a note from Agent Manners regarding submissions etiquette

Picture this: Agent Manners is sitting in her office reviewing the deals announced on Publishers Marketplace. One entry catches her eye and makes her pause. The pitch sounds very familiar. The bell ringing in her head resolves itself into the fact that this sounds like the very same proposal that is sitting in her own submissions waiting to be read. It only takes a moment to confirm it. The author name, the title, the concept. Indeed, it’s the very one.

While there is a still, small voice that recognizes the happy situation of the author having sold the book, Agent Manners finds it perplexing that the sale occurred without the author contacting her about being offered representation elsewhere. The PM entry lists an agent as having negotiated the deal, but one wonders how many other agents remain uninformed of the author’s change in circumstances.

When Agent Manners offers representation, she goes so far as to ask the author whether there are other agents they need to contact to satisfy etiquette. At the very least, a note after the fact to those agents who may still potentially read the proposal, all unawares of the sale having already occurred, would be considerate. In that case, said agent can then spend valuable reading time on those who are still awaiting review, instead of those who apparently no longer require their services.

19 responses to “a note from Agent Manners regarding submissions etiquette

  1. I have several childish thoughts on how to send back that authors submission, but it would be highly unprofessional and unsanitary.
    So I offer to freely kick said writer in the shins if we are to ever meet.

  2. Dear Agent Manners,
    While this was indeed an egregious error on the part of the author, did the author commit another grave mistake in neglecting to inform you of multiple submissions at query stage? Or is a tactful mention by the author of other possible interests when a partial or full submission was requested by you more in keeping with current standards?
    Signed,
    Wishing to know how not to offend in Texas

    • That’s a perfectly reasonable question. 🙂
      At the query stage? No — there was no indication either way. But I think most people (including me) assume queries to be simultaneous.
      The cover letter that arrived with the submission subsequently requested did indicate that the author had other requests for material. So, I was, indeed aware that it was a multiple submission.

      • Hm. I’ve been treating agent submissions like publisher slushpile submissions — no simultaneous ones. Would Agent Manners say that I’m a bit old-fashioned, I suppose?

        • There’s nothing wrong with being a little old-fashioned. 🙂
          I certainly don’t mind exclusive submissions — I also just don’t expect them to be the norm.

  3. Wow.
    That’s incredibly thoughtless.
    While I also assume queries to be multiple submissions, I also let the authors know when I request a full that I’d like to be kept in the loop if other agents are reading fulls and/or an offer of representation is made.
    This morning I had a chat with an author to whom I had offered representation discussing etiquette. She’d promised another agent she would wait to make a decision until that agent read her manuscript. Then she told me she thought about saying yes to me immediately. I told her that I thought she should keep her promise to the second agent and at least have a discussion with her about the book, so as to offer herself options. Also, I pointed out that the other agent had probably already invested a great deal of time in reading the manuscript already and at the very least the author owed her that courtesy.
    At some level you would think this kind of thinking is just plain common sense, but I guess not.

  4. Having your time wasted is insulting. Possibly one of the highest forms of insults.
    I will say…there is a young lady about the interwebs that has done it right recently (possibly a little too conservately if there is such a thing— then again, I’m not a role model or someone who’swhose advice (or grammar, punctuation, or spelling) should be followed). I would like to give the author the B.o.t.D. and chalk it up to a mental lapse caused by “squee.” However, there are still rules of etiquette in any business.

  5. I did that…but
    When I got an agent, I let the other agents who I had queries out to know. Interestingly enough, two or three months later, I got a rejection from one of them who apparently read my query before they got to my letter (or email, can’t remember which) saying I’d signed with someone else. When I switched agents recently, I again had to send out notes to several agents (at least one snail) who I had not heard from yet. This time, my note crossed one agent’s request for a partial in the mail. Also, I sent a postcard rather than a note in an envelope because who knows when an envelope will be opened.

  6. I’m of two minds on this. On the one hand, when I got my first offer for representation, I went back through my list of queries and made sure I notified the other agents so they could have a chance to offer (which they did). Several weeks after I’d signed, however, I got a request for a full from an agent that I’d queried long before the current collection — literally months in comparison to their days. There is a lot of “only replies if interested” going around these days and truthfully, I’d assumed that this major agent wasn’t interested after that length of time and had forgotten to notify them. Of course I sent a major apology for the faux pas!
    But maybe the same thing going on here?

    • I’m sure that has happened to a lot of people and I don’t think that’s fair either. But, in my case, we’re talking about a requested submission, not a query. So, I think a notification of a change in circumstances isn’t too much to expect.

  7. Jennifer,
    If you offer a writer representation, how much time do they normally request in regards to notifying other agents they’ve queried. I’ve heard varied times on this subject. Thanks. :*)
    ~Tyhitia
    http://obfuscationofreality.blogspot.com/

  8. I can’t count how many times I was asked for an exclusive for up to three months and then had to badger an agent to say yea or nay on the project. Could it be you held onto the submission too long before replying?

    • I’m still well within the posted response time on our website, and at _far_ less than three months. I think people who abuse the exclusive advantage don’t really have the right to protest in cases like this, but that wasn’t the situation here. I don’t actually request exclusives though if writers grant them, I’m more than happy to have them, but I usually say 30 days in that case.
      And I still think a notification of some kind would have been the more professional thing to do. Regardless of the agent’s behavior, that still leaves the author with the high moral ground.

  9. Duly noted as a faux pas of the future. Thank you, Agent Manners.
    Catherine

  10. Just dropping a line to say I’ve been reading your blog for about a month now and went ahead and friended you–I can’t thank you enough for all the good advice you’ve offered. The publishing industry is a scary place.

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