So You’ve Gotten “The Call”

The Call (n): Writing term. When an agent responds positively to your query and full manuscript and wants to talk to discuss the possibility of representation.

Even though a lot of my Pitch Wars class had received The Call ahead of me and put together a list of questions and even though I googled high and low to see what both agents and represented authors recommended you ask on The Call, I was nervous and sure my list was going to be completely terrible. It was exhaustive, though, and I was happy with it. I knew I might not need to ask every question, because my agent is gracious and smart and shared most of the info I wanted with me before I even had to ask. Superstar, honestly. But I still wished I could have had a handy list of questions, so here is one for you. This is only a suggestion, there are so many other wonderful resources. Go forth and google.

As for me, I printed these out over four pieces of paper, giving myself tons of blank space to take notes while chatting so I didn’t have to type while we talked.

Something to keep in mind: I signed with a newer agent, so I wanted to ask a lot of questions about her plan for her career, what her support system was like at her agency, and things like that. Your mileage may vary. I hope these questions are at all helpful. Congrats on your call!

THE CALL: [Agent], [Agency]

  • What did you like / respond to about my book?
  • What do you think needs work?
  • What do you think my strengths / weaknesses are as a writer?
  • What would our relationship / partnership look like?
  • If you become my agent, do you have an idea of how we would manage my author brand / books to come?
  • How many clients do you currently have? _____   Ideally? ______
  • Are you looking to represent:  ____ this book     ____ whole career
  • Do you have a written agency agreement I could see?
  • What’s the commission structure like at your agency?
  • How are sub rights handled?
  • What’s your support system like in the agency?
  • What’s your vision for your career?
  • If down the line you switch agencies or leave agenting, what would you foresee happening to your clients?
  • Do you have any other roles / jobs in the agency?
  • What’s something you find challenging about being an agent and / or want to improve on?
  • If I do sign with you, what would our next steps be?
  • What’s your communication style / preference?
  • Response times?
  • When do you prefer to hear about my upcoming projects? Idea phase? Outline? Draft? Once it’s been through betas?
  • What’s your editorial style like?
  • What’s your relationship with Big 5 editors like?
  • Submission strategy? (Big 5, small press, etc.)
  • How many rounds of sub before we shelve it?
  • What happens if this book doesn’t sell?
  • What’s your communication like when a project is on submission?
  • Do you have an idea of what the average length of a contract negotiation is like at your agency? From offer of pub to finalizing/signing the contract?

Like I said, I was thorough. And I didn’t ask everything on my list! We covered a lot of ground organically in the course of our conversation, which was nice. But it’s important to ask the questions you have in your head! And if you don’t think of everything during the call, that’s okay too! I emailed my agent after our call to ask a follow-up about IP work that had been floating around my head. You might want to ask if the agent is willing to represent your work in multiple genres or age groups.

If the agent doesn’t offer it up on their own, it’s also worth asking for the contact information of a few of their clients so you can ask what it’s like to work with them. Ideally, you’ll be able to talk/email with clients (current or former) who write in the same genre/category as you. A mix of writers who have sold their books and some who haven’t is a great way to gauge the full spectrum of your prospective agent’s dealings. I’ll share my list of questions I asked clients here sometime soon.

Everyone has specific needs from their agent, and it’s important to figure out if you’ll be a good match. You need to trust your agent, and sometimes the only way to do that is to ask some tough / uncomfortable questions! As long as you remain professional and respectful, you’re probably good.

To maintain my extremely professional demeanor, I leave you with this:

 

How I Got My Agent

I love reading How I Got My Agent posts. Even when, most of the time, it’s the simple equation of polished manuscript + cold querying = the call. No matter how many times I read it, I love it because celebrating someone’s achievement is nice. It’s fun! And it’s a good reminder that it’s possible.

I started writing the manuscript that got me my agent in 2014. Actually, you can see the tweet that started it all:tweet

The next month I started writing and kept writing and, eventually, I finished the first draft. It was an absolute blast to write. It was the second manuscript I’d ever completed and I knew it was promising, but it was messy and meandering and had too much going on. I revised it once myself and it was an improvement, but still not Good.

So, in 2017, I entered Pitch Wars. I was so lucky and to be chosen, and I wrote all about the experience last April; you can read it here. At this time last year I was finishing up my post-Pitch Wars revisions and kept assembling my agent spreadsheet.

I sent my first batch of queries over Memorial Day Weekend 2018. I started with ten, a mix of “oh my god, can you even IMAGINE???” established agents and awesome, promising newer agents. Then I waited.

And waited.

And waited some more. Everyone talks about how publishing is a lot of “hurry up and wait” and they are not wrong. The first two weeks after sending out queries, I got a mix of form rejections and, eventually, a few mostly-form-but-slightly-personalized rejections. A few weeks after I started querying, I got my first partial and full requests, and then nothing for a while longer.

For every request or rejection that came in, another query went out. At times I got impatient and broke that rule, and would have closer to 20 queries and/or submissions out at a time. Through all of this, I was scouring the #MSWL on twitter, browsing through  the Manuscript Wish List website, and keeping an eye out for new agent alerts.

Some rejections came in hours after I sent the query. Some requests came within days. And then there was still nothing I could do but wait. I spent the intervening months alternately checking my inbox, working on a new manuscript, and refreshing QueryTracker. During the wait, I actually finished the first and second drafts of my new manuscript, knowing that if the project I was querying didn’t get me an agent, it would be a good idea to have another project ready to go. But mostly I waited.

I waited so much, y’all. And it was worth it! Because there were a few queries that went out in that first batch that did indeed turn into full requests many, many months later!

The vast majority of agents who requested my full were gracious enough to give me feedback, but it all felt just broad enough that I still didn’t know how to fix the problem areas. Early on, I tried to make an adjustment and it was a good adjustment! But I didn’t dig deep enough.

And then. And then! I got a lovely email from an agent asking if my manuscript was still available and if I would be willing to hop on the phone. YES! I replied. Yes it is, and yes I am! 

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It is important to me that you know that email came in at 4:46pm on a Tuesday and I continued to spend the remaining 14 minutes of my shift at work freaking out and processing no information. I did, however, manage to forward the email to my best friend with no other context than this:

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So we set up a call for the following Monday and the wait was interminable but I did spend the time researching and typing up four pages of questions to ask on The Call. (I was very generous with the spacing so that I could take notes. I’m not a monster that planned to ask 237 single-spaced questions. (I am so sorry if that’s you, you’re not a monster, you’re just prepared.)) When we did actually chat–at 9:30am because I didn’t have to work until noon that day–it was lovely. I was so impressed and flattered and excited. Her vision was totally in line with mine for the manuscript, her notes were spot-on, and we really seemed to click. So I was PUMPED when the call included an offer of representation.

Then I did the responsible thing, and told her “Thank you so much, but I need two weeks to notify everyone that still has my full/partial/query” which at that point was not very many people, because, again, I had been querying for 11 months.

That’s right. I started querying May 26, 2018 and I had The Call on April 22, 2019. I moved cross-country in the interim!

I’m telling you, so. much. waiting.

And, sure, maybe I could have just thrown out all of my queries into the trenches at once, but I didn’t want to and I’m glad that I didn’t. Not doing so gave me a) the time to make adjustments to my manuscript if I wanted to before every agent I considered had seen it, and b) the ability to continue to query newer agents, and those who had been closed when I started querying.

The intervening two weeks resulted in some extremely lovely rejections and step-asides that I will be thinking about for years to come. Honestly. Agents are so awesome. They get inundated with SO MUCH STUFF but still find the time to reply and be nice and, just. Yes. Love it. Love them. I also did my due diligence and emailed the offering agent’s clients and grilled them with questions about what it was like to work with her and every single response was glowing and made me want to sign with her that much more.

All of this is to say, that I’m ecstatic to be represented by Tia Mele at Talcott Notch Literary. I really trust her vision for my work and can’t wait to build our partnership together.

For the curious:

Queries sent: 90
Full requests (including partial upgrades): 19
Partial requests: 2
Rejections: 64
CNR: 25

The Slush Pile

I don’t know how anyone else viewed the prospect of querying. I was nervous, but I didn’t dread it. Honestly, I was eager to start. I think part of it was that I had never done it before, so I wasn’t jaded. And part of it (a big part) was that I was riding the high of having been accepted into Pitch Wars the first time I applied (seriously, I’m still surprised and grateful for it). I didn’t get any requests during the Pitch Wars agent showcase, but I kept revising and eventually I was happy. I received positive responses from beta readers. There was nothing left to do but start querying. Even then, submitting my work to agents—submitting my work to judgment—was terrifying.

I’ve heard a lot complaints and discussion about the phrase “not right for me”, that nebulous phrase agents seem to use when a project is good, but not perfect. Or not perfect for them. Or they don’t know how to sell it. Or, or, or. It’s kind of become a catch-all phrase, but one that, when querying, you’ll probably hear a lot.

I heard it a lot. And I think what softened the blow of hearing that phrase about my own work, again and again, is that I’d thought it before.

When I started querying around this time last year, I worked in television development. Part of my job was to read scripts and judge whether or not they were right for our production company. Ninety percent of them were submitted through agents or managers, so they had been vetted before they reached me. And of the dozens I read I only loved two.

At my going away lunch my boss told me that she read the things I liked carefully because I was so… judicious with my praise. And it wasn’t that everything crossing my desk was bad, it was the opposite of that. I read scripts that were carefully crafted, by veterans in the industry, etc. But. But. But they weren’t right for our company’s vision. Or the humor was too mean. Or we couldn’t think of a suitable home. Maybe something about it wasn’t quite right but we didn’t know how to fix it. Sometimes it was too similar to something we were already developing. A lot of times it was a matter of personal taste. And, occasionally, a project that crossed my desk was just not good enough.

Once, my boss asked me to draft a rejection email for a submission. The dreaded “Thank you, but” email. Honestly? I opened the folder of query rejections and read through a bunch of the polite, but generic replies I’d gotten from agents because they weren’t mean, they were just honest. Thank you for thinking of me. You’re a strong writer. You have a good idea here. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how good your submission is, it’s just not right.

Over the course of the eleven months I’ve been querying, I’ve amassed a lot of rejections. A few came with a nice note, or helpful feedback, but for the most part, it was the generic “I read every submission carefully, but…” And 99% of the time, a rejection is just another email. It’s another red box in my submission spreadsheet, and doesn’t bother me. Much. It’s just a fact of life.

Working in television development was my dream job. I miss it every day. And I will forever be grateful for the way it prepared me to deal with rejection of my own. You’ll hear over and over again that publishing is a subjective business and having worked on the other side of it (albeit in television), I understand that first hand. It helped to make the rejections sting less.

The Other Kind of Writing

I’ve been thinking a lot about the different kinds of writing that I want to do. Not just in my career (although that, too), but day-to-day. Mostly, I’m trying to decide if I want to get back into journaling. I say ‘get back into’ like I was ever dedicated or consistent. My journal never looked like the ones you see on Instagram, pretty and adorned, full of perfect lettering, bursting with color, and filled with pictures both pasted and drawn. My journal was just a hardbound book filled with flowing black ink and imperfect cursive and I’m kind of terrified to open it again.

I have three old journals, actually. Two of them scare the crap out of me. One, my favorite, is a hokey little book that was gifted to me by a friend of my mom’s and I covered it with an old book cover—the elastic kind you begged your parents to buy for your textbooks so you didn’t have to cover them with brown paper bags—and it looks silly. It’s filled with dreams. Not aspirations, but actual things that I dreamed at night. It stretches back to 2007 and has hundreds of dated entries. Once, I even made an index. That book hasn’t been updated recently, but I do have an ongoing note on my phone filled with dreams so I’m sure one day I’ll sit down and add to it even if it will never be complete.

The other two journals, they’re the real ones. They’re what you think of when you hear the word journal. Books of thoughts and feelings. Mine are from 2009-2015, roughly my college years and spanning into grad school. As much as I want to revisit my past self, to see what I was doing, what I was thinking, what I felt needed documenting, I don’t know if I ever will. I have no clue of the specifics, but I know they’ll be full of the pain, and confusion, and depression. They’ll be full of sentences like “I’m sad but I don’t know why” and I don’t know that I’m ready to face that.

Because I’m moving soon, I’m parting ways with my therapist. Recently, I’ve noticed that I don’t really know what to say when I go into our appointments. I’ll prattle on about my life, but I can no longer see the Big Issues that I need to address. There is no doubt in my mind that I still have those Big Issues, they’re just not as obvious to me as they were a year ago when I started therapy. I have more tools under my belt, and a fancy name for my depression (dysthymia—basically instead of going through bouts of Major Depression, I am low-key depressed all the time. To be diagnosed you have to have the symptoms basically daily for two years. Once I had a name for it and knew the symptoms more intimately, I realized I’d been dealing with this since I was 16). So all of those years of journals, those are from the time that I was depressed but didn’t know it for what it was and I don’t know if I’m ready to see just how much it affected my life.

I wonder if I’ll miss anything by not opening the journals again. Are there happy moments I’ve otherwise forgotten that would be nice to revisit? But I don’t think that’s the case. I only ever remember opening them up and pouring my soul into them like I was Ginny Weasley baring herself to Tom Riddle, when all of the feelings rumbling about inside of me were going to erupt and I needed a way to let them out that wasn’t (just) crying into my pillow or on the phone to my mom (or both. Usually both).

Those journals were my therapy before I was willing to go out and find an actual therapist.

Maybe I won’t open them, after all, I’ll just continue to tote them around every time I move, like the rest of the baggage I carry around with me every day. But they aren’t just baggage—they’re evidence of my perseverance and my growth. No matter what, I don’t think I’m ready to throw them out .

WRITE Wednesday

WRITE Wednesday is a blog hop hosted by my dear friend Poppy Simeri and Vera James every Wednesday. As What’s Up, Wednesday has wrapped up, I’m excited to jump into this new feature! It will focus on writing & reading, regular blogging, and blog friendships.

W: Writing

I’m wrapping up the first round of edits on Delia this week so I can send them to some friends for initial critiques. I can’t believe I’ve managed to cut over 30,000 words already. (It was depressingly necessary.) But I’m more excited about the story than ever since it finally has some coherency. And just yesterday Poppy herself texted me about an exciting new writing project for us to work on together. It’s going to be fun and challenging and I’m already frantically brainstorming fun things to put into it.

R: Reading

I still haven’t finished my Great Harry Potter Re-read, but I have made it to the 7th book so. It’s on the horizon. I’m hoping to be done by September 1st so that I can have read them in one year.

I also just picked up City of Bones by Cassandra Clare on a couple of friends’ recommendation. I’m about five chapters in, and I’m cautiously optimistic. I’m not 100% sold, but it’s something I can read pretty quickly, so I’ll stick with it.

I: Inspiration

I’m inspired by good writing. Books that are so good I have to set them aside to write something of my own. Books that are so beautifully written I want to do yet another round of edits to make my writing stronger. Having author-crushes makes something warm bloom in my chest that pushes me to be better, better, better.

T: Thinking Ahead

Having these Delia edits done! Seeing what wonderful and terrifying and insightful notes my friends will have for me and how I’ll possibly manage to do them while balancing grad school.

E: Encouragement

Writing friendships and crit partners! Knowing there are people cheering for me that are excited about what I’m doing is the best inspiration to keep me writing. They especially help push me toward the finish line and make the best version of the book possible. I try my best to be my writer friends’ cheerleader as well, because they’re all so amazing and I am so amazed by how talented they are.

What’s Up, Wednesday? //10\\

Welcome back to WHAT’S UP WEDNESDAY,hosted by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. To learn more about it, you should really visit their respective pages. I use it to keep me writing, to make myself think about writing, and to force myself to think positive and find things to look forward to.

What I’m Reading

Well, let’s see. As predicted, I cried my way through the last 50 pages of Code Name Verity. It was agonizingly beautiful and I already picked up Rose Under Fire from the library.

I’m almost done with Adverbs by Daniel Handler. I loved A Series of Unfortunate Events by Handler (written as Lemony Snicket) and I didn’t expect Adverbs to be the same, it’s an adult book after all. But I don’t love it the way I wanted to. The vignettes are all woven together with a common cast of characters, but none of them feel compelling. None of them feel fleshed out nor the world well-developed enough for me to really be hooked.

The Great Harry Potter re-read is still underway, and I’m currently working my way through Order of the Phoenix. I expect to sprint through the first four hundred pages and have to force myself to finish it. I’m not ready for that kind of emotional pain.

What I’m Writing

That Golf Story – I’m making some serious progress! Just about three chapters to go if all of my plotting and pacing in my outline is accurate. Everything’s coming together and it’s equally exciting and nerve-wracking because I’m not ready to let go of these characters yet. But only one more golf match to write (thankfully – you can only make them so interesting) and there are relationship developments happening between the main characters. It’s all coming together.

Delia – I’m trying to use the weekends to revise, but *insert panicked laughter here* oh boy is that difficult to dive into. So I’m still just trying to jigsaw the plot of the first half together, re-tooling character introductions and meet-cutes alike.

What Works for Me

Bribes. I’m not even kidding. Once, I put off writing a kissing scene for literally weeks until Kate bribed me with a bottle of wine to finish it. And now it’s not been explicitly stated or anything, but I really revel in it when Bailey and Kate send me positive feedback and general exclamation points as they read new chapters. It gets me excited to keep writing and to think of how they’ll react to what’s to come.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

I heard back from grad schools! I got in! The relief and joy have now taken a back-burner to my frantic list-making. I have a spreadsheet of pros and cons and costs and benefits for the two programs I’m seriously considering, so that’s been my main focus.

What’s Up, Wednesday? //9\\

Welcome back to WHAT’S UP WEDNESDAY,hosted by Jaime Morrow and Erin Funk. To learn more about it, you should really visit their respective pages. I use it to keep me writing, to make myself think about writing, and to force myself to think positive and find things to look forward to.

What I’m Reading

I just finished The Wonder Boys. It was like reading a mid-life crisis.

Tonight I’m very excited to re-start Code Name Verity. I started it last summer and put a pin in it because, while I loved it, it had to go back to the library. Then, because I couldn’t bear to see the story disappear from my life, I bought a copy. Unfortunately it arrived right after I got distracted by my Great Book Marathon of 2014 when I got Unmade, The Retribution of Mara Dyer, and Blue Lily, Lily Blue and had to re-read all those series before I could sink my teeth into the new additions. But now I’m ready to start it again and give it the attention it deserves because I was so in love with it last summer and I can’t wait to revisit that feeling.

What I’m Writing

That Golf Story – Last night I finished up a super fun chapter for Bailey and Kate. I can’t wait for them to read it for a lot of reasons, but mostly because I know something about how the chapter ends that they don’t. Making them wait for the next chapter will be really fun for me to torture them with.

Delia – I think I might implement a system where I force myself to revise a chunk of Delia for every chapter of TGS that I finish. Since there aren’t that many chapters of TGS left to be written, this might be a good ramp-up to the serious revision this story needs.

What Works for Me

I’d been using Google Docs to work on my WIP while away from my laptop and it was fine. Sometimes it got laggy, but on the whole it was good. My problem was actually that I kept my outline and draft in the same document and it felt cluttered. Last week I switched to using Celtx as my browser platform and I really like it. It feels cleaner and more efficient than GDocs. I also like that I can insert chapter breaks that correspond to a handy navigator. I’d only used Celtx for screenplays in the past, but it’s really easy to use and I’ve been really productive since switching to it.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

Despite having the cold from hell last week, Friday was a great day! I woke up from a nap to an email that notified me of my acceptance to grad school!!! Immediately after, my roommate invited me to go see Jupiter Ascending (which was a-mah-zing), and on the way to the theater we stopped at a book store so I could finally get my hands on a copy of VE Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic.

I’m also obsessively refreshing the Classic Alice indiegogo page. Please donate if you can!