Protocol – When an Agent Offers to Rep You

A couple of quick notes:
(1) I’m all caught up on responding to queries, so if you sent one prior to October 10th and haven’t heard from me, you may resubmit if you like. I am NOT caught up on reading requested partials and fulls.
(2) Shark Tank is on tonight! Set your DVR or write yourself a note.


I’d had several phone conversations with a potential client and we were really “clicking.” I’d made her an offer of representation, knowing she’d sent her proposal to several other agents at the same time. She expressed that she wanted to say “yes” to me. But she hadn’t heard back from the other agents, so she wasn’t sure what that meant. Were they not interested since they hadn’t responded? Had they simply not gotten to her query yet? Shouldn’t she at least wait to see what they had to say? But what if they never got back to her—how long should she wait?

It was a question of both professional etiquette and wise decision-making.

I advised her to send a brief email to the other agents, politely reminding them that she’d sent them XYZ Proposal. Then say something like, “I wanted to let you know that I’ve received an offer of representation from a literary agent. Would you like a chance to respond to my proposal before I finalize the arrangement with the other agent?” This should solicit a response from the others fairly quickly. They’ll probably either say, “Hold it! I’d like a chance to discuss this with you!” Or they’ll give their blessing for her to accept the offer she has, and wish her the best.

Fairness and common courtesy can help you make the right move in almost any situation. When in doubt, err on the side of the most respectful thing to do.

The same thing applies if you’re talking to publishers instead of agents. If you’ve sent out a simultaneous submission and get an offer, you’ll want to give the other publishers a chance to respond before accepting the offer. This is not only fair and courteous, it gives you a chance to see if there’s going to be any competition or bidding over your manuscript.

Eventually you’ll make a decision, and then once again, you should follow up with the agents or publishers whom you didn’t choose to work with. Send an email, thanking them for their consideration and letting them know your project is no longer available, and that you’ve accepted an offer. Usually there’s no point in being evasive about it—feel free to let people know exactly which agent you’ve chosen, or which publisher.

Think of it this way: In any situation in which you’re not sure of protocol, be polite, treat people with respect, and avoid making enemies. Mind your manners, just like your mama always told you.

The author I told you about? She let the other agents know she had an offer. As I suspected would happen, she received another offer for representation, so she had to make a choice. She ended up making a fantastic decision, and we’ve been partners and friends ever since. 🙂

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. Glynis on October 14, 2009 at 1:19 PM

    >I bet she is glad she made the correct move! Useful post, thanks.

  2. Anonymous on October 14, 2009 at 12:26 AM

    >Rachelle: Did you see Dragon's Den tonight? Wasn't I right about the cute, younger biz owner? LOL

  3. Patti on October 13, 2009 at 10:16 PM

    >Thanks for the post. I had been wondering what someone would do in that scenario.

  4. Need More Words on October 13, 2009 at 9:35 PM

    >What a helpful post. I believe that someday I will be in a position to need this advice. That's calling things that be not as through they were. 🙂

  5. Sandy at God Speaks Today on October 13, 2009 at 9:30 PM

    >Thanks for this information. I have a follow-up question: At what point do you suggest letting the other agents or publishers know? In my case, my proposal went to two agents and two publishers at a writer's conference. One of the publishers recently advised me that he'd like to present my proposal to the editorial committee at the end of the month and requested chapters from another manuscript I had written.

    I have not yet heard from the other publisher or either agent.

    Is it polite to let the others know now? Or do I wait to see if this publisher offers me a contract?

    Thanks so much!!

  6. Tara on October 13, 2009 at 9:11 PM

    >It's always a pleasure to read your blog. Thanks for the great advice on handling this situation.

  7. Lynda Schab on October 13, 2009 at 8:57 PM

    >It's funny – I just posed this question to my critique group the other day. Just in case that dilema comes up for me. Because, come on… it could happen! 🙂 They gave me basically the same advice, only not in such great detail. Thanks for the confirmation and for the awesome info you provide on your blog every day.

  8. katdish on October 13, 2009 at 7:30 PM

    >"be polite, treat people with respect, and avoid making enemies"…good advice for most situations.

  9. Jill Kemerer on October 13, 2009 at 1:58 PM

    >I appreciate your candidness on this sticky topic. Thanks!

  10. Paula Harrington on October 13, 2009 at 1:32 PM

    >This is something I've wondered about. Thanks for addressing it.

  11. ChristaCarol on October 13, 2009 at 1:27 PM

    >Great post! Thanks for sharing.

  12. Patrick Hester on October 13, 2009 at 1:21 PM

    >Excellent advice.


  13. Lindsey on October 13, 2009 at 1:21 PM

    >It's great that you touched this subject, I haven't seen anything posted on this recently on other blogs. I don't think many aspiring authors know the etiquette of such a situation. Thanks for sharing. I'm glad the situation worked out in your favor!

  14. Chris Sullivan on October 13, 2009 at 1:18 PM

    >Certainly sounds like the respectful and intelligent thing to do.

  15. Novice Writer Anonymous on October 13, 2009 at 12:59 PM

    >A very thoughtful and informative post. It's definitely one of those tricky situations that I think newbies to the industry especially struggle with.

    Thanks for this.

  16. Robyn Campbell on October 13, 2009 at 12:55 PM

    >Thanks for posting this. I had wondered about that in my little place inside my head(where I love to go on a daily basis):)when that day comes for me.

    So just follow the golden rule. Check! 🙂

  17. Rose McCauley on October 13, 2009 at 11:57 AM

    >Great advice, and very Biblical, too. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

  18. Nikole Hahn on October 13, 2009 at 11:53 AM

    >That is probaly why I do not do simutaneous submissions. Maybe I've grown more patient over the years understanding the process can take years. Great blog! And good to know, too. I did not know this protocol and it makes sense.

  19. Lynnette Bonner on October 13, 2009 at 11:47 AM

    >Have to say I love the rapport you have with your clients! That's great. 🙂

  20. Cassandra Frear on October 13, 2009 at 11:24 AM

    >It's interesting to read this post.

    At the end of the day, it's important for me to feel that I have conducted myself in a way that reflects Christ. To do any less would strip my heart and mind of the integrity that is essential to creativity.

    I know we have to be professional and savvy, but those qualities aren't necessarily opposed to honoring God.

  21. Laura in Texas on October 13, 2009 at 11:18 AM

    >Rachelle, thank you for such an informative, thoughtful post. I'm not yet ready to seek an agent, but I appreciate the advice and information you offer here. It's posts like today's that have your blog on my short list of blogs I check every day!


  22. Rosslyn Elliott on October 13, 2009 at 11:06 AM

    >I will never ask about the "others." I just remember I'm the client you come home to.


  23. Rachelle on October 13, 2009 at 10:32 AM

    >Roxane, please send it again.

    Marla, um, I meant YOU are my only client. Yeah, that's it.

  24. Kaci on October 13, 2009 at 9:51 AM

    >Awesome. One thing I've learned over the last few years: People appreciate the efforts at courtesy and graciousness. Goes a million miles. 0=)

  25. Roxane B. Salonen on October 13, 2009 at 9:12 AM

    >Rachelle, I'm relieved you addressed submissions. I sent one to you several months back (prior to October) and DID receive an email indicating receipt, but then, silence. Even if you'd indicated receipt, is re-submission required? I guess I'm still confused (sorry). Thanks for clarification and I hope you don't feel you are a broken record here. I'll look forward to connecting at same point and will check back for your response. 🙂 You can Tweet me your answer if you'd prefer (peacegardenmama), or email Thanks!

  26. Bostonia Magazine on October 13, 2009 at 9:11 AM

    >An interesting article on why we don't need literary agents or publishers anymore.

  27. Marla Taviano on October 13, 2009 at 8:59 AM

    >Nice, Kathi. 🙂 You did make a fantastic decision, and so did Rachelle. Two thumbs up for The Husband Project!

    I want to hear a story about an author whose old agent didn't like her book idea and you weren't too sure about it either but you kept her hopes alive and then talked her down off a couple cliffs and then told her you thought her idea was great after all and then…?

    Feeling especially grateful for you today, Rachelle. Praying your day is blessed.

  28. ginny martyn on October 13, 2009 at 8:53 AM

    >This is an interesting post on the heels of Shark Tank. I have a feeling that most of the sharks are not going to be polite and I’m sure most of the contestants won’t respond politely after being rejected. I guess that's why they're sharks and not dolphins.

    Reality competition fascinates me. I’ve recently approached my writing like one of those reality show challenges. If someone asked me to write children’s poetry, literary fiction, suspense, romance, sci-fi, YA or a screen play, could I do it?

    It has been a nice little exercise.

  29. Lynnda - Passionate for the Glory of God on October 13, 2009 at 8:48 AM

    >Good morning Rachelle,

    I love the work you are doing with your blog. You may not have done this intentionally, but you just set a standard for correct etiquette when making simultaneous submissions. The level of civility and professionalism in writer / publishing world relations went higher by several degrees.

    Thank you for making life more pleasant for all of us.

    Be blessed,


  30. Tamara Hart Heiner on October 13, 2009 at 8:46 AM

    >This is very important! I wish I'd had it a few months ago.

  31. Paul Greci on October 13, 2009 at 8:44 AM

    >I was in that situation recently and handled it as Rachelle suggested. It's in everyone's best interest for any given writer to find the agent that is the best match.

  32. Kristen Torres-Toro on October 13, 2009 at 8:36 AM

    >Those are the best kind!

    Thanks so much for this advice. I'm filing it away in the "hope this happens to me" file!

  33. Rachelle on October 13, 2009 at 8:13 AM

    >Sandie, uh, pay no attention to that crazy girl Kathi. YOU'RE my only client. 🙂

  34. Sandie Bricker on October 13, 2009 at 8:10 AM

    >So Kathi is your only client, HUH??!!

    Good to know. 🙂

  35. Rachelle on October 13, 2009 at 7:49 AM

    >Tabitha, since my blog is updated daily, whatever I say on my blog is the latest and most accurate information. So I did mean exactly what I said in this post: "If you sent one prior to October 10th and haven't heard from me, you may resubmit if you like." If you never heard from me at all, not even with an acknowledgment of receipt, then I may not have received it. Thanks for allowing me to clarify.

  36. LynnRush on October 13, 2009 at 7:04 AM

    >This is a great post.

  37. Krista Phillips on October 13, 2009 at 6:45 AM

    >Thanks for the tip! Congrats to you and said author.

  38. Katie Ganshert on October 13, 2009 at 6:14 AM

    >How exciting for her and for you!

  39. Sharon A. Lavy on October 13, 2009 at 5:21 AM

    >Thank you for this post. I wondered how an agent would feel if a writer said, wait I want to see what other offers might come in.

    I am glad to know an agent would expect a writer to solicit answers from the others she had queried before making a decision.

    So much to learn about this business!!!!

  40. Heather Sunseri on October 13, 2009 at 4:37 AM

    >Great tips, Rachelle. I'm guessing that most writers would be tempted to jump at the first offer that came in after the waiting and after knowing the scary probability of getting any offers. Thank you for letting us know that it is okay to take a step back, breathe, and take the time to get all information before making what will hopefully be a long-term decision in a career.

  41. Tabitha Bird on October 13, 2009 at 2:05 AM

    >Quick question.
    If we sent a query prior to Oct 10th and haven't heard from you, is that a no? Or should we resubmit? Sorry, I was just a bit confused because your website says if you don't hear in X amount of days assume it is a no. Unsure what to do….

  42. Kathi Lipp on October 13, 2009 at 1:38 AM

    >Yes we have been partner and friends ever since.

    Oh wait – I bet this exact same situation has happened to other clients of yours.

    But, as you always say, "No Kathi, I have no other clients. Only you…" 🙂

  43. T. Anne on October 13, 2009 at 1:29 AM

    >Great post Rachelle. I will be minding my P's and Q's.

  44. Andrew on October 13, 2009 at 1:09 AM

    >Professionalism's important, and it's nice to see a case study so well-presented.

    I hope I will be in that position one day – and if…no, WHEN that day comes I will remember this post, Rachelle!