What to do when you receive an offer before you have an agent
Blogger: Rachel Kent
Let’s imagine a scenario (this could be pretty close to a future reality for some of you):
You’ve been submitting your manuscript to agents and editors for the past year, but then, out of the blue, you receive a call (or email) from a publishing house saying that they would like to publish your book. You’re blindsided by this news and can’t decide whether to scream because you are excited or because you are terrified. I do suggest that you keep the screaming inside until you hang up the phone.
The publisher tells you the basic terms of the offer (royalty rate, advance, due date, publication date), and you shakily jot notes. Then they ask you what you think or if the offer is acceptable to you. Here’s where you need to be careful. Don’t agree to anything! Say that you are thrilled with their interest, but you would like to pursue an agent’s representation so you need a little time before you can respond to the offer. Most publishing houses would prefer that you have an agent anyway so they will understand.
Hopefully your proposal or manuscript are already out with some agents so the process will be relatively quick. Two to three weeks is usually enough time to hear back from agents when you have an offer on the table. If the publisher asks how much time you need, I suggest asking for three weeks.
After you hang up the phone or send your email reply, go ahead and scream, but then you should immediately followup with the agents who have your project and even those you haven’t heard anything from yet after the initial query (if you are interested in their representation). In your followup email, make sure that your subject line states that you have an offer from PUBLISHING HOUSE NAME. That way your email will stand out in the inbox full of queries. Give the agent a general deadline of when you need to hear back from him or her (usually two weeks). With a deadline you give everyone the same courtesy while respecting the publishing house’s outstanding offer as well.
You should start hearing back from agents right away–either passing on the project because it’s not a good fit or with requests for proposals or manuscripts or with offers of representation. If you get multiple offers of representation, I suggest that you have phone conversations with all of those agents to see who is the best fit for you. If you don’t get any offers of representation, you will have to decide if the offer of publication is one you want to accept. If you would like help with the contract, contract reading services are available for a fee. I believe some are listed in the Jerry Jenkins’ Christian Writer’s Market Guide. Do not turn to your uncle who is a family law attorney to read your contract; publishing contracts are a specialized type of contract. If you want an attorney, you should look for an intellectual properties attorney.
If you do end up with a reputable agent (only query reputable agents!), the agent will take over the negotiations with the publishing house to get you the best contract possible.
Do you have any questions?
For those of you who are published, tell us your story of when your first publishing offer was made to you.