Time’s winged chariot

About two weekends ago, I found myself—as I usually do on a Sunday—ensconced in my favorite chair reading manuscripts and proposals.   I was engrossed in a novel which, despite its numerous structural problems, showed a lot of promise.  As I might have mentioned on this blog once, or a hundred times, I’m not a speed reader, so if the fiction manuscript I’m reading is any good I can kiss a big chunk of my day goodbye.

After Jane and I discussed the pros and cons of this particular novel, we offered the author representation if she was willing to do some significant revising.  (We’d had the book for about a week at this point.)  The author promptly responded that she loved feedback and was not at all averse to reworking the manuscript but she had just accepted another agent’s offer.  Fair enough, of course, and yet….

It bugged me that having plowed through the review process in near record time we never had a chance.  It doubly bugged me because I could have spent a chunk of my Sunday hanging out with my husband and son, running errands, taking that nap I’ve been needing since 2005, going for a walk outside on one of the few decent weather days in what’s been an epically bad winter…you know, what normal people do on Sundays.

I love my job and I enjoy the “development” (reading, editing, brainstorming) part of it tremendously so I don’t generally feel sorry for my lack of Sundays.  But, I also don’t like to waste my time.

This is the longwinded way of responding to those of you who ask about multiple submissions and the etiquette involved therein.  Basically, I say common sense rules, folks.    You should let agents know when you query them that the manuscript is out with others.  And, if an offer comes in, you should give everyone who has your material the chance to finish their review.  If the offer of representation is just too good to hold off on, then you should immediately contact the competing agents and tell them that the project is no longer available so that they can move on to the next thing in their piles.

In these days of electronic submissions, no one will get mad because you’ve gone to multiple agents (unless you do one of those mass e-mail things where everyone is listed; then all bets are off).  But it would be doing us a kindness if you were to keep us in the loop as to the submission’s progress.

Does this sound right to you or do you guys hold the Darwinian view that it’s survival of the fittest out there and tough noogies if you aren’t fast enough?  And, is there something you wish we’d do differently during the review process (and why)?

8 Responses to Time’s winged chariot

  1. Katie Newingham says:

    It’s professional etiquette to let each agent know there’s an offer on the table, but I can see how writers might do the first love thing and commit during the phone call before thinking it through. Especially if they have the dream agent syndrome. It’s like their high school crush is calling – how can they refuse?

    On that note, I like when agents email while they’re reading, especially if they’re losing sleep over it, or their Sunday, for that matter. Why? Because chances are that writer has waited a really long time to hear from agents, and he/she has slaved over their query, their partial materials, and their fulls. They’ve tried to select the right agents, and personalized each email – which takes hours of research per agent.

    By the time they make it into your reading pile, they’re anxious. Any amount of affirmation goes a long way if you want the client.

  2. Miriam says:

    Very good points, Katie. Thing is, tho’, that the process isn’t always so clear-cut for us. We might be doing a lot of second guessing ourselves or need other reads from our colleagues to make sure we’re not delusional about the merits of a particular book. Sometimes, you just have to sit with it for a few days to see if you feel strongly enough to devote even more of your time.

    But yes, we know that authors are on tenterhooks until they hear something back one way or the other and we try to be as respectful of that as possible (and sometimes, I know we fall short simply because of the volume of work we’re dealing with).

  3. Anonymous says:

    As a writer who’s been through this, not once, but twice, I can commiserate with both of you! Although, I do think you are a hundred percent right that the author should’ve let you know when she got an offer, and especially the second she accepted it. And since that most likely didn’t happen on Sunday, or probably even Saturday, then she was definitely in error because she’d been sitting on the information for at least two days.

    From the writer’s POV, querying, having fulls read, getting offers is all very heady and when I look back on it now, I can see where I DEFINITELY would’ve handled things differently (and better) the time I got multiple offers if I’d been acting from a more level headed place than an emotional one. I know I let one agent down the way you were because of my haste. Now I see that there is time…it just feels like there isn’t in the moment! In the end, my haste ended up causing me to choose badly, and six months later I was out there again…but this time I got lucky and signed with your own MB.

    What I’m trying, somewhat inelegantly, to say is that I made a ton of mistakes when querying – partly just because I didn’t know, and partly because emotions run very high at that offer moment. So while I totally agree with you, I guess the best you can really hope for is for it not to happen too often.

  4. Lynn says:

    I can see why you would be frustrated, Miriam, but the way your post is written, I don’t see the author at fault. You say that you had her manuscript for about a week when you offered representation and the author responded to you promptly, “…but she had just accepted another agent’s offer.” The operative word here is “just.” That offer may have been made (and she may have accepted it) a half an hour before yours, or 15 minutes before, or ten, and she hadn’t had time to let you or anyone else know that her ms was now off the market. If she had waited days, then I agree with you, she should have let everyone know.

    That said, I can see the point made by Anonymous. The author in question may very well have been so overwhelmed by an offer, she wasn’t thinking straight. We’re reminded all the time that the odds for representation is a slim one. Still, it just takes one agent to say yes to help a writer on the road to publication. When it happens, it’s easy to see how someone would forget all about protocol, up to an extent.

    @ Anonymous: Thank you for sharing your experience. I’m sure you haven’t been the only one to accept an offer in haste. I’m, also, sure many writers do so out of fear the offer will be rescinded if they wait too long to accept. I haven’t gotten to the query stage yet, but this is a good reminder that if one agent found my work interesting enough to offer representation, then maybe there will be others as well. (Memo to self: Don’t rush!)

  5. D. C. DaCosta says:

    Great article and great comments.

  6. Miriam says:

    Both Anonymous and Lynn are right. It is hard not to rush your fences when an agent is offering something you’ve worked so hard for. And, on our side of things (when we’re feeling especially overwhelmed by the piles all around us) we sometimes forget how hard it is to wait patiently for what seems like an eternity and then try to play it cool and collected while doing a frantic Snoopy dance internally. So,I hope you’ll forgive my whining. I do think that being judicious about representation is very, very important, however. You’re embarking on a relationship with an agent that may (and hopefully will) span years and it’s critical to make the best choice possible.

  7. Simone says:

    I will say that when I first got my offer and I wrote the other agencies I’d submitted to, one of them replied, “Good, because we were having trouble dredging up any interest here.” !! I was stunned by how rude and unnecessary that was. There are unprofessional people lurking in the most unlikely places, I suppose…

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