Receiving an Offer of Representation: 8 things to know

As you may know if you follow us on twitter, I recently signed with Josh Adams of Adams literary. For me, the process (as I’ve written elsewhere) was exhilarating, flattering . . . and very often stressful and confusing and sometimes downright discouraging.

Wait, you’re saying. You had an agent interested in your work–how can that be discouraging?

That’s what I though too–and to be honest, I was caught way off guard by some aspects of the two weeks following my initial offer before I made a final decision. I found, when I was frantically searching online for information, that there wasn’t a lot of information written about making a decision about an offer of representation–though there are plenty of celebratory posts (and rightly so).

Hence, the reason for this post: I wanted to talk about some of the things I wish I’d known before I got my offer of representation.

1. Celebrate!
I was thrilled when I got that first email from an agent saying she wanted to talk to me. After that, nerves set in: what if we didn’t “click” on the phone? What if no one else was interested? What if lots of others were interested and I had to make a decision?

This may just be my personal quirks at work, but I think I was so anxious about what came after my initial offer of representation, that I didn’t take enough time to enjoy the moment. If you’ve gotten an offer of representation, this is a huge milestone. Take time to celebrate–go do something you love with people you love.

2. Make sure the agent is someone you’re genuinely interested in working with.
There’s a false idea circulating the internet that querying writers should query agents from lower on their list with the idea that if they offer, the writer can use that offer to nudge other agents and prompt more (i.e. better) offers. Jennifer Laughran explains in much better detail than I can why this isn’t a good idea: it’s true that agents will look at your materials more quickly when you nudge them with an offer, but most of the time, those agents will be reading towards “no.”

So don’t jump to nudge those other agents until you’re sure that the first offer is one you’d be happy with–it sometimes happens that this first offer is the only offer a querying writer gets.

3. If # 2 checks out, nudge the other agents.
In my case, I was lucky that the first offering agent was a lovely agent whose clients love her. She could have been a great agent for my book. So, after talking with her, I sent out nudge emails to everyone who had my manuscript–even those who just had open queries. Dahlia Adler and Krista Van Dolzer both have helpful advice for nudging etiquette in this situation.

4. Brace yourself for rejection.
Before getting my offer of rep, it hadn’t occurred to me that by asking agents to get back to me in a relatively narrow window of time (in my case, two weeks because it fell over Thanksgiving; more conventional is 7-10 days), I was essentially inviting lots of rejections to flood my inbox. Because even though I ultimately received five flattering offers–I had way more rejections. Rejections sting. Period. Knowing someone loved my book helped, but not as much as I’d expected. It was far too easy to wonder what the rejecting agent saw in my book that the offering agent missed.

It’s okay to feel bad about these rejections, even with an offer in hand. As one of my smart friends described this experience, “It’s this time you look forward to for so long and then it arrives and you feel sort of awful, and sort of awful for feeling awful because there are so many people who are working so hard to get to this point and haven’t yet.”

But don’t get so caught up in the rejections that you forget the critical point: you have an offer!

5. Take time to de-stress.
I was utterly unprepared for how stressful the whole experience was. In retrospect, I should have known: I was a major basket-case while I was engaged (It still amazes me that my husband still wanted to marry me after that), and I should have known that another major life decision would be equally stressful for me.

And it is stressful. Wonderful, flattering, exciting–and horribly stressful. Sometimes its the stress of wondering if anyone else will offer. (If you’re like me, it’s almost impossible to make a decision until I know what all my options are). Sometimes it’s the stress of having multiple good offers and trying to decide between them.

Expecting the stress can help you plan to consciously de-stress. Unplug for a while. Go do something you love (that’s totally unrelated to writing). I spent a lovely morning at the park with my toddler one day and almost managed to forget what was going on in my writing life.

6. Do your research.
This should be a given. Once the offer(s) come in, do your due diligence. Figure out what questions you most want to ask the offering agent. Make sure you get answers you’re satisfied with. Talk to clients (if possible, call those clients instead of just emailing–sometimes people are more open on the phone than they are when there’s a printed record). Figure out what’s important to you in an agent–that will make your final decision easier.

7. Brace yourself for rejecting.
There’s a reason why I’m not an agent. I’m terrible at telling people no. Having to tell four people who loved my book that I’d chosen a different agent was heart-wrenching. I still get cold chills about it. I hated it. It was absolutely the hardest part of this whole process–and again, something I did not consider when I’d spent time air dreaming about how thrilling it would be to get multiple offers.

If you get more than one offer, you will have to tell someone no. Hopefully, this will be an easy decision–you’ll click with one of the agents, their vision for the book will mesh with yours, and everything will be clear. But if not, know that this part of the offering process can be extremely hard. Do what you need to do to get through it (stock up on chocolate, call a writer friend, have a drink). And know that it’s okay to feel badly about having to reject someone.

8. Celebrate.
Yes, I know, you already did this when you first got the offer. But I think it’s important not to forget to celebrate at the end, when you’ve said yes and you’ve signed the contract and you’re moving on. For me the week was such an overwhelming mix of emotional highs and lows and stress (I had two calls the day I was supposed to decide) that I was simply spent. It took another call from my new agent to remind me that I really did need to celebrate this!

And then it was time to get back to the work of writing (something that, admittedly, suffered during those two weeks).

For those of you with agents, what do you wish you’d known before you got your offer? And for those still hunting–what questions do you have about getting an offer?

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