Ask the Agent: An Offer in Hand

If a writer sends you a query, even a few sample chapters, and you turn it down, but think the writing is good, and then the writer is offered a publishing contract with a large CBA publisher, would you reconsider your rejection? Should a writer reapproach an agent if offered a contract?

I don’t think there’s any harm in sending a quick email to the agent of your choice, telling them of your offer and asking if they’d reconsider representing you. The worst the agent can do is say no. And most would appreciate being given the opportunity.

You can also ask the same question of an agent you haven’t queried yet, or one you’ve queried but they haven’t responded. Just tell them, “I have an offer on the table, are you interested in representing me?”

From the agent’s perspective, this can be a tough call. I never want to be perceived as an opportunist, and I never jump on a client strictly because they’ve been offered a contract. I’d rather make decisions about representation on my own. I don’t want to be an “ambulance chaser” agent, one who’s just trying to run after the money. I need to represent people I believe in, people I think I can get along with, and people I think have a promising future in writing. (I think most agents I know share this philosophy.)

So I guess if I’ve already turned someone down but they got a contract and asked me again, I’d have to reevaluate and decide if this is really a person who’s a good fit for me to represent. It’s possible I liked the author and the project, but for whatever reason, I thought it would be a tough sell to publishers. If that hurdle was overcome, maybe I’d see the error of my ways and enjoy the chance to come on board.

If you find yourself in the situation of having a publisher offer but not an agent, the best thing for you to do is to be clear on whether you still want an agent, even if you got this first book deal on your own. Will you feel more comfortable letting someone else guide you from that point on, and deal with all the business aspects of your publishing journey? Or are you fine dealing with the publisher yourself? You need to be clear on your answer to this, because if you bring on an agent after you’ve already been offered a contract, you’ll still end up giving away 15% of your royalties.

What’s your opinion? If you get a contract on your own, would you be inclined to try and bring an agent on board right away, or maybe wait until your next book?

Rachelle Gardner is a Christian literary agent affiliated with WordServe Literary Group in Colorado.

Rachelle Gardner

Literary agent at Gardner Literary. Coffee & wine enthusiast (not at the same time) and dark chocolate connoisseur. I've worked in publishing since 1995 and I love talking about books!


  1. Andrew on August 12, 2008 at 8:34 PM

    >It isn’t ambulance chasing if the ‘patient’ demands that the ambulance be stopped until the agent catches up.

    An agent has to make a snap decision on an offerred work, and that decision may be, in the long run, wrong. So if you like the agent’s style and ethics, by all means give them another chance.

    Life’s about second chances. Kinda like the ones the Big G and the Big J give us, every time we screw up.

  2. Linnea on August 12, 2008 at 8:21 PM

    >I negotiated a publishing contract for my first book withhout an agent. It was difficult to find an agent who would take a chance on something that didn’t fit most genre slots but I did find a publisher who wanted to. The novel was nominated for a young readers choice award and is on high school reading programs in Canada. I’m hoping the success I had with my first book will be sufficient to interest an agent in my current WIP. It sure can’t hurt.

  3. Eric Dabbs on August 12, 2008 at 5:12 PM

    >I would definitely want the guidance of an agent. Everyone else has already covered the reasons why…the deal…the contract, etc.

    Would I resubmit to an agent I have been turned down by, possibly.

    Of course, I don’t see myself going to a conference anytime soon, unless one is coming to Nashville, Atlanta or another city in that vicinity. So, I don’t think I’ll get an offer from a publisher before I get one from an agent…and…I doubt I’ll be submitting to an editor via long distance without meeting them in person at a conference.

    I may be wrong, but I think getting an agent first is the best route. My chances of getting a publishing deal before the agent are probably slim, unless I meet them in person and pitch them at a conference. Again, I may be wrong in that respect, but I don’t think I am.

  4. Catherine West on August 12, 2008 at 4:12 PM

    >I think it depends on the relationship. I have had several past rejections where the agent said they’d look at a project again IF… I think you can safely resubmit to an agent if they’ve invited you to, especially if you have an offer on the table.
    I’m glad you’re representing me because I can tell you if an editor called me with an offer on the table, I’d be in a state of catatonia and probably wouldn’t even know how to respond with anything other than, ‘Are you sure you have the right number?’ This way they get to call you and you can respond intelligently.

  5. Jessica on August 12, 2008 at 12:51 PM

    >I would definitely want an agent. My husband’s a realtor and I think that has prepared me to understand how helpful an agent could be in all the business aspects of publishing. Plus, I plan to make this my career for the rest of my life.
    I love to write and I want to make money doing it. An agent, I think, will help me do this.
    Plus, an agent is a professional eye going over my work before the editor does.
    It’s really hard for me to see the drawbacks of having a GOOD agent.

  6. Matthew C Jones on August 12, 2008 at 12:02 PM

    >I think it’s like anything else: if you can negotiate the minefield on your own, go ahead. But I know of too many artists, specifically musicians, that have been worked over by a record label simply because they were 1) really excited to be signed and 2) they were ignorant of the legalese in the contract. I get confused just reading about what do do with what rights: international, movie, domestic, blah, blah, blah. For their 15%, an agent is well worth the investment, especially if you’ve never handled a contract like that before.

    Just find one you trust…

  7. Kate H on August 12, 2008 at 11:55 AM

    >I would want an agent even if I had a contract in hand, because I hate negotiating, I’m not good at standing up for myself, and I know an agent could get me a better deal (in all likelihood, far more than 15% better). Also, I don’t want to hassle with all the details–I want to spend my time writing! And most importantly, I want a partner in my writing career, someone I can count on always to be in my corner. Agents rock!

  8. Lisa Jordan on August 12, 2008 at 11:47 AM

    >I agree with the others. I’d secure an agent to represent me because an agent will have a better understanding of contracts, fees, etc.

    As for going with an agent who previously rejected me, I’d have to consider how badly I had wanted to work with that agent and speak with him or her to discuss his or her reasons for not going with me. If I felt the agent wasn’t interested in my work or we didn’t click, I’d find someone new.

    An agent can be a writer’s ally, a cheerleader, a prayer warrior, and a friend. Those are roles I don’t take lightly. I want someone who is excited about my work, not how much I can bring into the office.

  9. Lea Ann McCombs on August 12, 2008 at 11:10 AM

    >I was asked recently at a writer’s conference by a multi-published author why I had already secured an agent. He had sucessfully navigated his own career, agent-free.

    Well–good for him, but the thought of doing that gives me cold chills! As we’re all learning more and more, writing is fun, but publishing is a business. Just because you can write well does not mean you can negotiate contracts, handle rights issues, or even want to!

    If I did not already have a fantastic agent, I would continue to seek one throughout the process, knowing that however successful my efforts had been, an agent could have tripled them.

  10. Megan DiMaria on August 12, 2008 at 10:21 AM

    >I found myself in the situation where it was VERY possible that I would get an offer from Tyndale. I took advantage of the opportunity to contact a handful of agents who I considered to be the top agents. (Sorry, Rachelle, you weren’t in business yet.)

    I did not contact the agents who had previously rejected me because I wanted someone I felt was 100% behind me and wasn’t interested just because I represented an easy commission. (Sorry again, that’s just the NY coming out in me.)

    I ended up going with the agent who seemed the most enthusiastic. I know I got a better deal with Beth Jusino than I would have on my own. Beth is always available to offer guidance about the industry and encourage me when I need it, and I’m confident that I have one of the best in the business in my corner.

    A prisoner of hope,

  11. Karen Witemeyer on August 12, 2008 at 9:13 AM

    >I’ve heard many published authors say that an experienced agent can often negotiate a better deal for her client than that same author could negotiate on her own. Therefore, that 15% is an investment, not a forfeiture.

    I would certainly contact an agent if I received an offer. Not only as an investment for my current project, but as a chance to develop a professional relationship with someone who can help me build a career over the long term.

    There is something calming about having a partner in this writing business.

    I am a singer, and when I am asked to do a solo, I get incredibly nervous. I do it, but my stomach aches the whole time. On the other hand, if I am singing a duet, the pressure is off. I sing with confidence because I have someone beside me, someone who can cover my mistake if I make one and someone I can support and harmonize with. That is what I want with an agent – someone to take the pressure off and to help me make beautiful publishing music.

  12. Courtney Walsh on August 12, 2008 at 8:52 AM

    >I agree with the girls… I’d still want an agent to represent me. Here’s why: I’m not a business person. I don’t have a head for numbers, and frankly, negotiation is something I’m just not good at!

    To be honest, I don’t want to have to know. I want to learn how to be a better writer, but I want to leave the business side of it in someone else’s hands. That’s why I do think it’s so important to find an agent you trust, someone who will be straight with you, but also someone who believes in what your talent.

  13. Katy McKenna on August 12, 2008 at 7:59 AM

    >I would also want to seek representation in that situation. I would not go back to any agent I’d previously been rejected by if I felt she really did not like my work. But if she’d expressed genuine interest but couldn’t take me on at that time for some other reason, I’d definitely send that email.

    To me, the only way the agent could be perceived as opportunistic is if she acted like she hated my work, and then changed on a dime when I had a contract in hand.

  14. Pam Halter on August 12, 2008 at 7:54 AM

    >I agree with Karen. The thought of negotiating my own contract is scary, although I did it several years ago with the picture books I sold to Concordia. However, they had a person who walked me through each step so I understood the legal jargon.

    I’ve heard that it’s better to get published first without an agent. Is that right? It doesn’t seem wise to me if I can get an agent who would like to represent me and my work.

  15. Karen on August 12, 2008 at 7:26 AM

    >I appreciate your sensitivity. I agree with Sheri. I don’t think it’s ambulance chasing especially if the author has sought you out.

    If I were without representation and managed to get a contract offer, I would want to bring in an agent mainly because I don’t want to be on my own trying to decifer the language and ins and outs of what’s being offered. In my opinion, a good agent earns that 15% many times over.

  16. Sheri Boeyink on August 12, 2008 at 6:50 AM

    >I don’t know that it’d be ambulance chasing but I could see with some agents it could be. We, as writers, have to investigate who we choose to represent us as much as agents need to investigate who they choose to represent.

    If I fell into an offer, let’s say, at a conference or something, and I hadn’t procured an agent yet, but had one in mind, I’d definitely give them a call to represent me. Regardless if they had turned me down earlier or not.

    The market changes all the time I’m learning, so what didn’t work for an agent one month — a few months to a year later could be a different story!

    Thanks for your honesty, Rachelle.