Dear Miss $nark:(ha!)
I am a snarkling, so I understand that during the sales process agents submit multiple copies of a MS simultaneously. I know what a pre-empt is. I know what an auction is.
Say a developing novelist is dealing with small presses, modeling her tactics on her favorite agent's. Stipulate she is honest about submitting simultaneously and follows the several SP's respective guidelines. Assume she gets two acceptances (setting aside thoughts like "lightning," "lottery," and c.).
Is there any accepted, etiquette-level guidance for how to handle this? Gratefully accept the chronologically first offer? (no) Re-query agents for help? (yes) One-off with a lawyer (seems like they might miss opporutnity)? Take the most favorable contract and wish the other fair winds and gentle rains? (no)
If you have two offers (and yes, lightning is involved) the first, and I mean THE FIRST thing you do is look at their sales channels. Who distributes? Do they HAVE distribution? What's the biggest book they've sold (a publisher who's never had a big book is going to learn on yours...yuck). Do they have pr and sales people? Do they have pr and sales budgets? Are they thinking you'll do it all? Do they know what BookSense is; have they had a BookSense book; will they pay for one if you get picked. Do they know any niche marketing?
All small publishers are not created equal. There's a LOT to be said for small nimble companies where you can dial up the marketing director at 8am on Monday in Vermont and speak to a live person. There's a lot to be said for a company that knows how to get your book into libraries. There's also a lot to be said, and none of it good, for people who have good intentions but no means to achieve them.
A publsher can offer you the moon and the stars, but you better be standing on a launch pad looking at a rocket if you plan on getting anywhere.