I have the opportunity to get my nonfiction book proposal to a senior editor, now vice president, at a major commercial publishing house. Not only that, it's likely that one of the editor's most noteworthy clients would recommend my proposal.
Having come up short looking for literary agency representation over the past few years, I'm ready to try this avenue, even though it's through the back door (maybe, on second thought, the front door).
My question is this. I don't know if the editor would consider my proposal for publication; but, if so, I'd want to be represented by an agent. I've come to know two or three who turned me down, but I respect them.
What's the correct protocol in this situation? Is the agent obliged to simply work out details with the publishing house on my behalf, or does he or she have the green light to shop the proposal to other houses? If so, what do I say to my influential friends who got my proposal to the senior editor/VP in the first place?
You've got the cart before the horse here.
It's no problem to get your work in the door on the recommendation of friends rather than through an agent.
If this senior vp wants to acquire the project, you go back to the agents and say "I have an offer I need an agent". If you don't reach an agreement with this publisher, the agent may simply return the project to you or ask if you want to him/her to shop it around further.
What you say to your influential friends does not depend on the outcome. They introduced you. You say thank you and buy dinner and drinks, no matter what happens. When the book is published you put them in the acknowledgments even if someone else publishes it. People remember that.