I’ve been getting quite a few questions from people wondering how to handle the submission process when, for example, their manuscript is under consideration by an agent, and meanwhile, an editor is interested and asks to see it.
They want to know if they should go ahead and submit to the editor, or wait to see if the agent is going to represent them first.
First, you need to have a question answered and settled in your own mind. Are you comfortable and happy doing a contract directly with a publisher (if it comes to that) without the assistance of an agent? Or would you prefer to have an agent handle negotiations and all aspects of the contract and business dealings (for a 15% fee)? Just know what your answer is ahead of time. There isn’t a right answer, by the way.
Next, protocol would suggest that you send the agent an email something like, “Editor X at publisher Y asked to see my manuscript. I just wanted to inquire as to whether you’ve had a chance to review it yet. If not, I will go ahead and submit to Editor X.”
The agent will respond with how they’d like you to proceed. In my case, since I may not be able to drop what I’m doing and go directly back to your manuscript, I’m likely going to tell you to go ahead and submit. In other words, since I haven’t made any commitment to your project, you have no obligation to me. I have no exclusivity on your project, I realize that, and I’m giving you the freedom to proceed as you wish. I fully understand that I may lose this project; but that’s simply a part of my business. I can’t get to every manuscript right away, and I’m going to lose some. (Not that it makes me happy, it’s simply a fact.)
Now let’s say you submit to the publisher and they call you and want to make an offer. If you’re happy doing this without an agent, go for it. (Although I strongly recommend that at some point you have an industry professional look over your contract.) However, if you have an offer in hand but you still feel more comfortable having an agent, you can now go back to the agent(s) you’re interested in, tell them about the offer, and ask if they’d consider representing you. This is a fairly common scenario, by the way, and just because there’s already money on the table doesn’t mean an agent will automatically say yes even when it means a guaranteed paycheck.
If you are submitting to agents and editors at the same time, it’s likely you’re going to face this awkward dilemma. Sometimes a better strategy is to pick one or the other. (Especially because, if you do get an agent, but you’ve already submitted to multiple publishing houses, you may have killed your agent’s chance of selling your book.)
You know that my inbox has been pretty unmanageable lately and I haven’t yet been able to get to all the manuscripts and proposals I’ve been sent. But if your material is in my stack, you are not obligated to me for any type of exclusivity. If something is going on with your manuscript — another agent or an editor is interested — I ask to be informed but I do not ask you to hold off and wait for me. Again, if I snooze, sometimes I may lose.
The hardest part of being an agent for me so far is the perceived obligation I have to everyone who is not my client. Of course, my obligation is to those I’ve agreed to represent. Yet my biggest difficulty (at the moment) is timely response to those with whom I have no agreement. I anticipate I’ll get it under control; but right now it’s challenging.
One thing I’ve learned: when an agent or editor asks for your manuscript, it sets up a sort of relationship, and relationships always entail expectations. As a writer, I caution you to beware having unrealistic expectations about what that relationship means. As an agent, I am learning that all these relationships are important, but that I can’t take care of everyone all the time.
It’s a steep learning curve. Hope I get over this hump soon.