm having trouble playing catch up.)
The trick is to make sure you only query agents you're willing to sign with. What will damage you badly (and you won't even know it) is if you email agents with "I have an offer" and then don't actually sign with anyone. Yes, we watch for that. Yes, we watch for that cause we've gotten burned in the past.
I don't think your comment is as cut and dried as you and other agents may seem to think or by the title of your post. I can easily imagine a writer sending off "I have an offer" to all the agents who have his/her manuscript and then have the offer fall through for a number of reasons. They may have thought they would sign with this agent, but there's no way of telling that the one agent who did offer representation had the same vision for the work as the writer did, or the agent wasn't a 'hands on' agent that the writer was looking for. How can we know all this beforehand? We can't. You yourself said last year in a post about having an offer, "The right thing to do is notify everyone at the start."
Another reason for not signing could've been something as simple as a gut feeling this wasn't the right agent for them after having talked to them. Again I quote you, "See if you have a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach the next day. That means you made the wrong choice. Sometimes your gut will tell you what your brain won't.
Anyway, whatever the reason(s), it doesn't mean the writer was pulling a fast one on all the other agents who had the MS when he doesn't sign with an agent and continues to query. I think agents have to take these possibilities into consideration and not automatically assume the writer played a fast one on them as your comment seems to suggest.
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