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.


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?

Twelve Writing Tools for 2012

As we head into the year 2012, I am surprised to discover that twelve seems to be my magical number. Last year, I took twelve online classes on everything from the perfect pitch to deep POV.

I entered twelve contests and received  helpful feedback as well as encouragement to keep writing.

I’m even tempted to add a few paragraphs to my manuscript, which ends on page 311. . . almost on 312.

Instead, I’ve decided to pay it forward and share with you a dozen lessons, comments, and resources from my humble arsenal of tools. Hopefully, you’ll find something useful for your own writing.

Whether or not twelve is your lucky number, I’m hoping 2012 will be a magical year for you.

Happy New Year and Happy Writing!

Twelve Tools for 2012

1. Central Idea :  What is the central theme of your story?

This is the belief system the novel is based on and the message behind the story. Your characters will refer back to this throughout your story.  This should never be obvious.

Examples:  You can’t hide from who you are. You really can change your destiny. Love conquers all.

  *Check out Seven Elements of Fiction by Tracy Wolff @ TracyWolff.com

 2.Goal/Motivation/Conflict:   What does your character(s) want? Why does he/she want it? What’s prohibiting him/her from getting it?

Fiction needs valid conflict that carries the story.

*Check out Debra Dixon at http://www.debradixon.com/


3. Asking Essential questions:  Your main character must answer these at four different points in his/his personal journey. The key is the answers differ depending upon where the character is within his/her quest.

Why do you matter? To whom do you matter?  How do you see yourself? How do you define your biggest personal challenge?

*For more, check out Donald Maass at: http://writerunboxed.com/2010/09/01/the-inner-journey/#comment-142049

4. Tiered or Layered Characterization:  Who is your heroine: her person, her emotions, her thoughts?  What is the raw depth of character that connects her to reader?

We all know a character like her–the Manic Pixie Dream Girl—the quirky, attractive heroine. But do we (the reader) really like her? http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ManicPixieDreamGirl

Brenda Novak offered some wonderful advice on characterization at the 2011 NJRW Conference.  A character’s endearing traits can also be his/her greatest flaw.

Examples:  An organized, rational person might become overly obsessive when her world goes off-tilt. An easy-going character might miss something important or be easily taken advantage of.

Other useful sites:

5. Character Traits Thesaurus:


 6. Adding motions to express emotion:


7.  Juxtapositions in prose and text:  Use of two themes, characters, phrases, words, or situations together for comparison and contrast.

Example:  The heroine might be saying all is fine but physically she’s moving across the room and distancing herself.

 8. Subtext:  “The scene is never about what the scene is about.”  Think about theme, word choice, and awareness of character. Symbolism can be used, as well. If you have the chance, check out a Renee Ryan workshop.

9. Laying out a scene:  You might be surprised to find a pattern to how a scene unfolds. Action/description is followed by internal conflict or external conflict. Follow that by an action/description the character must make about the internal/external conflict. End with external conflict. Dialogue and backstory are sprinkled in and used within this context, as well. 

*Check out this WONDERFUL site: http://internspills.blogspot.com/2011/07/how-books-work-hunger-games-part-1.html

10. Do your research.

Resources:  The Library of Congress Resource Link


Ask a Librarian


 11.  Use your tools and revise, revise, revise.

Check out Susan Dennard’s site:


 12.  Writer’s Link to Links:  

Here are a few other useful links—all bundled up as NUMBER 12.

http://www.charlottedillon.com/WritersLinks.html  http://www.passionatepen.com/links.htm  http://www.kimberlykillion.com/writers.asp http://thebookshelfmuse.blogspot.com/

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