1.08.2007

Multiple choice

Dear Miss Snark,

Help! I have to choose between three agents. (lucky you!)

About two weeks ago I received a call from Agent A asking if I had signed with anyone yet. She said she wanted to sign me but wanted a colleague to read the book first before offering and promised this would happen quickly. Agent A is a junior agent with a well-known agency and might need to get approval from a superior to sign. I don’t know.

I emailed my top two other agents with fulls to let them know of this development. Agent B had said some nice things about my partial and offered some helpful preliminary thoughts about same. Agent C is a major player in my category and the agent of a friend of mine.

After my email, Agent B read my novel quickly and responded with something that was neither rejection nor offer. She suggested some well-considered changes and made it clear that this wasn’t just a, “Do this and maybe I’ll look at it again,” but rather, “This is close. If you can make these changes to my satisfaction then I think this can fly.”

Yesterday, I received an email from the assistant to Agent C. She has finished my book and wanted to know if I was available to speak by phone on Monday. I figure that nobody calls with bad news.

Here’s the thing. I’ve already put some attention to the rewrites suggested by Agent B. I also feel that she connected with my work and, more importantly, could help me improve my novel. Emotionally, I want to make the changes and I want to sign with her agency.

But I keep thinking that if I turn down a firm offer from A or C that I may as well take up the Nitwit Scepter and crown myself King of Rabbitania. Damn good chance that by the time I complete my rewrites I will have annoyed Agents A&C, and that Agent B will give me a pass anyway.

I await your wise counsel.



This isn't a decision you make based on emotion. Get all your ducks in a row. Talk to Agent C. Talk to Agent A. Make sure Agent B really means "we're almost there". It's ok to be pretty specific about the fact you have three agents interested. This happens all the time on good projects.

An offer in hand is more valuable than an offer down the road.

On the other hand, (cause you knew this wouldn't be simple, right?) an agent who connects with your work, and works with you is a good thing.

Honestly though, I only see this kind of thing from the agent's side. I've never had to juggle three agents (well, there was that one time in the bar in Falmouth, Mass with Miss X, but she swore she'd never tell..).

Let's see what the comments trail kicks up. Contributions anyone? Have you been inundated with offers? How did you decide?

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yanno, I never had this problem. I was lucky from the gate. Sold the book, asked my editor which agent she'd recommend, and she came up with Jenny Bent. Am I lucky or what?

Three agents? This sounds like a sleepness night alert to me. Good luck with it. Your book must be great.

Impy said...

Agent C asked to talk to you... so talk. You can't possibly make a decision without knowing what she has to say, right?

For all that an emotionally connected agent makes sense and is important, my advice would be to go with Agent C if she offers. Ultimately, this is a business decision. Agent B isn't ready to represent you yet. Agent C probably is, and she sounds like a good business choice to represent your novel. She also represents your friend, so may even be a better fit emotionally than you might think.

I would think about Agent B's suggested changes, though. Just because you might not be signing with her doesn't mean she couldn't be right about the revisions. And be sure to send her a thank-you note regardless.

Bryan D. Catherman said...

Multiple agents to pick from? Oh crap, what a problem to have. Good luck finding a comment trail for this problem.

Anonymous said...

I often find myself in this exact situation.

I usually wake up before too long, so I don't know how it plays out over time, but I always go with the agent who loves my book best. If they are all agents you'd be proud to have on your team, then pick the one with the most enthusiasm for YOU, 'cause that's what you'll need over the long haul.

Sounds like agent B needs a nudge to commit, since you like her insight. If she wants you, she'll sign now, not make you wait on revisions, since she knows others are in the ring. It's like dating - if he hasn't called, he's not that into you.

Anonymous said...

Man, is that a problem I'd like to have! Hmmm, which agent shall I pick?? Congrats and I hope you make the right call...

Katharine Swartz said...

I haven't been in this situation with agents--alas--but I have had different mag. editors want similar pieces and I've been upfront about it. I think in this business as well as most others it pays to be honest and explain about your offers to the three different agents. Then hopefully you don't have to rush your decision. I do think connecting with the agent is important, as it is (hopefully) a longterm working relationship. Can you ask Agent B just how close he/she thinks you are? I'm afraid I don't know all the etiquette involved.

Phaidra Johnson said...

I went with my gut instinct to choose between the offers I had. It rarely steers me wrong.

But those were two offers already on the table. It sounds like you haven't gotten a firm commitment from any of the agents yet (well, at the time of the email; hopefully you got that call you were expecting today.)

Would this work (it assumes there's a firm offer from one of the others)?

----
Dear Agent B:

I just received an offer of representation from another agency. But, I liked the changes you suggested and have already begun working on them. While I don't want to turn down a sure-fire offer of representation from an established agent, I feel that you connected with my work and am interested in where you stand regarding an offer.
----

I don't know. That's off the top of my head. Maybe others can weigh in on whether that sounds too much like a threat rather than a genuine desire to work with the agent.

Good luck!

coffee_girl said...

Definitely talk to Agent C before doing anything else. What you want is an agent who not only loves your work but feels strongly that s/he can SELL it. I was with a junior agent (note the past tense) who loved my work, had lots of comments and suggestions for changes, yada yada yada, but could not SELL the book for love or money. I'm now with a more senior agent who doesn't have that much to say to me personally, but has much more solid marketing ideas.

Always listen to comments and suggestions -- and do tell Agent C that you've done some rewriting -- but in this business, darlin', love ain't everything. That "major player in my category" tells me Agent C wouldn't be calling unless s/he had something to say regarding the likelihood of being able to sell the book. And the fact that s/he is asking you to set aside some time to talk? S/he has something to say.

Got my fingers crossed for you.

-- MJ

M. G. Tarquini said...

You may talk with Agent C on Monday and it may be love at first sound byte which will render anything else we have to say moot.

I'll light a candle for you.

Anonymous said...

It is the publisher who will fork over the money and distribute the book to the public. If these agents are all competent sales people (i.e. established with a good track record) I would go with the first one who handed me a contract.

Algebra Angel said...

I've never been in this situation, so you might want to take my advice with a grain of salt.

It seems to me that if you're willing to make changes for Agent B, maybe you should talk to the other two agents about what changes they would like to see as well. That might give you a feel for how well they'll work with you and what kind of vision they have for your novel.

Since you have a bidding war for your book, you might also want to discuss each agent's plan for selling your book. This is a business decision after all.

Finally, it might be worthwhile to ask for contacts for the agent's other clients. Ask them how well they like working with their agent and what their agent's style is. That might help you figure out who you will work best with.

Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Ask to see their contracts now so you know what you're really choosing when you say yes or no to anyone. Agent contracts vary and these three might differ in ways that are very significant to you and make the choice easy.

Anonymous no. 4 said...

Congratulations. Enjoy your dilemma!

I had offers from four reputable agents, and seriously clicked with three. Every agent wanted changes, which, like you, I was happy to make. I flew to New York to meet with all four, called two back with questions, and met with two--at their suggestion--twice. The courtship was both thrilling and anxiety-provoking. I was frank with all parties about needing another week or so to decide.

Three things helped. First, I let the agents know early on that I had several suitors and wanted time to consider this difficult choice. Second, one agent uttered the magic words, which I memorized: "I'm here to take care of your problems. If you need more time, I'll get your deadline extended. If you hate your cover, I'll make it go away. My job is to create a safe space for you as a writer." Now I realize that couldn't have happened if I hadn't felt entitled to meetings and phone calls before making my decision. No one barked at me (excuse me, KY) for asking questions about how the relationship would work, or what publishers they might submit my novel to.

The third thing that helped was that an editor gave me great advice. He said, "Choose the agent you'd want to call if things go wrong."

Ridiculous--what could go wrong, if four agents wanted my book? Well...everything. It seems I had written the great unsellable novel. And then I wrote...another one. Some agents would have let me go. But my agent still takes my calls; she's waiting for book no. 3. It's a decent consolation, if such exists, for having two unpublished novels.

So I pass on that editor's advice--choose the agent you'd want to call if things go wrong.

May they only go right for you!

Zappadong said...

My advice: Listen to what C has to say to you. Anything from "We would like to take you on" to "not bad, but it needs working on, and then we might consider" is possible.

You will know more once you've spoken to C. Go from there, be honest with all three of them "A,B,C" and once you've made your decision, don't look back and think things would have been better / different elsewhere.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Agent B sounds interested, but not solid. She may not like your revisions , or may lose interest for some reason. Don't forget she sells things for a living. She gets paid to build rapport with people. No contract, no deal. Right?

Agent A sounds hopeful about your novel, but also unsure. It's not uncommon to ask for another opinions, but you said she used the word "superior"? That tells me her track record is iffy and she's being mentored. Maybe it'll work out, maybe not.

If Agent C calls on Monday and adores you and your book, I think C stands for contract. If Agent C is lukewarm, I'd set up a Jello wrestling match and make your decision that way.

good luck.

Anonymous said...

If all things with the three agents are fairly equal(all good, productive, savvy agents in your genre), and it sounds like you've done your homework so you would know, I would probably go with the agent who is most enthusiastic about the book.
That is, of course, if this is the bird in hand. Why wouldn't you want the agent who was champing at the bit to run with the project, rather than an agent who will take it on as just another manuscript?
Any way you go, good luck. Sounds like you've got a winner manuscript.

judy said...

Talk to ALL three agents. Find out how you feel about all three. Put your gut in your back pocket and find out who is hot to sell you book. Then think about who you are excited to with with. Mix that with three beers, sleep it off, and call the winner in the morning.

Ms Baroque said...

Miss S is right. Talk to all the agents, and before you do, make a list of what you want to find out from them - whether you frame it as question, sor hot words, or objectives to yourself, whatever.

The important thing is not where you atand now, but where you stand after these meetings. Your feeling about Agent B may turn out to be right, but on the other hand if you decide after a businesslike provess you will always trust that decision instyead of wondering...

Anonymous said...

Been there. I met with them. Let them know I had others I had promised to talk to. If they love the manuscript, they will wait. What else are they going to do?

I think impy's take was right. If you talk to C and she's ready to take you on, then go with her since B isn't yet. Also, if you used your friend to make the introduction, it would be better all around if you followed through -- unless, of course, the agent suddenly turned out to be psycho.

Anonymous said...

I was recently in a very similar position, when several agents offered me representation. At their suggestion, I arranged meetings with them and was able to ask questions about their agencies, discuss ways to improve the book, etc. It was a very tough decision - and after years of rejection, the very concept of having to choose an agent was completely surreal - but I'm very glad I didn't make a snap decision and sign with the first one who offered. The agents I saw were good enough to stress that this is potentially a very long-term relationship, and therefore the decision shouldn't be rushed. I don't know how you and the agents are placed geographically, but even if you can't have a face to face meeting, I would certainly recommend a thorough conversation with all of them. It's natural to worry that if you hesitate or turn down an offer, it might come back to bite you: I felt just the same. But if you have a project strong enough to elicit three offers, then that's very unlikely. Good luck!

Kit Whitfield said...

First off, congratulations, that's excellent news.

I think if you're honest and polite all round, you should do fine. I've been in a similar situation, so I know it is actually a problem - just not one that people who haven't been there will sympathise with!

I had offers from several agencies when I took my book around town, and it gave me a major stress headache. What I did was explain to everyone that I had offers on the table but was open to others. Most agencies put in firm offers; one agency said that as the book wasn't finished, they weren't able to offer until it was. So I scratched them and concentrated on the others.

The two factors you always have to weigh up in choosing are how much you the agent and how heavy-hitting the agency is. In the end, I went for an agent I liked and who was part of a numerically small (or at least, smaller than some of the others) but very prestigious agency. I never regretted it.

What I also did, and don't forget this part, is called the other agents personally, and said thank you very much, I really appreciate the offer, in the end I decided to go with someone else but it was a pleasure meeting them. None of them had any hard feelings. One of them sent me a message of congratulations through a mutual acquaintance when the book sold. If you're civil about it, no damage will get done; this kind of thing sometimes happens and agents know it.

It's both a business and an emotional decision. If you have a choice between a junior and an experienced agent, I'd really recommend you go for experience. Beyond that, remember that this will hopefully be a very long relationship, so you need to get on with each other.

There's no reason why you shouldn't tell C the truth - skipping the fact that C isn't your favourite. Take the call, and tell them honestly that you've had some other offers or near-offers, but you're interested in hearing what they can offer you. If there's an offer, tell them thank you and as it's a big decision, you'd like a few days to think about it. You don't have to commit immediately.

Call A and tell them the same thing, and that you need a clear answer from them so you can take your decision. That's only fair.

Just as importantly, call B once you've spoken to C and tell them what's going on, and see if it pushes them to commit. If it doesn't, then you'll know that they have less faith in the book than A and C. You can tell the truth: that you really would like to sign with them, but feel it would be stupid to turn down a firm offer for the sake of one that might not happen. Anyone sensible would feel the same, and agents don't want to sign no fool. Unless B is a jerk, she'll respect your position, whatever she can offer you.

An agent who can improve your book is extremely valuable, as an agent's acceptance doesn't necessarily mean a publisher's acceptance, and the better you can make the book, the better your chances. But don't let that lead you to turn down something solid for something that won't definitely happen. Don't forget, you can always change agents later in life if you're not happy (not fun, but possible) - and it's easier to go from one agency to another than to get into an agency from the outside.

No one can really tell you what to do. It's your call. But don't panic too much. You're deciding between good things here, and once you've made your decision, you'll feel better. You don't have to lie to anyone, because you're not doing anything wrong. Just tell the truth, be polite, and go for what you want. And the very best of luck to you!

Kim Stagliano said...

Was that YOU holding court at The Casino on the Heights beach with a tipsy poodle sitting under the bar stool? Had I known, I'd have bought you a beachpail of gin. I should have recognized the stiletto flip flops. My loss....

Good luck, writer and congrats on the envious dilemma.

KingM said...

This is the letter writer. A few clarifying points and developments pour les esprits curioux et exigeants.

I got the call from Agent C yesterday and wouldn't you know, it wasn't an offer. She had read half the book, said she loved what she'd read so far, and wanted to know if I already had an agent. I filled her in on the details. She asked for a few more days, but said she would hurry. So I'm still in limbo.

As for Agent B, she isn't solid. The suggested changes are not of the "gut this" variety, but they are real ones and if I don't do them well it is clear she will pass. But she said very clearly, "I am very interested in this."

Clearly, she's the least solid of the three, but I like her suggested changes and I've already given enough thought to the problem to know that I can resolve her issues if I give it some real effort. Of course, she still might pass...

Thanks everyone, and Miss Snark, too.

writtenwyrdd said...

Honest is the best policy. Talk to them, lay cards on the table and explain you have three options. But DON'T say you feel emotionally connected to B, even to B. That makes you look immature to a lot of people.

I'm speaking as a former personnel recruiter, not from any wealth of agent interest. If you are seen as a 'straight shooter' you'll have a better business relationship with whomever you do choose.

Best of luck.

Katharine Weber said...

Just to say if you have to make a choice and there are three, then it it AMONG and not BETWEEN.

And good luck, sounds like you're on your way.

ec said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

From dictionary.com.

—Usage note Between also continues to be used, as it has been throughout its entire history, to express a relationship of persons or things considered individually, no matter how many: Tossing up coins between three people always takes a little working out. Between holding public office, teaching, and writing, she has little free time.

Kit Whitfield said...

Hi Kingm,

Well, that buys you a bit of breathing space, at least. A question: how fast do you think you could make the changes B suggested?

Another question: do you think that B spotted points that C missed? I mean, do you think that you'd actually be a better writer with B, or that B has better judgement? (Bear in mind, though, that not all agents are natural editors; some are natural salesmen who find you natural editors by getting you publishing deals.) What exactly is it about B that attracts you to him/her?

Can your friend give you an insider's perspective on C? Would that help?

One comforting thought here is that whatever you decide, even if A, B and C fall through, it probably won't be the end of your career. It doesn't seem like it's difficult for you to get an agent's attention.

Really do sympathise, as it's one of those cleft stick situations that feel awful when you're going through them. If this goes on for a few weeks and you still want advice, you can get to my website by clicking on my name above; do feel free to link along and keep talking to me (or indeed anyone else posting there if you so wish) - the e-mail contact is untested, but post a comment on whatever thread you hit and I'll pick it up. :-)

Zuleme said...

Zuleme is a native of Falmouth, Mass. What bar?

KingM said...

WrittenWrd,

Maybe I should clarify what I mean by "emotionally connected." That's not meant as in, "Gosh, she likes me. I really like her and I don't want to hurt her feelings."

But this agent read my book and "got it." Her suggested rewrites focused on important parts of the book that would enhance what I was trying to do. Her thoughts for a sequel set my mind turning and I've already come up with a couple of possibilities that excite me.

That's valuable input.

Either of the other two agents might bring similar things to the table. I don't know, as I haven't yet had discussions to this depth.

Thanks again, everyone. Some good advice here.

ec said...

Quite some time ago, when I was contemplating a change of literary agent, I received this advice from a former editor of mine: "Before you make a decision, take time to define what you expect and need from an agent. I know some who are excellent salesmen, some who handle paperwork and certain business manager-type functions extremely well, some who offer editorial support, and some who are good at keeping in touch and are not averse to emotional hand-holding, but I don't know anyone who does all of those things."

It sounds as if you've considered what these agents have to offer; now make a list of what you as a writer need. Then rearrange that list in order of priority and see if that clarifies the picture somewhat.

KingM said...

Kit,

A question: how fast do you think you could make the changes B suggested?

I don't want to do them fast, I want to do them well. I want B to read the changed sections and think that not only did I resolve her issues but that those are now the strongest part of the book.

Having said that, I'm a fairly serious writer. When I am working, I don't mess around and I can produce. The big issue is that I need some percolating time first if I want the coffee to be hot when I pour.

Another question: do you think that B spotted points that C missed? I mean, do you think that you'd actually be a better writer with B, or that B has better judgement?

It's Agent A who gave me the feedback and the answer is yes to both. I have two trusted first readers, so I'm not lacking for good advice, but having an agent who knows his/her stuff is only a plus in my book.

Can your friend give you an insider's perspective on C? Would that help?

My friend has nothing but good things to say about C. The only downside that I can see is that she has some major clients and lots of minor clients. I would be pretty far down the list, at least to start. Maybe this means something, maybe not.

One comforting thought here is that whatever you decide, even if A, B and C fall through, it probably won't be the end of your career. It doesn't seem like it's difficult for you to get an agent's attention.

I've had some near misses in the past, so alas, it's possible for the plane to explode in a giant fireball just as it's about to leave the runway.

If this goes on for a few weeks and you still want advice, you can get to my website by clicking on my name above; do feel free to link along and keep talking to me

Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

The third thing that helped was that an editor gave me great advice. He said, "Choose the agent you'd want to call if things go wrong."

I like this. That's sort of what I meant by gut instinct. I wasn't looking for a BFF in an agent, and I'd already checked out her numbers and reputation, but I also didn't want to feel that talking to my agent was like being on a job interview.

Bummer about the no offer from Agent C, though. At least you can concentrate on trying to get Agent B's attention with your changes.

Phaidra, who's too lazy to log back in

Nobody said...

Eyes on the prize - what is the best thing for this book you've worked so hard on? Who will help you build the best career you can? Who will help you sell the strongest product you can produce?

Agent B has given you advice that you seem to feel will make your book stronger. Your first concern with an agent is can they sell the book. Assuming all three have track records suggesting this is so, on top of that here is someone who gets it and then helps you make it better. Bonus!

I'd keep that in mind if I ended up in a position where I had multiple offers. And if I got an offer from another solid agent while I was revising with B's suggestions, I would talk to B, at least as a courtesy, before I signed with someone else. After all, she didn't take the time to give you this great free advice because she's being nice and wants you to be a better writer, she did it because she sees the potential to profit from it.

Termagant 2 said...

If agent C truly "gets" your work, that would be the highest recommendation I could think of. After talking with him/her, my gut says you will probably make that choice.

And what's the worst that could happen if you take agent B's advice and make those changes? They could be exactly what agent C will say once you come to contract. I'd suggest, if you have time, make those B changes, save the MS in a different file, and then if C wants similar changes, you can have them virtually ready to fly.

Best wishes on your future success, and I will send squads of murderous mutant ninja squirrels if you don't report the results on this same blog,

T2

Kit Whitfield said...

The only downside that I can see is that she has some major clients and lots of minor clients. I would be pretty far down the list, at least to start. Maybe this means something, maybe not.

It means one of two things, I'd say: either she can get previously unknown writers good enough deals that they become major writers, or she's good enough that highly successful authors will leave their agencies to be with her. Those are good things, not bad.

Never be put off by the fact that an agent has prestigious people on their books. They'll be trying to make you prestigious as well. All agents are busy, whether their clients are big or not, but any agent that represents big names can command an editor's attention.

If you're bothered by her having a long list, well, again it's a sign that people are willing to work with her. If she's prepared to keep considering new clients, she evidently feels she can handle it.

Anyway, the offer stands if you want to keep talking later. Good luck in the meantime.

Jim Oglethorpe said...

I had four agents who wanted to represent a non-fiction book in early 2006.

The first received the proposal from a colleauge who didn't think it was right for her. They worked at a small boutique firm that specialized in fiction and wanted more non-fiction. She wanted me to make some MAJOR changes to the concept--which I thought were good suggestions. So I started that process.

The second was very pushy and we just didn't connect.

The third was just starting out at a large agency. She got the proposal from a high-up colleague whose name rhymes with Winny Sent. She had tons of energy and a real passion for the project. But no previous sales. She suggested similar changes to the concept as the first agent.

The third--did the thing where she wanted a colleage to read it. The three of us had a conference call but there was no offer made.

I went with the first person. I liked her personality and felt that we could work together long term. I appreciated the fact that she spent time really reading the proposal and figuring out how to market it.

But ya know what? The proposal never sold! That was a huge reminder to me that the agent is a first step (a MAJOR one--congrats on the interest) but there are more hurdles to cross including getting editors to read it and sell it to their colleagues. But I'm sure your book will sell--two of us couldn't be so unlucky!

If you are a first time author, balance your gut with the understanding that an offer in hand means you can move to the next step.

Keep us posted!

KingM said...

An update for the curious. Agent A sent me an email saying that her colleague couldn't get behind the book and she was therefore going to pass.

However, last night, I received a call from Agent D, offering representation. He's a good agent with an excellent agency. I'm still waiting to hear from Agent C.

So this morning I regretfully sent an email to Agent B, telling her the situation and that I would have to go with a firm offer. I was hoping she would offer at that point, but was not surprised when she didn't. She was very nice in her response, wishing me the best.

Thanks, everyone, for your advice.

Anonymous said...

when I was picking an agent ages ago, a theatre director friend of my dad's said: Make sure that you're choosing between good, reputable people who know your area of writing. Then pick the person you like talking to best, because you're going to spend a lot of time talking to them.

I knew instantly who that person was, picked them, and have been agented by them very successfully for over 10 years now. So I'm passing that advice on to you...

KingM said...

A final note before I let this thread pass into the Great Beyond. I ended up signing with Agent C. We had a great phone conversation. She loved my book and thinks it has great commercial potential.

I have to say that much of my success in finding an agent came from reading this fantastic blog. Thank you very much, Miss Snark.