You Don’t Have to Say “Yes”


Earlier today, I got into a debate with an agent on Twitter. I won’t name names, but suffice it to say they are somewhat new to agenting, with a handful of clients, no reported sales on Publishers Marketplace, and not part of an established, well-known agency. That isn’t to say this person doesn’t have other knowledge and experience in publishing, only to mention this isn’t a seasoned agent. It all began with these tweets:

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 3.34.05 PM

...I vehemently disagree with this, so I replied, quoting her second tweet, with this:

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 3.41.03 PMShe came back with:

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 3.45.35 PMMy response: “If author has fulls w/other agents, a mutual commitment has been made that work has been read. It should be honored.” Followed by: “Also, an author has the right to consider offers from multiple agents. I’m glad I gave others that chance before deciding.”

She did not see it that way:

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 3.52.17 PMI retweeted that with a comment saying, “That hasn’t been the case for the 40+ writers I know who’ve gotten offers in the last year. Except for exclusives.”

Meanwhile, she continued to argue her side:Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 3.55.10 PMI replied, “Yes, but writers query agents of different tiers. And they should be able to ask for a week before deciding regardless.” I followed with, “It would probably help for you to ask for exclusives if that’s what you believe. Most agents don’t operate this way.”

But that’s not how she wants to work:

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 4.06.50 PMScreen Shot 2015-07-12 at 4.08.05 PMThis is where I started to get riled up. You can do business any way you want, but do not imply I’m not a “serious writer” because I queried multiple agents and considered more than one offer before getting representation. Because this also implies the dozens of writers I know are also not serious, and I won’t stand for that. But I kept my cool and countered with, “I know dozens of ‘serious writers’ who do/have done it that way. But yes, we’ll have to agree to disagree.”

That is how we left it, but not before this agent blocked me and anyone who favorited my tweets on the matter, before she made her account private. She did have one parting shot:

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 4.18.22 PMTo which a writer responded:

Screen Shot 2015-07-12 at 4.21.14 PMI’d also add my six years of publishing experience from back in the day, working at Trident Media Group and HarperCollins, on top of research I did on literally HUNDREDS of agents and their practices when I was querying. But that’s not the point.

Here is what worries me: a writer might see an agent with “guidelines” like these and think they should accept the first offer of rep that comes their way. This is not true.

What a writer should do is make sure the offering agent has a vision for the book and writer’s career that matches their own. They should also make sure communication styles and personalities mesh to a comfortable degree. They should respect agreements made with other agents who requested material and let them know of the offer.

To clarify, you should only query agents from whom you’d seriously consider representation. Never try to get an offer only to leverage it for a so-called better one; that’s shady. But the key word here is “consider.” There are likely to be numerous agents who a writer would be happy to get rep from, with various working styles and experience levels, and you have the right to entertain offers from any/all of them.

If an agent asks for an exclusive, that’s another story. In that case, you’re making a promise to submit your work to only this agent. Personally, I never subbed to agents who asked for exclusives, preferring to cast a wider net. But even if you have an exclusive with an agent and they offer, you don’t have to say yes.

However, that’s not what my argument above was about. If this agent wanted exclusives,  I would’ve kept my mouth shut. From her tweets, you can see what she wanted was for you to say yes if she offered first. I don’t think this is a sound practice. If you are head-over-heels for the offering agent, go for it. But don’t do it because one agent says so.

Here is what I think is a better practice:

1. Get an offer. Ask tons of questions to ensure this is an agent you’d want to work with.

2. Suggest a 1-2 week consideration period to the offering agent before giving them a final decision.

3. Email EVERY SINGLE AGENT who has your query, partial, or full manuscript. Let them know about the offer. If you’re no longer interested in their potential representation, withdraw your submission. If you are still interested, let them know about the deadline and offer to send them your ms if they don’t have it.

4. Be open to any other offers that may come through. Some agents may look great on paper/online, but may not be as good a fit when you do more research, communicate with them, etc. Similarly, other agents may not have a big presence online, but end up being a great match for you. My agent isn’t on Twitter but has oodles of industry experience/connections and reps multiple NYT best-selling authors, in addition to being part of a reputable agency. (Incidentally, hers was the second offer I received.)

5. Use the time to seriously consider who would be the best advocate for your career. Remember this is somebody with whom you’ll ideally develop a relationship that spans many years and many books.

6. Make the choice that is right for you and you alone. Let all the agents in question know when the deadline arrives.

7. Do a happy dance and celebrate, because you have an agent! Be proud of the hard work that led you to this moment.

I wouldn’t have gone on about this if I didn’t feel strongly than an agent was offering questionable advice on Twitter to querying writers (particularly since she was using high profile hashtags checked by hundreds—if not thousands—of aspiring authors). I don’t believe it’s right to tell an author they should say yes to the first offer that comes along. They should have the opportunity to consider other offers and say yes only when they are certain.

I think most writers and agents would have my back on this one, but if you side with the agent above, we’ll have to agree to disagree.

17 thoughts on “You Don’t Have to Say “Yes”

  1. Truly horrified at the “advice” this agent is throwing around. I am not represented as of yet, but like you I have researched hundreds of agents and have never come across the idea you should accept the first offer you receive. Ludicrous in my opinion, and I think most reputable agents would agree with me. Thanks for this post. Those new to querying need this accurate insightful information to save them from those who would lead them astray.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. This is really interesting. I understand her side, but I also understand your side. I imagine she’s been burned and just expressing how she feels, but what she has to realize is that an agent is really working for you. And a writer must be able to ascertain which agent is best for them. I don’t think it’s bad form to ask for a few days to consider the offer at all. Just like you would getting a new job. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Margarita, I second (third) what you’ve said here. When I received my first offer, the offering agent clearly expected that I would nudge other agents with my material. I asked for ten days because the Bologna Festival was in full swing at the time, and she didn’t see anything untoward about that. I nudged everyone who had my query, a partial or a full, and received thank yous, passes, requests, and more offers. At no point did anyone question the necessity of waiting until the deadline I’d set with the initial offering agent, and when my last offer came in ON decision day, people waited a bit more without a word of complaint. Several people asked for more time to consider my work, but were very gracious when I said no.

    There are so many resources online that confirm this practice as standard. Anyone who’s part of a community of writers seeking representation has watched this practice play out over and over with the best agents out there. Agents hate to lose a potential client, but they also know that competition is part of the business, and the agents I turned down acknowledged this. (Their graciousness and professionalism make me highly likely to recommend them to unagented writers, by the way.)

    •query widely (though possibly in batches)
    •when you get an offer, nudge
    •consider all offers

    When you need to hire, say, a contractor, you may have a prior relationship, a referral, or some other knowledge that would cause you to accept the first quote you receive, but that isn’t normal practice, and there are many good reasons NOT to do it. Further, if you’ve got a handshake agreement with someone, you don’t go hire someone else without saying so.

    Accepting an offer without nudging when you have fulls out means you are simultaneously:

    •hiring the first person who gets back to you
    •blowing off multiple handshake agreements

    It’s not diligent, and it’s not respectful of other agents’ time. No agent should counsel you to behave in such a manner.

    Liked by 4 people

  4. I get that she wants to move fast and all, and it hurts to lose a potential client to a more experienced agent (I think that’s what her policy was really about, BTW), but it comes across like a slimy salesman: Offer’s only good for the next hour, otherwise the price goes up. Pressure to make a snap decision on a life-changing event is a red flag.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Whenever someone gives me a do THIS ‘or else’, I’m always pretty tempted to take ‘or else’ just to show them that I can. Because I don’t want to work with someone who gives me BS ultimatums.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. You’re exactly right. I looked up the agent and it’s clear she’s VERY new to the process, and comes from a part of the publishing industry where accepting offers at the time of offer is the norm (literary magazines.)

    That is NOT the norm for book publishing; not for agent representation, not for publication offers.

    At this very moment, I am waiting to have a conversation with an author who has his manuscript out with several very good agents. I told him very specifically not to rush this process. If he needs a month, that’s ok with me. We stay in touch, I answer his questions, he knows I’m still interested.

    Bad information is rampant. Be careful who you listen to.

    Liked by 13 people

  7. Excellent post. I was lucky enough to receive an offer of representation from an agent while I had fulls out with four other agents. The first offering agent totally understood when I said I felt I needed to give the other agents a chance to respond (and he’s been in the business for a long time). Two graciously bowed out, and the other two also extended offers of rep within a week.

    I took a couple of days to talk to all of the agents, and to some of their authors, before making my decision — which turned out not to be the agent who’d first made an author, but rather one who I felt better fit my communication style and approach to the work. I got a “thanks and good luck” from both of the other two agents. Neither was upset or angry, and from nearly everything I’ve read, giving other agents who have requested fulls the chance to offer representation is standard practice and not at all unexpected.

    It’s very odd that the agent you quote above would suggest otherwise, and unfortunate that she’s stating her frankly unusual approach as fact on highly-trafficked hashtags.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. This agent’s attitude is like a city saying, “Hey, Olympics, what’s with the wait? We were the first to get back to you with an offer of hosting your games. If you’re taking time to look at other cities, you’re not a serious sporting event.”

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Good for you, Margarita! You’ve made the PW girls proud. 🙂 Because without writers like you to take a stand and you know, jump in a car with your girl ready to drive off that literary cliff (he-hem), there would be a lot of sad new writers out there who think it proper to jump at their first offer. Love the literary waves you’ve made. #awesome #you’retherealthelma

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sadly I saw a tweet last week with this agents name mentioned by a new, unpublished writer, very excited that she has just signed with said “agent”.
      In her tweet she explains how her agent has had to leave twitter, due to being “attacked”.
      Since her Agency reps to mostly non advance paying ebook and partnership pubs, this is very likely not going to have a happy ending for the writer. I wish one could reach out and warn but in the throws of the excitement of getting representation, there’s not much one can do to convince a writer that a bad agent is worse then none at all:(


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s