Sunday, March 21, 2010

Are you prepared to get THE CALL?

When I first embarked on my quest for publication, I used to daydream about getting THE CALL, otherwise known as an offer of representation. Most of the daydreams involved me jumping up and down and squealing like a lunatic, “yes!” like a movie heroine receiving a marriage proposal from Prince Charming.

But throughout my learning experience from agent research and chatting with authors online, my head has been pulled from the clouds. Aside from being stuck with a "bad" agent, there are other reasons not to jump right into a contract when offered representation. I won't discuss “bad” agents in this post for the simple fact that at this stage an author should have done their research on prospective agents before querying them in the first place. I did a post on that earlier:

Another great source to check out agents is Preditors and Editors.

Now, back on topic. An online author-friend of mine recently received three offers of representation. Her decision was difficult, for all three agents had solid reputations and sales-records. One was from a huge agency that many would give their eyeteeth for; another was a rising star in the business with plenty of awesome deals under her belt, and the last was from another solid agency, though not as much was known about her. She spoke on the phone with all three, and ultimately went with agent number two. Why didn’t she go with the super-duper giant agent? I have no idea how the author’s phone conversations went with these agents, but I have a few guesses.

When an agent calls to offer representation, they are doing two things: They are considering a long-term business relationship with you, and are feeling out your personality. A wise author should be doing the same. As mentioned, this is a LONG TERM relationship. You want to make sure that you see eye to eye on the most important details of your career.

How do you do this? You ask questions. According to some authors I asked about THE CALL, the conversation should be about 20 minutes, so it would be good to have your questions prepared in advance.
I’ve found some good questions here on these links:
Rachelle Gardner’s post:

AgentQuery: This article does a great job of covering the situation of multiple offers and counter-offers as well.

There are a lot more than 20 minutes worth of questions in these links, & I wouldn’t recommend asking them all. Besides being time consuming, many of the answers to these questions can be found on the agent’s website, and many sound like a rehearsed script. I believe that your questions should be more customized, not only to keep in line with your priorities, but to give the agent a better impression of who you are.

As you are speaking to the agent, keep your mind and heart open to feel how well you click with her.

Since I now have a few full manuscripts with agents, there is a chance that I could be getting THE CALL. I’d like to be prepared, so here is my shot at my questions for my future agent. Any helpful feedback or suggestions would be appreciated.

1.)How extensive are the needed revisions? Do you believe that it needs any major changes? Except in very rare cases, all novels require some revisions before going out on submission to publishers. Your agent's answer will reveal 2 important things: If there are changes she wants that would kill you to do, and a rough estimate on how long it will be before she starts shopping it to publishers.

2.)What is your basic plan for submitting/ marketing my novel?
This is the best question of all because it answers so much more than the obvious. The manner and the extent to which the agent describes her plan for your novel will not only reveal her enthusiasm for your work, but how much she has thought of it.

3.)How will the expenses be handled? I've heard that many agencies charge for some expenses such as copying the manuscript and other things. I want to know how much, and whether the agent expects this money up front, or if it will be deducted from my advance.

4.)How often will we be communicating? As a new author in the big-bad publishing world, I would like a little hand-holding. A brief phone call or email once a week would be desirable.

5.)What can I do to help promote my work? Not only do I believe that this will show the agent that I am serious about my career as an author, I don't want to do anything that would harm my career.

6.)At what stage would you like to discuss my other (or future) works? Since I am working on a series, I think this is especially important.

7.)Though the novel you are offering to represent is a historical, I also have a few contemporary works. Do you think it would be more commercially viable for my next novel to be another historical, or would a contemporary be okay? I'm not completely sure if I should ask this question right off the bat, and I would really like to word it better. But I do believe that it's important, so that I know which book in my head I should work on next.

Again, any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

On Waiting.

I've finished my manuscript, I've been through rewrites, I've perfected my query and sent it in to agents that I feel it would fit with. It seems that I have done things right this time around, for I've garnered much more requests for fulls and partials than for my last novel. With some agents I very well could be at the stage where I'm either offered representation, rejected, or offered to revise and resubmit. I have long since learned that the wheels of the publishing industry turn slowly and patience is more than a virtue. It is a necessity.

But that doesn't make the waiting suck less. Especially since it is getting close to time when I can reasonably begin to expect some responses, but nowhere near the time when a polite nudge would be appropriate.

I'm sure all aspiring authors have heard the amazing miracle stories where an awesome agent requested a writer's full manuscript, read it right away in one sitting, and offered representation the next day....oh, and maybe the part where there book was sold in a week was added too. Though such stories are inspiring, I often wish that I had never heard them, for they can be misleading, not because I believe them to be untrue, but because it is even more rare for things to happen that quickly than it is to make the bestsellers list.

What does one do to make the waiting more bearable? First I can say what NOT to do, because thanks to research and agent blogs, that information is readily available. But I've learned a few things that really seem to help and will gladly share them.

1.) DON'T nudge until the appropriate time frame. When is that? Some agents will say on their websites, blogs and on twitter (always check there first), but the usual guideline is 3 months on a query, and six months on a full. As for partials, I've heard anywhere between 3 and 6 months. The best way to encourage a rejection is with constant emails asking, "Didja get/read it yet?"

2.) NEVER call an agent. Agents have phone numbers for clients and editors. The unrepresented masses should pretend agent phones don't exist until they get THE CALL.

3.) DON'T pester an agent about your manuscript on twitter or on their blog. I hear about it happening once in awhile and never can believe that someone could be that unprofessional. Especially after an agent has requested material. At that stage, many will be googling you, reading your blogs, and checking your tweets/ facebook/myspace updates to see if you'll be a good fit. Don't blow it by flaunting your impatience.

4.) This one may garner a little disagreement. One agent said it was a bad idea to talk about your rejections online. I was a little surprised because I see writers doing it all the time, and many have gotten representation since then. Still, I'm inclined to agree with her because:

A.) It could make you sound whiny/petulant and therefore undesirable to work with.

B.) Agents hang out together and talk to eachother. If you announce online, even in a professional manner, that so-and-so rejected you, another agent that was considering you might think, "Hey, so-and-so and I share similar tastes so this person likely wouldn't be good for me either."

I may be paranoid here, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

Now that I've depressed us all with all the restrictions, let me share the things I've been doing to keep myself from obsessively stalking my inbox.

1.) Indulge in your other hobbies. I've been working two jobs, so I haven't had time to paint or work on my cars, but I have turned away from my computer to go play darts, prepare a new dish, and now that spring is here, I'll go fishing.

2.) Read! Not only is reading a joyous escape from the trials of life, it is necessary to make a better writer.

3.) Work on your next novel. This is most the most important tip of all because most agents expect you to anyway. Nobody wants a one-hit-wonder unless it's Gone With The Wind, which was #2 to the Bible in sales shortly after its debut. Even Harry Potter didn't touch that! And even if something is preventing you from putting down words, you can at least begin brainstorming, research, and daydreaming about new plots and characters.

4.) Spend some time with friends and family. They likely missed you when you were locked away with your keyboard and your muse, and will miss you more once you are busy working on the revisions that your agent will likely be requesting.

5.) Keep up with your web presence/ platform. Keep tweeting, keep blogging, keep facebook/myspace-ing. The more potential book-buyers you can bring to the table when an agent offers representation, the better.

6.) Begin compiling your list of questions to ask a prospective agent when you get THE CALL. Though many of us are at that stage where we would be tempted to fall at the agent's knees immediately with a resounding "yes," your homework should not be complete, for a long-term relationship is in the balance. You need to make sure that you are right for eachother. I've found a lot of useful information about what to do when you get THE CALL, and will do a post about it later.

I'm sure that there are a hundred other things writers do to abate the agony of waiting. What do you all do? What keeps you from stalking the mailman and clicking on your inbox every five minutes?