Wednesday, October 12, 2011

When An Agent Offers To Rep You

If you've read my blog and know anything about my Write Your Life program, you know I'm all about authors choosing self-publishing as a viable route for getting their books in the hands of readers.

However, there are many authors and aspiring authors who want to take the traditional publishing route. If you do, one of your first steps should be to get a professional literary agent. Rachelle Gardner is one of the best in the business. Read what she says about a dilemma she experienced with a new author. Most importantly, heed her advice about protocol and professionalism.

I’d had several phone conversations with a potential client and we were really “clicking.” I’d made her an offer of representation, knowing she’d sent her proposal to several other agents at the same time. She expressed that she wanted to say “yes” to me. But she hadn’t heard back from the other agents, so she wasn’t sure what that meant. Were they interested since they hadn’t responded? Had they simply not gotten to her query yet? Shouldn’t she at least wait to see what they had to say? But what if they never got back to her—how long should she wait?
It was a question of both professional etiquette and wise decision-making.
I advised her to send a brief email to the other agents, politely reminding them that she’d sent them XYZ Proposal. Then say something like, “I wanted to let you know that I’ve received an offer of representation from a literary agent. Would you like a chance to respond to my proposal before I finalize the arrangement with the other agent?” This should solicit a response from the others fairly quickly. They’ll probably either say, “Hold it! I’d like a chance to discuss this with you!” Or they’ll give their blessing for her to accept the offer she has, and wish her the best.
Fairness and common courtesy can help you make the right move in almost any situation. When in doubt, err on the side of the most respectful thing to do.
Eventually you’ll make a decision, and then you should follow up with the agents whom you didn’t choose to work with. Send an email, thanking them for their consideration and letting them know your project is no longer available, and that you’ve accepted an offer. Usually there’s no point in being evasive about it—feel free to let people know exactly which agent you’ve chosen, or which publisher.
Think of it this way: In any situation in which you’re not sure of protocol, be polite, treat people with respect, and avoid making enemies. Mind your manners, just like your mama always told you. The author I told you about? She let the other agents know she had an offer. As I suspected would happen, she received another offer for representation, so she had to make a choice. She ended up making a fantastic decision, and we’ve been partners and friends ever since.
Do you have any questions about what to do when you receive an offer of representation? If you already have an agent, how did you respond when you got that call?

Rachelle Gardner is a literary agent. Her passion is partnering with authors to bring worthwhile books to publication. Visit her at

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