When an Agent Calls

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Last fall, I compiled a bunch of research on agents when I began querying. I recently sent a lot of this advice to a good friend of the Femmes—who just got her own call!!!—and she suggested I write this up for a blog post. So here goes, and I hope you find some of this useful.

Joanna


You’ve got your manuscript completely polished. Your query rocks and your synopsis shines. So now you’re ready to query agents. Hooray! This is a very exciting step for writers. Industry professionals commenting on my work! Wait, that’s not exciting—it’s terrifying. Rejection is brutal at best, and we writers constantly brace ourselves to be told how much we SUCK.

But what happens when someone actually likes your story? What happens when the agent you’ve queried actually wants to—gasp!—talk to you?

If you’re querying agents, you should be prepared to talk to them at a moment’s notice. This means you’ve done your homework on the agents you’ve queried. You should already know:

  • The genres they represent
  • How long they’ve been in business
  • Their current list of clients
  • If they are a member of AAR
  • If they have negative comments or are listed on Preditors & Editors, WritersNet forums, or Writer Beware

In other words, DO YOUR RESEARCH. Don’t send out blanket queries to agents you don’t know and aren’t sure you want to work with. If you do, you’re wasting everyone’s time.

So, all that being said, Jane Q. Agent has expressed interest in your work and would like to talk to you. Hooray! After you take sufficient time to let that sink in and subsequently freak out for a few minutes, get your game face on and get prepared. Here are a few tips on what to expect and what to ask your potential agent. (This assumes it’s not a call about revising your work, but rather an offer of representation.)

LINK: Good places to start researching agents are Publisher’s Marketplace and Agent Query.

Your Manuscript

Jane Q. Agent should be excited about your story. She will be pitching it to editors for you, so she should “get” it. That doesn’t mean the manuscript is perfect, but it’s got enough positive points that she thinks it will sell. As you’re discussing the story, ask:

  • Does the manuscript need major revisions before it gets submitted to publishers?
  • What are the strengths/weaknesses of the story?
  • Are you both on the same page with regards to the type of story it is and/or in which genre it best fits?

LINK: An agent’s view of revision letters.

Submitting to Publishers

If you accept the offer of representation, Jane Q. Agent will soon submit your manuscript to publishers. Some questions you might ask:

  • Which publishers/editors does she think will be the best fit for your story?
  • Is there a Plan B if those publishers turn it down?
  • What is a realistic timeframe to expect responses back from editors? (I’ve heard some people sold a ms as quickly as a few weeks, while others took months—or even years.)

LINK: This is a great article on the 10 Myths About Editors.

Your Writing Career

More than likely, Jane Q. Agent isn’t just looking to sell ONE book for you. It’s in her best interest (and yours) to develop your career as a writer where you can sell many books together. Some questions that might come up:

  • Is she interested in representing your future work? (If so, be prepared to discuss what else you’re working on.)
  • How many books can you write/does she expect a year?
  • Does she envision this story as part of a series?
  • What if you want to write a story in another genre?

LINK: Agent Sara Megibow wrote a nice piece on what agents do for your career, You’re Fired!.

The Agent/Writer Relationship

You and Jane Q. Agent will begin a *business* relationship together. (Note the emphasis on “business.”) What does that mean to each of you? Some questions to ask:

  • What are her rates for domestic and foreign rights?
  • What is her preferred method of communication with clients?
  • How hands on is she with brainstorming? Editorial revisions?
  • Will you be dealing directly with her, or an assistant?
  • In her opinion, what makes an ideal client?

LINK: Author Kristan Higgins wrote a great piece Working With your Agent and Editor for Romance University.

After the Offer

While you can accept representation on the spot, of course, it doesn’t hurt to take some time to think about it. After all, you may have queries out to other agents, want to talk to your friends in the industry, consider what you learned in the conversation, etc. So take a few days or a week to consider what you want.

If you have queries, partials, or fulls out to other agents, you should definitely email those agents to let them know you’re considering an offer of representation from another agent. It’s common courtesy to either withdraw your ms/query from their pile or give them a reasonable time frame in which to get look at it and get back to you.

LINK: Agent Query’s When Agents Offer Representation and The Call from an agent’s perspective.

My Own Call Story

Full disclosure, when I got my own call, I was probably far from calm, cool, and collected.

In December, I was honored to receive an offer of representation from the amazing Laura Bradford of the Bradford Literary Agency. I had met her at RWA Nationals that summer, where I pitched her a contemporary story. While she passed on that particular ms, she did send along some very insightful thoughts on how I might make it better. I thanked her and promised to query her again when I finished my historical WIP.

When I completed my new Regency manuscript, The Courtesan Duchess, she was one of the first agents I queried. I was giddy when she requested a partial, and then ecstatic when she requested the full. Imagine my surprise when she called me the morning after I sent the full to tell me how much she loved it!

After Laura and I hung up, I ran to tell my husband the good news—only to have my oldest daughter throw up all over the couch. So there I was, cleaning up puke, grinning from ear to ear.

Hey, no one said a writer’s life was glamorous.

We love hearing from our readers! Tell us…do you have advice for The Call, or a call story of your own?

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15 Comments

  1. Joanna, wow, this was an amazingly helpful blog. I’ll be sure to favorite the links provided – and hopefully will get “the call” to put them to good use. Thanks, Michele

    Reply
  2. This post has a lot of good information so I will keep it bookmarked for future reference.

    Reply
  3. Beth-Ann Kerber

     /  March 25, 2012

    Great advice, and lots of fantastic, useful links!!

    Reply
  4. jennablueblogs

     /  March 26, 2012

    Joanna,
    Fantastic article! So great that you included all these links–great articles. Thank you!!!
    Jenna Blue

    Reply
  5. I can’t believe the timing of your daughter’s stomach, LOL.
    Great post – Lots of awesome advice and helpful links, as well. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Hi Marlo,

      Thanks for stopping by. True story on the vomit. You can’t make that kind of stuff up! Glad you liked the post.

      Joanna

      Reply
  6. Jaye Marie Rome

     /  March 27, 2012

    Excellent information, Joanna! Thanks for sharing it in such a clear and concise way, with links for future reading. Definitely a keeper!

    Hugs,
    Jaye

    Reply
  7. I’m following Lita and bookmarking this.

    Reply
  8. I’m following Lita and booking this. Also can I loan you out to sit next to me if I’m ever lucky enough to get called?

    Reply
  9. Great post!! I’ve printed it off and am bookmarking the sites in preparation for the day I get my call (fingers and toes crossed)! I like Lori’s recommendation to have you sit next to me when I get “the call”. Actually…if you could PITCH for me. Now, that would be great 🙂 and improve the chances of me getting a call.

    Maria

    Reply
  10. Wow, what a great story! At least there was no vomit in evidence while you were on the phone. I’m not sure how I would have handled that…

    Congratulations!!!

    Reply
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