Finally, the queries are sent. You wait and wait for replies, and then one day your email pings with a request. You shoot the full manuscript out to the requesting agent, and then you wait (and sometimes wait and wait again) until you get the dreaded rejection OR the lovely email titled, “Can we talk?”
First, if this happens, it’s okay to freak out a little. Do a “Muppet Flail” and perhaps even a little booty shake. You’ve worked very hard to get to this point and you’ve earned a victory shimmy. But once the adrenaline finishes pumping out of your system, you have to take a deep breath and think, “What do I do next? Should I ask about revisions? Or what about the next book I’m writing?” All good questions, but there are a myriad of other things you need to think about before that important call.
By Pooja Menon
Writing a book is not an easy business. Anyone who tells you it is or should be doesn’t really have a clue about what goes into writing a full length book. Coming up with an original plot, fleshing out characters that are relatable and unique, minding the pacing, creating plot twists…phew! It’s definitely a labor of love, sweat and tears. And then you have the querying process. Another episode of nail biting stress, tears, and ultimately, when that offer comes into your inbox wrapped in a shiny red bow: extreme happiness! You deserve this moment, so does your baby. All of this leads to the ultimate moment of reckoning: THE CALL. This is the moment when you decide if the offer you’ve received is the best option for you and your baby. This is also that moment where, before you get on the train that never stops–revising, going out on submission, getting a deal, getting published, etc–where sometimes you feel like things are slipping out of your hands, YOU have the power to decide the next step. Sometimes you might have one offer, and sometimes you might have multiple offers and deciding among all the offers you receive can be a tense, brain-cramping experience. But it’s also such an exhilarating one.
So what makes the call so important (and nerve-wracking)? It’s the conversation that determines whether you and the agent ‘click’. The space where you and the agent can really get to know each other. Considering the agent-author relationship is usually a long-term business relationship, it’s so important to be able to connect with each other as people and as business partners with the same vision and outlook, the same work ethic. It’s a relationship in which you might find yourself having to do uncomfortable things (such as revise and get critiqued), where you’re going to have to trust someone else’s opinion on what is best for the work you’ve worked so hard on. None of this is easy. But, if you really invest in the call to get to know your prospective agent, then this process can actually be an enjoyable one. Having that one person fighting in your corner for your project, that one person with whom you can discuss your worries about your work, about the whole publishing process in general, someone to watch your back and make sure you get the best deal possible, who is equally invested in the success of your book: it can be such a positive, strengthening experience in what is mostly a lonely profession that can at times move as fast as lightening or as slow as a tortoise.
SO, how can the whole experience be made easier? Well, here are somethings to think about:
1) Research the agent/agents who’ve offered you representation. Read their website pages, blogs, interviews, find out what they’re looking for, what they’ve sold, who they represent, how comfortable or connected you feel to the way they come off to you from all of the above (trust your intuition!). Do you feel positive?
2) Look to see what questions they’ve already answered from all of the above places before you craft your questions. If an agent has already answered a question dozens of times during an interview or blog post, asking them the same thing is a waste of time, especially when you can use that time to ask other, more pressing questions. Also, we agents really appreciate authors who’ve made the effort to research our interests.
3) This is a call to talk about your work, so take a deep breath, find your enthusiasm, and dive into it. Agents are people just like you. Keep your nervousness aside, they want to talk to you about your book, the book they loved so much they want to work with you on it. This is a good space to find out what they loved about your work, and which areas they thought needed work. It is important not to make this call session sound like an inquisition or a grill session. That is uncomfortable and somewhat unnatural (to me). I want to get to know you as a person and an author. And I’m open to any questions you might have, but try as best as you can not to make an agent feel like she’s taking the stand.
4) No question is a dumb question, so don’t hold back or be shy about something you want to know. Most of us would rather you laid things out on the table upfront, before we get into a work relationship. It’s much harder and messier to deal with the discovery that the agent and author have different visions and expectations after we’ve signed together. So be upfront with the agent about your vision for the project. Also, find out what genres they do represent and don’t (if you can’t find this from your research). If you like to write across different genres, you want to be sure the agent represents them.
5) As agents, what we are looking for most in a prospective client are the following attributes: a friendly, upbeat attitude, someone who is respectful of our time, flexible, understands that sometimes there aren’t enough work hours in the day, so is patient for a response, someone who constantly challenges themselves with projects, tries to keep abreast of the market and what’s coming out and what has been overdone, has an interest in wanting to promote themselves on social media (if you don’t have social media pages, agents will definitely help you set things up, but it’s up to the author to do the actual legwork, that means authors who are willing to do whatever it takes to get their author profile out, to connect with prospective readers and fellow writers), and most importantly, someone who is willing to dive into revisions with a positive attitude.
On a daily basis, agents read tons of manuscripts as well as books outside of work. Having read so many, and having interacted with editors on a constant basis, we have a good idea of what works and doesn’t work in today’s market. So any advice we give will not only be a fresh, objective perspective, but it’ll also be one that takes all of the above things into consideration (trends, demand, editor wish lists, snappy writing, unique plot, etc). So it’s in the author’s best interest to hear us out and trust our judgement. Definitely, we want our authors to have their own opinions if they feel strongly about something. But be open and willing to talk about it respectfully and honestly, and be willing to listen and accept advice, because, at the end, we both have the same goal. To make the book the strongest it can be. So trust the agent to do her job, just as she trusts you as an author to do yours.
6) Be warm and enthusiastic on the phone. Sound interested. I know this is an odd point, and I haven’t had this experience many times. But a few times, when I’ve picked up the phone to talk to an author, the author’s tone has thrown me off. I understand such a disconnected or uninterested tone can be the outcome of nervousness. But this does more harm that good. Such a conversation space makes it very hard for the agent to be warm and upbeat and excited about the project if the person on the other end doesn’t mirror the same emotions. This is YOUR book, we expect you to be excited, we expect you to talk our ear off about your dreams and visions and projects. If what we get on the other line is the sound of chirping crickets whenever we stop talking, or a nonchalant reply to our questions, then to me that is a red flag. I want to look forward to talking to my clients. My authors and I work very closely, brainstorming ideas and edit notes, discussing the submission process, etc. We’re in touch a lot. If I’m going to feel that dreaded feeling in the pit of my stomach whenever I have to do these things with an author, that relationship is definitely not going to work out. In a lot of cases, YOU can chart the course and tone of how the relationship with your agent goes. So be mindful of that.
7) BE YOURSELF. I know this is simple advice and probably sounds silly. But no need to ‘put your best foot forward’ or ‘your best self forward’. You can’t consistently be your best self 24/7, neither can we.
8) Have realistic expectations about the publishing business. This is a business of passion and dreams. Of stories. At the same time, this is not an industry that moves all that fast, and sometimes that can be disappointing and frustrating, like beating your head against a wall. But have faith and be positive, and be willing to continue to put your 100% in your work and in your agent. Just as you’re working on your book, she’s working to get your book out there. There’s no point in being angry and dissatisfied by the pace of the industry, or the speed with which your agent works. Trust that she/he knows what they’re doing.
I’ve heard stories where authors get annoyed at their agents for not subbing to as many editors as they’d like, or to specific editors that they’d like. It is very claustrophobic for an agent to work in an atmosphere where the author is constantly questioning or second-guessing their choices or their work. Trust that they know who the best people are for your particular manuscript. By all means, if you have a dream editor, let your agent know, but do not email her weekly with editors you think she should query. She probably has a good reason for not subbing to too many agents at one time or subbing to only specific editors from specific houses. That is one aspect of our job, to know whom to submit to and where to submit to, so take a breath and focus on another project, keep your mind busy. Know that an agent can’t control the speed with which things in the industry moves, we can’t control the speed of editors’ responses or manipulate their tastes. It can become very easy to blame someone else for things like that. But be wary of that. The agenting community is a small one, and such an attitude can quickly be more alienating than helpful. Also, consider that an agent is juggling not just one client but many, and trying to find homes for not just one project but many. So be realistic about your expectations, and patient.
9) Lastly, at the end of the call, be pleasant. Thank the agent for calling. Just as you like to keep the phone feeling warm and fuzzy, we do too!
Some questions to consider asking during THE CALL:
1) What are the terms of the representation being offered? Is the agent interested in representing one book or is she looking for something long-term?
2) Once you sign together, what happens next? What is her submission process like?
3) Is there an author-agent agreement? Will you be spending money out of your pocket at any time-mailing, copies, faxes, phone calls, any other fees?
4) What happens if you want to terminate your relationship with your agent?
5) Once terminated, will you get back all the unsold rights for your projects?
6) Ask about the agent’s recent sales. If you’re talking to a new agent, find out if the agency she works for has a healthy amount of recent sales, if the agency is a reputable agency, what they represent, etc.
7) Who handles the film rights, foreign rights, and audio rights?
8) How often does the agent touch base with the author?
9) Does the agent prefer phone, email, or either mode is fine?
10) Does the agent let you know where and when she’s going to submit your work?
11) Will they forward rejections letters to you?
12) Does the agent consult the author before making decisions on the offers they receive? Does the agent make decisions on behalf of the client?
13) What is the process of receiving payments or royalties? Does the agent process it first and send it to the author, or does the author get their payment directly from the publisher? If the money is being sent to the agent first, how long will it take for the agent to send the author her checks?
14) How hands-on is the agent?
15) In terms of your own work, what editorial suggestions does the agent have? How close is the book to going out on sub?
16) Will the agent help with career planning? What about helping with publicizing your work (this is something an agent can definitely help you on by guiding you, but the main legwork has to be done by the author)?
17) What editors/publishers does the agent have in mind for the author’s book?
18) If you want to write in a different genre or category someday, what is the agent’s opinion on that?
19) What happens if the agent doesn’t like your next book?
Note: questions like: How long has the agent been an agent, how long have they been in publishing, is the agent listed in Publishers Marketplace, etc are all information you can most often find on their websites or by doing a bit of research. As agents, we all work differently. Best thing to do is to see which method of working is most comfortable to you, suits you most, and go with your intuition.
On an end note, don’t be nervous. Think of us as your best allies in this infuriatingly wonderful world of publishing. And remember, the reason we’re having this conversation in the first place is because we were simply blown away by your masterpiece, and we want to work with you and represent the amazing author that you are. So, try and get to us know, like we want to get to know you.
Pooja Menon joined Kimberley Cameron & Associates as an intern in the fall of 2011, with the aim of immersing herself in the elusive world of books and publishing. She soon realized that being an agent was what she was most drawn to as the job was varied and challenging. In the fall of 2012, she began taking on her own clients. As a relatively new agent, Pooja is looking to build her client list and is eager for submissions by debut novelists and veteran writers. She represents both Adult and YA fiction/non-fiction and select Middle Grade.