First, my thanks to Cheryl for starting an interesting conversation that seems to be resonating with editors, agents and authors. I’m enjoying the discussion!
Last night, Cheryl responded to my response here.
I think my issue with the proposal remains the same, though Cheryl is quite right that this enterprising editor making an offer after a few days wasn’t following the terms. Without every agent and every editor following these guidelines, I think we run into some major issues. Say I do give everyone four weeks before accepting offers. If another agent comes along with another great project without that limit, my client’s material will fall to the bottom of the pile to accommodate the no-time-limit project. And again, unless everyone is participating in the proposal, procrastination will reign and the material won’t get read until the end of week four. The fact that someone else might scoop something up is often what makes an editor pick up a manuscript in the first place. While I truly believe that Cheryl would give priority to such manuscripts (she wouldn’t have proposed it, otherwise), I can’t say that I think other editors would react in the same way.
Also, and I’d love to hear from other agents on this, sometimes we DO wait for editors. Sometimes the offer on the table isn’t quite what we were looking for, or another editor pleads for more time. My experience suggests that the editor who needs more time usually doesn’t wind up coming to the table. Their lack of speed in getting to the project often indicates an ambivalence or disinterest. Also in my experience — only once has an editor told me they couldn’t make it to an auction I held because they didn’t have enough time. She explained that she’d really need to get someone from paperbacks to read, because the book was rather literary for them. And you know what? It was too literary for them, and they wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) have acquired it, anyway.
(It’s important now to point out to the authors reading: most books don’t sell at auction, and this isn’t an every day issue. Most offers aren’t made in 48 or 72 or even 168 hours! This is a rare, exciting, you-can-only-dream-of scenario.)
All of this said, I really do want all interested parties to have enough time to come to the table if they’d like to. I want an author to be able to see all of the options, to speak with the offering editors, and to make an informed decision about who would best publish their book. I do not want to generate a feeding frenzy based on hype, as I think most of us can agree that it’s bad for both author and publisher. Though I’m going to continue to submit as always, I do hope I can hold out long enough to have a project land with Cheryl soon. As you’ve probably figured out, she’s brilliant and thoughtful, and she cares deeply for the books she works on. (Speaking of which, please read Marcello in the Real World by Francisco Stork, which she gave me the ARC for some time back when we had lunch — you won’t regret it!) Thanks again, Cheryl!