Traditional Publishing — Step 6: The Offer of Representation

An agent can reach out for a couple of reasons. The two most common are because he is ready to make an offer of representation or because he wants to suggest a “revise and resubmit” or R&R. I’ll focus on the latter in a separate post. For now, let’s focus on the best reason for an agent to call.

Offer of Representation

This is it. One of the most exciting calls of your life. An agent calls to tell you he is passionate about your work and wants to represent you.

As excited as you are, don’t just scream yes. You need to be certain this is the RIGHT agent for you and your book. A bad agent is worse than no agent at all.

Agent interview

Interview the agent to determine if this is someone you want to work with. Questions you might ask are:

  • What is your vision for my book? The agent may want you to make changes to better fit a certain editor or certain market. These changes may be terrific! Or, they may be something you absolutely don’t want to do. You and your agent need to have compatible visions for the manuscript.
  • Do you believe my book needs additional edits, or will you be sending it out on submission quickly? This isn’t a deal-breaker, just information about how polished he thinks your manuscript is. Don’t be surprised if he wants at least one round of edits to get it ready to go out.
  • What’s your strategy for selling my book? Do you have editors in mind? The agent may not answer the latter question with specifics. They have to play some things close to the vest!
  • How long will it take to sell my book? Honestly, the agent can’t answer this, but it will be good to hear his answer. An honest agent will tell you that he can’t guarantee that your book will EVER sell. Unless he’s planning to auction the book, the selling process can take months and months.
  • How often will you update me? Agents don’t handhold their writers. He won’t be calling you — or even emailing you — every week to check in. Weeks and months can pass because there is no news to share. You should, however, be able to email to request an update and expect a timely response.
  • How many authors do you represent? How many of these are on submission at one time usually? The more clients an agent has, the less time he has for you. If he has more than 50 clients, ask if he has assistants or sub-agents to help manage the workload.
  • What percentage of manuscripts by new writers do you sell? The percentage will likely be between 50 and 75%.
  • How many books do you sell in my genre each year (or have you sold overall)? You want an agent with strong sales in your genre. Just because he’s passionate about your manuscript doesn’t mean he has the contacts to sell it.
  • What subsidiary rights have you sold for writers in my genre? Book club, film, foreign — the more the better!
  • I understand that after my book sells, my checks actually come from you, not the publisher. How does this work, and what’s the time frame?
  • If my book doesn’t sell, what happens? Is there a time frame for that? Are you representing just this book or all of my books?

Write down his answers to your questions.

Other issues

  • Ask if there will be a contract between you and the agent. Most agents will have a contract, but some won’t. This is not a red flag. If there is a contract, ask to have it emailed to you.
  • Ensure the agent charges a flat 15% and no other fees. If there are other fees, such as “a lower commission and a small representation fee,” politely end the call — and the relationship. That’s not an agent you want!

After the interview

Tell the agent you’d like a couple of weeks to consider the offer. Yes, weeks. If you have fulls out to other agents, you want the opportunity to follow up with them and see if they would also like to represent you. This request is quite normal and shouldn’t be an issue. If it is, that’s a red flag!

After the call, celebrate. Then, when you can think, consider the situation objectively.

If you didn't check out the agent before you submitted do so now by googling his name (or agency) and "scam." Check Preditors and Editors. Check Absolute Write. Make absolutely certain this person is reputable. If there are ANY red flags, run the other way.

Update other agents

If you have fulls or partials out to other agents, send a polite email to each with the subject line “Received Offer of Representation for {Title}.”

Note: It's best to reply to each agent's original correspondence with you, so they can remember who you are and where you are in their process.

Explain that you have an offer of representation, and ask if they would like a chance to be considered. Ask that they contact you within 10 days if they are interested.

DO NOT send an email like this if you don't have an offer. If someone is interested, they will ask who the offer is from, and then they will verify with that agent that the offer is real. If you've lied, you've guaranteed a rejection not only for this manuscript but for all future ones as well.

If you get an offer from an agent and decide to decline, simply email your decision. “Thank you, but I’ve decided to accept a different offer. I appreciate your time and interest!”

Email your acceptance and the contract, if there is one, to the agent you choose.

Offer of representation

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