However. Many of these former editors have become agents--and so, with more agents in circulation, and more collective time to read and evaluate and edit and sell manuscripts--assuming they've been sent to the right places--the very best works will likely receive more offers of representation this year than in years past.
Every writer, therefore, should know how to respond intelligently to agent offers--knowing, of course, that there could be more. If you get one, does that mean you should take it right away? Do you even have a choice? What if an agent has an exclusive? How do you avoid burning bridges with agents who also have your work but haven't responded yet? What's considered polite--and what is embarrassingly unprofessional?
You are missing out on using one of the most powerful tools at your disposal: if you have one offer, you are more likely to get more. Why? Because we know this is a subjective business, and also know that the majority of our colleagues are very, very bright.
That said, do not fake one. If you lie and say you have an offer and don't, we will find out. Publishing is an unbelievably small world. We will not be happy. You've just asked a very busy agent to move you to to the front of the line--and proven that we can't believe what you tell us. Very much ungood. Avoid that.
- Upon receiving offer from Caffeinated Agent, do your happy dance--silently, if you're on the phone, which you likely are.
- Say something like, "That's great, and I'm really interested in working with you. However, there are still some agents I'm waiting to hear back from." (Tangent: technically, it is all right to end a sentence with a preposition.)
- Work together to come up with a date by which you will have an answer. One to two weeks is reasonable. If it's a really, really amazing manuscript, and super timely (tied to something in the news and will soon be outdated), and oh goodness the agent just wants to sell this right this second--then I suppose four or five days is enough time for agents to load you onto their Kindles and read and get an idea. But this is not ideal. You may annoy the other agents--not enough to get you out of the running, mind you, but it's a very short window of time, especially since there are probably others who have asked the same of them in this time frame.
- If Caffeinated Agent tries to pressure you--ie, "This is an offer now, not five minutes from now, take it or leave it"--well, this isn't a good sign. Reiterate that it wouldn't be fair to take the offer without asking the others since other agents are presently using their (valuable) time to read your work.
- Cordially thank Caffeinated Agent for his or her interest, and say you will be in touch soon.
Dear [Agent named spelled correctly],
I just wanted to check in and say that I've received an offer of representation from another agent. [Do not say the name of the agent--this is simply not done. Say "an agent."] I was wondering if you'd like to see the full manuscript/proposal and sample chapters [if they have anything less than everything you've completed so far]. I promised I'd be back in touch with a decision by [date you agreed upon with Caffeinated Agent]. If at all possible, please let me know your decision before then. I look forward to hearing from you."