Will more than one publisher fight over your book, aiming to be the highest bidder? O, the dream! Remember, the LOLCats book went to auction. The "very nice literary agent" over at Pub Rants explains the process.
I know that blog readers love to hear the inside skinny on agent stuff. So how does an agent know that an auction might potentially unfold?
Easy. When a manuscript is sent out, some editors will take a look right away (especially those editors who know me and have had the experience of submissions from me moving fast). They tend to get on it quickly.
And if they like what they see, they email or call almost immediately to say that they love what they are reading and that they are either going to finish soon (like over the weekend) and get second reads or they are already doing so. They want me to keep them abreast of any new information regarding the project (as in other interest, an impending offer, etc.)
When this kind of communication happens from more than one house (and it has to be different houses because in-house imprints can't bid against each other), then the agent knows it's shaking. The project has it going on and an auction might unfold.
Now, that doesn't always happen. Sometimes multiple editors from different houses show interest and those editors aren't able to get the support to buy (support being other readers who love it as much as they do or an editorial director or publisher on board). And yes, I have had that happen.