Getting “The Call” and Working with an Agent

keep calmSo far in this mini-series of writerly posts, we’ve been talking about working with beta readers/professional editors to get your MS ready, how to write a query letter and the dos and don’ts of querying. It’s a long journey, but one day, it will end in the phone call you’ve been waiting for.

Getting “The Call”
One blessed day, your phone will ring. It will be an agent (hopefully, your dream agent) on the line calling tell you he or she would like to represent you. You will be nervous, I can guarantee that. I was so nervous my brain fled my head and I could barely form a sentence. But you know what I’ve learned since then? The agent is just as nervous as you are.

The best thing you can do when you’re on that call is to listen closely to the agent and take notes so you can remember later. It will be a blur. Then ask questions. I didn’t do that. I was so brain-dead that I went on gut instinct and said yes. Fortunately, Jen had already answered a lot of my questions and my gut was spot on, but that doesn’t always happen.

There are lots of lists of questions to ask on the web. But here are a few key ones:

  1. Are you an editorial agent? What type of editorial feedback do you provide?
  2. How close is the book to being ready for submission? Will there be a lot of editing and rewriting first?
  3. If we agree to work together, what will happen next?
  4. Do you use a written author-agent agreement or contract? What does it say?
  5. What happens if either of us wants to end the relationship?
  6. How long have you been an agent? How long have you been in publishing, and what other positions have you held?
  7. What are the last few titles you’ve sold?
  8. May I contact some of your current clients?
  9. Does your agency handle film rights, foreign rights, audio rights?
  10. How do you keep clients informed about your activities on thier behalf?
  11. What is your percentage?
  12. Will I receive payments directly from the publisher, or do payments go through you first?
  13. How long after you receive advances and royalties will you send them to me?
  14. What publishers do you think would be appropriate for my book?
  15. Do you help with career planning?
  16. How do you feel about authors switching genres?

When you’re in the query trenches, you may find yourself having multiple full requests out at the time you get the call. You are perfectly within your rights to tell the offering agent that you have other requests to consider. Usually you will agree on a time period (a week or two is normal). You should email the agents who have your full and let them know you’ve received an offer and tell them the time frame in which you need a response. Then the decision is up to you. (It’s also polite to e-mail any agents who have made offers/have your query/partial/full once you’ve made a decision and let them know you’ve accepted an offer of representation.)

Once you have your contract in hand, read it and make sure you understand it. Ask questions if anything, anything at all confuses you. Then you likely will have to wait a period of time before telling anyone you have signed. This is so the agency can get your contract back and finalize things on their end. No matter how excited you are, wait to announce until they say you can. Then celebrate BIG TIME!

Working with an Agent
Exactly what your experience is will vary by your agent. Some are highly editorial and want to help you refine your manuscript, while others are more hands-off and don’t want to see it until it’s as close to perfect as it will get.

I wanted an editorial agent and am fortunate to have found one. My first book didn’t require substantial revisions, but I did go through several rounds of editing with my agent. Mostly these were things she didn’t think was clear, things I repeated and, of course, line edits. Remember, this is your chance to really polish your work and make it shine. Take advantage of it.

You agent will also help you through the submission process, in which he or she will help you get a publishing deal, but that is a whole separate topic for another day.

Later on, when you’re working on your next book, your agent may even be open to reading an early draft if there is something you’re struggling with. 

Tips for working with your agent:

  • Be honest with them about everything, from your future book plans to how things are going and what you expect from them.
  • Keep in touch. Communication is key. If you aren’t getting enough information, say so.
  • Be open to their edits. While your agent isn’t perfect, he or she is an expert in the publishing field and knows what it takes to get a book to sell.
  • Remember that even if you become friends, they are ultimately your business partner. While sometimes it is your agent’s job to talk you down, they aren’t your therapist.
  • Be patient! Publishing is a very slow process.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this little peek into the writing process. (Here’s the handout, if you want something to keep.) Next week I shall return you to your regular Arthurian/Celtic programming. We’ll also have a special guest post coming up soon that you won’t want to miss.

Writers, what was your experience in getting “the call?” What tips do you have to offer to cultivate a successful working relationship with an agent? Agents, what is making “the call” like for you? What do you want from your clients?