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.


  1. I totally agree. I had a friend with way more than three offers and a lot more that would've offered. But she had like HUGE conversations with the few she really wanted and she narrowed it down to the one who really clicked with her. You're right--you're good.

  2. I think you have a good how-to-be prepared list going here. One thing I'd add is, before you get the call, maybe make a list of everything that's important to you in an agent. That way, if you do get more than one offer, it helps you keep things in perspective after you've had a chance to get to know the agent. I know it would have saved me a lot of stress if I'd written it down beforehand. ;-)

    Your last two questions are great, and probably could be combined in a way. I do think it's important that you discuss your future works before you sign. You can kind of get a feel for if the agent would be cool or not with those ideas. Then you can always segue into, 'which do you think would be best to work on next'.

    I didn't realize your historical was part of a series. Does it pick up with new characters or continue the same ones?

  3. The project being considered is more of a sideline to the series. Someone reading the series would not need to read it at all, or vice-versa. It just mentions a few key characters and sets up for a sequel that will feature a few more important plot details...if my agent thinks that's wise. Oooh I can't wait to get one!
    Thanks for the great feedback!

  4. Great blog post! It's great to see this list all together in one place!

  5. Honestly? The thought of have phone conversations with potential agents scares the heck out of me. LOL I'm much better with words on paper (screen) than I am on the phone. It's that dang audio thing again...without visuals I have a much harder time.

    In any case, I think your questions are excellent, and I'm making note of them for later. :-)