It’s hard to believe, but in January of this year I celebrated my five year blogging anniversary! When I started posting, I wanted to share my ups and downs in publishing. What I learned as I went through the process. In those five years, I’ve used this blog to share agent insight into first pages, success stories from hardworking writers, and queries that pulled people out of the trenches. I’ve done all this in an effort to help educate writers about the ins and outs of publishing.
As of late, I’ve been receiving a lot of questions about working with agents. What questions to ask during the call, expectations during submission, and handful of other important topics. Then I saw this post recently from literary agent, Janet Reid (aka Query Shark) and was convinced it was time for this post.
Below, I’ve drafted what I want to call a Writer’s Bill of Rights. This is a list of things that should be kept in mind when you move out of the query trenches and into a working relationship with an agent.
There’s a long period of time in writing when you simply focus on your story. You spend hours making sure your plot doesn’t have any holes, your characterization is thorough, and the pacing is spot on. It may take rounds upon rounds of drafts, revisions, and CP feedback before you get the story right.
Once it’s right, it’s time for the query trenches. This is only the first part of the publishing process and it rests firmly in your own hands. I’ve written many posts about how to approach querying. How the responsibility falls on your shoulders to do your research. To take the time to make it a thoughtful process, choosing only those agents who would be a good fit for your work.
At this point, you stay in the trenches until hopefully you connect with an agent. If, and when, that does happen, the responsibility again falls on you to ask the right questions to make sure you and the agent are on the same page in regards to your entire writing career. “The call” is a critical conversation because now the tables are turned. The agent is interested in you and your story. It’s on you to ask questions about the agent’s process in regards to edits, communication, and the submission period.
If you’ve done your due diligence, and you and the agent have the same philosophy on the future of your book, it’s time to sign. There are a ton of great agents out there, many of whom give up their nights and weekends to help their clients. But what happens if things don’t go as planned? If what you originally discussed with the agent never comes to fruition?
This leads me to the point of today’s post: A Writer’s Bill of Rights…
- You have the right to an open and honest communication with an agent. If you’ve done your job, then you and your agent should be on the same page as far as to how often you speak. Once a week. Once a month. Things will vary based on whether you’re submitting or working on a new project. Let’s be clear though, if you send an email you have a right to hear back within a reasonable period.
- You have the right to know how long edits will take. In your very first discussion, you should ask how long the agent expects you to work on revisions prior to submission. You can even ask if they have a submission period in mind so you know what type of deadline you’re working toward. This is incredibly important. I’ve heard many stories where someone signs and a year later they’re still working on edits. Be sure you know what kind of process the agent has in mind. Also, be aware that these timelines may shift – also a discussion you and your agent must have. It’s important to remember that when you send a manuscript out for submission you’ve only got one shot with that editor. The agent wants to make sure it is your best work.
- You have the right to fully be in the loop during the entire submission process. This means you and your agent discuss who is going to see your manuscript in the first, and subsequent, rounds. This conversation may also include how many houses you submit to first, as well as what the agent has in mind as far as reading deadlines. Some agents will tell editors they want to hear back by a certain date. Others will do a regular check-in with the editors. As the writer, you and your agent must be on the same page as to how this process works.
- You have the right to see your submission list. When your book first goes out, you should have a good idea of where it’s going. Many agents put this info into a spreadsheet with notes on when it was submitted, when first contact is made with an editor, and any follow-up calls.
- You have the right to regular check-ins. It’s not fair to expect that an agent is going to call you every day, or even every week, if there’s no movement on your submission. But, there should be some type of agreement as to when you will get a status update on where your manuscript stands with editors.
- You have the right to know about rejections. Most agents will ask if you want to see the editors feedback after a rejection. You should have a choice as to whether or not you see this information.
- You have the right to an open communication on new projects. In the “call” period, you should have already discussed with the potential agent what new ideas you are working on. This would also be the time to discuss writing in new categories or genres. The expectations should be clear on what you work on next. You also have the right to know about reading periods. In most cases, you are NOT the agent’s only client. You need to respect they are only one person with a limited period of reading time. Make sure you agree up front how you will communicate about new projects, and how long it will take them to read and get you feedback.
There is a certain give and take to the agent/writer relationship. Things will not always fall into place. Emergencies come up. Life gets in the way. Misunderstandings happen. As a writer, it is on you to be professional and respectful of the relationship. The longer you work with an agent, the more you begin to understand how they work, but this does not take away from what you are entitled to as part of the process. If you are ever concerned about how things are going with your agent, it falls on you to communicate with them. To discuss your expectations. It’s only through these honest conversations can you have a real partnership.