After The Call: How Do You Choose Between Multiple Offers?

"After the Call" is a new feature on my blog! It chronicles what happens after an agent offers you representation: how to choose the right agent, how to communicate with your new agent, what the revision process is like, etc. To read previous posts of this series, click here.

In early April 2010, I was kind of depressed about my querying stats:

Over 60 rejections. 
Most of them form rejections. 
And no revise-and-resubmits.

I was just about ready to give up on my little space book...

But by the end of the month, my luck had taken a 180-degree turn and I I had three offers of representation. Eeeep! I was utterly blown away. These agents wanted to represent me? Really? Did my mom send them bribes or give them the evil Chinese stink eye?

The point of my story is this: you can totally find yourself with multiple offers of representation. Don't believe me? Then listen to Agent Kristin Nelson! In a recent blog post, she remarks on the rising number of writers with multiple offers of rep:

For the last six months, any project Sara or I have wanted, we’ve had to fight for. In other words, when we offered rep, the author already had, bare minimum, five other agent offers on the table in addition to ours.

Crazy, huh? So if you find yourself in this position, I've geared this post for you! Below, you will find four points in which to assess the agents who are banging down your door.

1.) Sales Record
A few months ago, I spoke with a writer who received an offer from a newish agent. This writer was super excited about this, but she asked me for some advice. And so, I did some research and I became a little worried for my friend. See, the offering agent had worked as an agent for a few years but had only made a couple sales to very small presses.

I was really concerned: how could my friend land a good publishing deal when this agent didn't seem to have the right industry connections?

So...before you sign on that dotted line, you need to research each agent's sales record. Look at the agent's website or Publisher's Marketplace profile. Or even better? Get a subscription to Publisher's Marketplace! (Of course, not all agents post their sales on PM, but it can give you a general idea.)

Also, be sure to research what type of sales each agent has made. Has the agent sold books in your particular genre? For instance, let's say an agent has had very healthy sales in adult non-fiction, but not in picture books---which you write. If this is the case, you might want to ask the agent about her connections within children's publishing. Ideally, you deserve an agent who has experience selling books in your genre and who has sold to legitimate publishing houses.

Keep in mind though: don't discount newer agents just because they don't have a lengthy sales record. Which brings us to our next point...

2.) Job Experience
Not all agents will have significant sales records for you to dissect. New agents, for example, have only been in the business for a short amount of time and thus may not have made a sale yet. To evaluate these agents, you should start looking into their job experience. 

  • Where did this agent work before entering the business? Did he work at a literary agency or a publishing house? For how long?
  • What kind of books did the agent handle at her last job? Did she work with books in your genre? 
  • Does the agent work with other agents who can mentor him about the publishing industry?
  • How long has the agent worked in this field? Has she made any sales in this time period? (If an agent has been in the business for over 18 months without a sale, I'd be a bit anxious.) 

IMHO, I think new agents can offer great opportunities for their clients, such as faster response times and a bit more hand-holding. I truly believe agents like Mandy Hubbard and Kathleen Ortiz---both of whom hung their shingles in 2010---will become rock stars in this business.

3.) The "Click" Factor
Ah, the elusive "click" factor! This is perhaps the hardest trait to assess, but it's also one of the most important when choosing the right agent. At the heart of the matter, you want an agent that you can "click" with---someone you'll feel comfortable working with for many years to come. A few things to consider:

  • During your phone call, does the agent answer your questions with patience? Or is he pushy, vague, or dismissive? 
  • Does the agent's vision for your novel mesh with your own ideas?  
  • Does the agent make you feel like you can place 100% of your trust in her? 

Think about hiring a new doctor. Don't you want someone who answers your questions and listens to your concerns? Don't you want someone you feel absolutely confident in to take care of you? This is exactly what you're looking for in an agent. You don't need an agent to become your best friend or to stroke your ego (although a good agent will offer moral support), but you do want someone you have complete faith in.

Just as a good doctor will take excellent care of your health, a good agent will take excellent care of your career.

4.) Client referrals
I'm a strong believer in asking for client referrals. When I was trying to pick the right agent, these referrals really helped me to cement my decision. In fact, Jim's clients were so enthusiastic about him that I knew I had to sign with him ASAP!

So...make sure to ask each offering agent if they'd be willing to give a couple client referrals. 2 to 3 is plenty. When you contact these clients, consider asking them about the agent's revision process, the agent's response times, and what it's like to go on submission (Does the agent forward all correspondences with editors? Or just the good news?).

Granted, these most of the clients will have mainly positive things to say about their agents (why else would the agent refer you to them?! Haha), but you can gain valuable insight on how each agent works. For instance, is the agent a phone person or an email person? Does the agent like to get her hands dirty in revisions or does she prefer to focus on business stuff?

Well, I hope this is helpful! Again, please feel free to email me if you have any questions or if you find yourself fielding multiple offers! I'll be out-of-town for the next couple weeks, but I'll do my best to get back to you as soon as I can. :o)