submission protocol

Today I offered representation to someone. They had the good sense to ask me for the protocol of how to handle other outstanding submissions of the project in question. Having been on the opposite side of the fence (and gotten burned), I was inclined to be as forthright as possible about this. I suppose not all agents would be.

Here’s what I recommend, should you find yourself in the enviable situation of having representation offered to you while other agents are still considering your work as well. An agent who is really interested in you will be reasonable about you comporting yourself in a professional fashion. You should take the time to contact the other agents and inform them that you have been offered representation before you make any final decisions. Give them a reasonable time limit to respond (in this case, we agreed that the author would update me on Friday as to the situation). That said, don’t pull stunts such as playing them off each other either. The agent community is remarkably small, all things considered, and that sort of behavior will get noticed.

So, at the end of the day, I’m in the position of having to wait. (Pick me – I really like this book!) But I feel all sorts of moral goodness for having taken the high road.

Anyone have any different questions about submission protocol?

23 responses to “submission protocol

  1. I would like to be informed that someone else is looking at the material, whether a full or a partial. Since it’s non-exclusive, it’s not crucial, but just considerate.

  2. That said, don’t pull stunts such as playing them off each other either. The agent community is remarkably small, all things considered, and that sort of behavior will get noticed.
    Yeah, I’ve heard many stories where an aspiring author destroyed their reputation by acting in an underhanded manner. They think they’re being clever, but all they end up doing is shooting themselves in the foot.

  3. How *exactly* do you go about getting an agent, if you already have an offer from a publisher, and want someone to negotiate *that* contract? I have been told you call up agents and tell them you have an offer, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but its not very detailed.
    How many agents is it reasonable that I should be calling my top three, top eight? What will they want to know? Do I tell them how many other people are on my list? What responses might I expect from them?
    And do I tell the publisher in question that I will be doing this?
    How long is the publisher likely to be willing to wait?
    If you know a good place for me to find these questions elsewhere, just give me a couple search terms and I’ll hunt it up myself. I feel rather silly that I don’t know this already.

    • I had a list of three when I sold without an agent. was on the top of that list, but I figured hey, she might not want me, I should probably have some back-ups. And it turned out Jenn was the hardest of the three to get ahold of, so I told the others that I had an offer, that I was looking for an agent, that they and a couple others were on my list, we talked, I sent them the proposal for the book that had sold so they could see if my work was the kind of thing they’d like to represent, and the other two both said they’d love to represent me.
      When I did get ahold of Jenn, I didn’t tell her I’d been talking to anybody else because I really, really wanted her to be my agent, so if she said yes, well, it didn’t matter so much if I’d been talking to other people. But it happened that while we were on the phone she went and looked at my blog, where I’d mentioned talking to other people, and she said, “I have *competition*!? Did I *win*?!”
      I do think it’s really important to make sure the potential agent does in fact *like your work*, unless they’re a strictly business kind of person who doesn’t care what they sell as long as it sells, hence the sending agents the book proposal. Important things to ask are whether the agency has a contract itself, or whether it’s on a book to book sale with the agency defined within the context of the book contract, and what kind of editorial support the agent might provide before you start sending a new work out into the world, um… There’s something else I wanted to add, but it’s escaped my wee little brain, so oh well. 🙂
      They (the proverbial They) say that if a publisher calls you up and makes you an offer and you don’t yet have an agent, you’re *supposed* to say, coolly and calmly and politely, “Thank you so much! I’ll have my agent get in touch with you!” and get off the phone before you promise anybody anything. I don’t know anybody cool enough to do that. 🙂

      • Thank you, mizkit!
        Your reply had just the sort of details that make me feel a little less apprehensive on the subject.
        But I have to admit to still being curious about one thing.
        If you weren’t cool enough to have said “Thank you so much, I’ll have my agent get in touch with you” what DID you say?
        (I have *never* been able to picture myself actually using that line, unless maybe I wrote it down somewhere and then after I got past the gasp and squee stage, read it off.)

        • You’re most welcome!
          *laugh* The whole conversation was deeply surreal. I’d submitted a partial of the manuscript elsewhere and they’d also asked for the full ms, but Luna (my current publisher) had responded first, and had the full manuscript on hand then. So I’d left a voice mail at Luna to ask if it was all right to do a multiple submission and have the full manuscript at two houses. Then the other house told me they didn’t take multiple subs from unpublished writers, so it ceased to matter.
          However, two weeks later when the Luna editor called me back, I somehow just assumed that was what she was calling about. We had a very nice conversation: I was baking chocolate chip cookies, she’d had the phones in the office off all day while repairmen worked on them, yadda yadda yadda. Very pleasant.
          Finally, after all that chit-chat, I was about to say, “If this is about the multiple submission, it doesn’t matter,” and instead *she* said, “Well, I hope I have what will be welcome news for you. We’d like to make an offer on URBAN SHAMAN and two sequels.”
          And I, who had not expected this at all, had instant and immediate brain death. I’m pretty sure that when I opened my mouth, what came out was, “BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!”
          Fortunately, she must’ve been pretty accustomed to that, because between my gibbering and thanking her and wow that’s fantastic and oh my God, she very kindly told me the details of what they were offering, and then, get this, said, “I’ll give you the weekend to think about it.” So I thanked her some more and then spent the next seventy-two hours looking for an agent and going OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD *SQUEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE*! I was literally shaking so hard I couldn’t dial my parents’ phone number to tell them I’d gotten a contract offer. 🙂 My husband called up for me and just held the phone up while I shrieked and howled and behaved like a general idiot. 🙂
          I do remember *thinking* during the conversation with my (soon to be) editor, “I know I’m supposed to say, “That’s wonderful, I’ll have my agent contact you,”” but I just could not get up the nerve to *do* it!
          (It was only about three weeks later that I realized that they don’t call you to discuss multiple submissions. They only call you to make an offer. So once I realized it I felt kind of silly, but, well! :))

          • What a *wonderful* story.
            I remember reading somewhere some senior editor admit that she always wanted to do those phone calls herself instead of letting one of her juniors do them, because she got a huge kick out of making new authors hysterical like that, and the few who actually did manage to remain calm and business-like were rather disappointing. 🙂

    • How *exactly* do you go about getting an agent, if you already have an offer from a publisher, and want someone to negotiate *that* contract? I have been told you call up agents and tell them you have an offer, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but its not very detailed.
      Your mileage may vary. In the case of said agent being me…. You would call and say you have a offer on the table. It would be best at that point if you haven’t agreed to any terms with the publisher so that I might potentially negotiate better/fairer ones. I would then ask to read at least a sample of the work because I will not take on something that I don’t connect with. Other agents may find the easy commission tempting and go forward regardless, but in my experience that can be troublesome down the road and not in the best interests of either the writer or the agent.
      How many agents is it reasonable that I should be calling my top three, top eight? What will they want to know? Do I tell them how many other people are on my list? What responses might I expect from them?
      Three isn’t a bad number. Or perhaps five. You probably won’t need more than that. It’s likely polite to let them know you’re contacting others, but you needn’t give details if you don’t want to. Responses will vary. As I said above, I’d ask to read something if I was interested. It may be that some agents won’t be able to take you on regardless of the offer being already in the works; there is a critical mass of workload out there somewhere. But I suspect you will get an affirmative. Don’t feel rushed. Take time to make the decision that’s right for you.
      And do I tell the publisher in question that I will be doing this?
      How long is the publisher likely to be willing to wait?

      Usually you should tell the publisher that you are calling your agent. And then get off the phone and contact your top choices immediately (phone or email is appropriate in these cases for most agents). The publisher should be willing to wait at least a couple days. If they put pressure on you, simply tell them you need time to review the offer.

      • Thank you!
        I am making a checklist. 🙂
        1) When talking to the editor, don’t agree to any terms.
        2) Don’t tell the editor I haven’t got an agent yet.
        (She might already know, I’ve got a lot of web-presence. What then? Hopefully it won’t come up.)
        3) Do contact the 4 carefully researched agents on my “but these are the ones I *really* want” list. (By phone. Be brave, this is one of the cases where the “never call” rule doesn’t apply.)
        4) Do tell them that you are getting in contact with a few other agents.
        5) Expect them to want to look at the book — have it ready to email them. (Double check address.)
        6) If they say they aren’t interested don’t be surprised/hurt/offended. They probably won’t say that, but if they *are* too busy, everyone is better off if they admit it up front.
        7) The publisher will give me at least a couple days, so *do* think everything over carefully and don’t rush into any decisions.
        (May I point out that when you are used to publisher’s taking between four months and two years to get back to you, a decision in two days is going to *feel* rushed no matter how much of those two days is spent in calm and careful consideration? But that’s why I’ve done my agent research in advance and have already narrowed my choices down to four. Right. Onward then!)

        • Don’t tell the editor I haven’t got an agent yet.
          Actually, I think that right there is a lot of why I *didn’t* have the nerve to say, “Thanks so much, I’ll have my agent contact you”: I figured she’d say, “Oh, who’s your agent?” and then I’d feel like I’d been trying to pull the wool over her eyes. Saying, “I hope it’s Jennifer Jackson with the DMLA” didn’t seem quite right.
          May I point out that when you are used to publisher’s taking between four months and two years to get back to you, a decision in two days is going to *feel* rushed no matter how much of those two days is spent in calm and careful consideration?
          This is one of those things you just pretty much ending up gritting your teeth and learning to bear, unfortunately. Publishing is a hurry up and wait system, and it’s pretty much always the writer doing both parts. Submit, wait wait wait wait, hear back positively and they want the decision RIGHT NOW THANKS, sell a book, wait wait wait for a revision letter, get the letter and they want revisions back RIGHT NOW THANKS, etc, etc, etc. It’s the nature of the beast.
          But as far as the agent search goes, yeah, that’s *exactly* why you do your research in advance. It’s the kind of thing you *can* do, and since there’s really very little within your control, you might as well do what you can. 🙂

          • “Publishing is a hurry up and wait system, and it’s pretty much always the writer doing both parts.”
            On the other hand, the *other* end of things often sounds like to me that its almost constantly “and when I finish with these three emergencies, I can maybe get to those two almost emergencies before they escalate, and you know, my slush is beginning to back log again, but there’s also…”
            So maybe hurry up and wait isn’t so bad? 🙂

  4. Since you’re inviting questions, here’s one I’ve been wondering about for awhile (and unfortunately, Miss Snark closed her blog before she got to this question). Is it horribly unprofessional to mention in a query letter that I work fast and multitask well? I would think since the agent will be working with me, they’d want to know things like this, but I don’t want to come off like a desperate jobhunter. Any thoughts?
    Thanks!
    Shiloh C.
    http://snarky-writer.blogspot.com

    • I don’t know that I, personally, would find it unprofessional. But, more to the point, I’m not sure it’s relevant at that stage. The writing has to come first. Without that, it doesn’t matter how efficient a person might be. This might be more appropriate as a topic once representation is being discussed.
      My clients work at a variety of different speeds. Some publish several books per year. But I also have one or two that publish one book every few years. And schedules everywhere between. IMO, quality not quantity is the ultimate bottom line.

      • So it’s more a case of showing the agent I can work well instead of telling. 🙂 That’s pretty much what I figured, but I had to ask. Thanks!
        SC

  5. I had heard that some agents didn’t like it if you submitted to more than one agent at a time, so I had assumed it would be better to only submit to the second agent when rejected by the first one. So my question is: Is it okay to submit to multiple agents at the same time? That may sound odd, given your post…

    • If Miss Snark were still up and running she would explain to you her opinion about exclusive submissions. She was without a doubt, completely and totally, against them.
      I think there are situations where you might *choose* to do an exclusive, say, to an agent that you *really* want to work with. But, even then, I’d limit it (30 days is reasonable, and if they ask for more time because it’s a busy time of year, you could be generous…. and then just go ahead and let them know that you can leave it with them while you submit elsewhere after that time period is up if they haven’t been able to give you an answer).
      As MizKit pointed out, publishing is a hurry up and wait business (pretty much on all sides in one way or another). So, in my opinion, a writer might not be best served by granting an exclusive (which is not to say I don’t like or appreciate them). That said, there are indeed some agents that only read exclusive submissions and you should check to be sure that is not an issue. And always, always, always tell the agents that you are submitting and/or querying elsewhere. That way everyone knows where they stand and there are no surprises.

  6. I’ll be beginning the query process in the coming weeks for my new novel (my beta readers have been very enthusiastic) and you’re on my first round list of agents to try. How do you feel about queries from overseas? My top-of-the-pile list consists of a mixture of UK and USA agents, so I wondered if you consider submissions from outside the States.
    If you do, that leads me to a further question. I note from your website you prefer snail mail queries, but does that completely rule out email queries from abroad? If that’s a hard and fast rule, I’ve no problems getting US postage for the SAE.
    Thanks in advance,
    Conduit.
    http://conduitnovel.blogspot.com/

    • It’s true that I prefer snailmail queries. They are more portable for one thing, so I don’t have to stay in my office at the computer in order to read them. You can choose to send an equery, but please be aware that I actually tend to read the paper ones faster. I know that’s a bit backwards in this day and age but it’s because I find them easier and more comfortable to review.
      As for your geographic location, that is not an issue for me. I don’t know about other agents, though. But I have clients who live abroad already.

  7. I’ve a strange question about query letters. I have a speech impediment, and I’m unable to answer the phone. Although I do use IP-Relay (it’s like TTY but based on the internet). Do I put this in my query letters? Or is it extremely rude to discuss m handicaps in a query letter?
    Wade Thomas Markham III

    • I don’t want to be insensitive… but I must say that I’m not sure this particular challenge needs to be addressed in the query letter. Once someone is interested in your book, I’m sure these details can be worked out.

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