Dear Power Incarnate with Endless Creativity,
So, the set-up. Pushcart. Publisher's Weekly even mentioned my essay when writing up this year's anthology. And suddenly, I have an inbox full of (okay, not FULL OF, but with more than three, less than six) emails from agents asking if I have representation, what I'm up to, whether or not I want to be their Facebook friend. (Only one asked that, but I did. Desperately. Maybe even a little pathetically.)
I have assiduously read your blog, Nathan "How Could You Leave Us For C-Net, You Gadget Whore" Bransford's blog, and many others over the years, looking for advice on how to get an agent to even read my query letter. Lots of good advice, but none of it telling me how to handle the current situation. I feel exactly like I did the year after I grew breasts over summer break during junior high; now that I have the attention, I have no idea what to do with it! (And I'm guessing my junior high solution--necking in the backseat of anyone's car who asked--isn't going to work here.)
What's the etiquette for this? Do I tell each about the others? Do I agree to requests to see my partially finished book (which, from reading the blogs, I have come to see as The Ultimate Sin) or simply ask if I can send a polished draft in a few months? Is this an appropriate time to start drinking in earnest?
FIRST, you must do a little caper! a dance of glee! You are the star of the moment! Your efforts have not been in vain! Your pen-scribblings are as mighty as the Pacific is vast! HUZZAH! Congratulations on your triumph!
AND NOW! it is time to bust out your tattered copy of The Art of War! Your goal, in this situation, is to make all the Agents want you DESPERATELY. Remember, the desperation should be the Agents', not yours. No oversharing! No freaking out, other than in the privacy of your own home! No gushy emails! You must torment the Agents a little! You must have them clamoring at your feet, convinced you are The Next Big Almighty Thing That is Going to Make Them Grazillions of Dollars and Garner Many Critical Accolades! To achieve this end, you must be gracious and charming, but slightly aloof. Of course you tell the Agents that many Agents want you! Do not tell them who wants you; when one plays poker, does one shout out, "Oh! I have this card with some hearts on it, and different one with this guy wearing a crown, and this other one with clovers!" No! One rests with a slight smile, which conveys without words the missive: I have a very superior hand. We would say something along the lines of, "Thank you so much for your very kind words, a number of Agents have expressed interest in my project, I have been overwhelmed by the wonderfully positive response my work has received, look at me batting my eyelashes, aren't I winsome." This will excite the Agents to a frenzy!
As for whether to send your book now, or wait: if the Agents want you, you have time. Sensible Agents understand that one does not compose a book of excellence in a month. Do not EVER send out work that does not show you in your best light; you only have one chance for someone to read your book for the first time. If they are interested in you now, they'll be interested in you in three months. If you have several chapters that are flawless, you may send those to whet the Agents' appetite, whilst making it clear that your book is still in progress; but if the whole thing is a hot mess, then hold off. It is quite easy, especially when one spends a lot of time on the publishing tinterweb, to fall into the trap of thinking everything must happen RIGHT THIS MINUTE and you must revise your book IN TEN SECONDS or else you will TOTALLY FAIL FOREVER. But really, you have time. If you do wait, be sure to remind the Agents of any previous email exchanges, so that they can easily place who you are.
Some final Advice: it is one thing to play one's hand wisely, and quite another to lie. DO NOT EVER LIE. EVER. You WILL get found out, and we are not all James Frey, who rebounds from such disasters. Always email a thank-you if an Agent talks to you on the phone or gives you any kind of feedback on your work. And do not make out with ANYONE in the backseat of a car; THAT is a recipe for lifelong back problems. Sofas and parks are fine.
The Great Questions of our time may be sent to rejectionistandyourmom[at]gmail.com.